An Italian doctor who came to Vietnam 20 years ago has stayed on, identifying with the suffering of people less fortunate
Children play with foreign volunteers at the ‘House of Smiles’ which was built by the non-profit Care The People in 2008 to provide accommodation for needy children in the central city of Da Nang / PHOTOS COURTESY OF CARE THE PEOPLE
Enzo Falcone is an Italian from Milan City, but he also has a Vietnamese name, Luu Hoa Binh, that he adopted when granted Vietnamese citizenship three years ago.
“Hoa Binh means peace and it is what I try to achieve with my work of helping the most vulnerable and needy people,” he said.
The Vietnamese citizenship granted to Falcone was the government’s recognition for his commitment to charitable works in the country for the past 20 years.
However, for the 55-year-old Italian doctor, nothing compares to the “satisfaction” he feels every time he can heal and take care of needy people.
Falcone has spent more than half of his life making the life of people better in underdeveloped countries in Africa and Asia, where he worked as a member of the French humanitarian aid organization Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors without Borders).
Even after he found personal happiness in Vietnam, marrying a Vietnamese woman in 1994, he continued to pursue his passion, helping others.
“Every time I see the suffering of a child, of someone hungry or ill, of a beggar or a prostitute, it seems to be my own suffering,” Falcone said.
“What is worse is that I feel as if I can do so little to help these people or as if I am not doing enough.”
For the first eight years in the country, he was based in the north, working for his organization and then the United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund (UNICEF).
In 2002, Falcone and his wife, Luu Thi Minh Tam, founded Care the People – a non-profit organization dedicated to help disadvantaged children and women in the central city of Da Nang – with the initial investment of US$3,000.
Over the next two years, they provided long-term scholarships for 40 poor students, while launching different activities to raise funds like organizing musical performances and lectures. They asked international volunteers to “adopt” needy children by providing financial aid for them to continue their schooling.
With donations mainly from Italy, the organization also provided medical care for children and jobs for women through the establishment of work co-operatives and micro-financing.
A building named “House of Smiles” was opened in 2008 to accommodate some 40 children, giving them access to meals, clothes, shower and laundry facilities, and medical care, aside from martial arts, English and musical classes.
According to Falcone, their projects have benefited some 5,000 children so far.
“Children are the most vulnerable and they are the future of the world,” he said, explaining why their projects mainly target children.
Tam said currently their only jobs is to run Care The People, which they do while relying on his savings for living.
She said she plans to open an Italian restaurant to generate more funds for their activities, especially a project to build a health clinic for the poor.
In her eyes
Falcone first came to Vietnam in April 1994 to replace a doctor for a project run by Médecins Sans Frontières in the northern province of Bac Giang.
Enzo Falcone, chairman of Care The People
He took a flight from Italy to Hanoi, and Tam, who was then working for textile company, was on the same flight after a business trip to Italy.
Due to some technical problem, the airplane could not land and had to fly around for three straight hours, sickening most people on board. While Tam was half sleeping due to the sickness, she saw “a man wearing a red T-shirt” together with flight attendants busy going around helping other passengers.
After that they stayed at Orly Airport, Paris, for one day before taking a flight to Hanoi.
On the second flight, Tam sat next to “the man” who was a doctor, as she learned later, and they had a long talk during the flight.
Three months later they got married and Falcone has since stayed in Vietnam, although his trip was initially planned for just one month.
“Enzo works hard, lives economically, and is very sociable with everybody, especially poor people, so everyone loves him,” Tam said.
She said that in 1996, even though Falcone was working for the Médecins Sans Frontières in Da Bac District, the northern province of Hoa Binh, he was always “dedicated” to any charitable program targetting children.
Seeing many children with cleft lips and palates, he organized a program to provide free surgeries at the Da Bac General Hospital, with funds that he raised from the International Women’s Club in Hanoi.
One week later, after all the kids had their surgical threads removed, marking the project’s success, they gathered at Falcone’s bedroom in the hospital to express their gratitude with hugs and gifts which were home-made bamboo sprouts, cassavas and kohlrabis.
“I felt grateful to my husband for bringing great happiness to poor families, and most of all, for bringing beautiful smiles to Vietnamese kids,“ Tam said.
Like us on Facebook and scroll down to share your comment