Robert Nugier waves to poor children in Tien Giang after handing out gifts to them for Tet
Robert Nugier, 69, walked a long way to reach a poor family in the southern province of Tien Giang and left promising to return with a cow they have wanted for years.
The Frenchman is in Vietnam in the midst of his 11th straight Lunar New Year, the country's biggest holiday which peaks February 10 this year. Each year he delivers the money he raised to cheer the poor children and help their parents make a better living.
He was introduced to rural Tien Giang by a Vietnamese friend in France and observed children with messy, sun-singed hair, dissimilar to the poverty in France.
His first impressions included little children working in the fields beside their parents, or wandering the streets selling lottery tickets.
"It was painful seeing them, as painful as if they were my own children," Nugier told Tuoi Tre, via his wife Le Thi Cam Nhung, a Tien Giang local.
He shared the stories with his friends in France, and they established the Cannelle Association to raise funds for poor children in the province. The association has grown from 30 to around 300 members.
He came back the next year, building connections with local social groups and the provincial Red Cross to set up plans to help those most in need.
"Very many people need help actually, but we just cannot help them all.
"We decided to help children of troubled families, we are not helping good students as they have many other helpers already.
"We want to help those who have never been helped, to bring them joy and so that they can change their lives and future generations," Nugier said.
He has been in Vietnam every year from January through March, helping more than 100 households, four kindergarten classrooms, and many bridges so far.
The kindergarten idea came as he saw most of the poor parents were too busy making ends meet, with their children often neglected.
He helped build bridges as he himself and many French friends were scared every time they walked on single-pole bridges popular in the Mekong Delta's poorer areas, fretting that children would fall, he said.
Several members of the association have traveled to Tien Giang, and like Nugier, all have personally covered their expenses and have not used a single cent raised by the organization.
Vo Van Lang, chairman of the province Red Cross, said he and other Vietnamese coordinators have been moved by Nugier's efforts to help their poor compatriots.
"He would come to each house to check their situation, traveling to remote areas to hand out gifts to children, and he always smiled brightly."
Lang said the help has given the children confidence and motivated them to seek out a better life.
But Nugier said it was the other way round, that his work was inspired by the children's ability to endure hardship, their wishes to escape poverty, and their carefree smiles despite empty bellies, torn clothing and worn-out slippers.
Nugier speaks very little Vietnamese, but he tries to communicate with the children with basic words when he delivers gifts.
He hugs them, repeating "thank you" in Vietnamese.
"Their faces lit up every time they got my gifts and that makes me feel like I'm having a good time among family," Nugier said.
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