02/19/2008, 00.00
VIETNAM
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Children and the illiterate learning to read the Bible in Cambodian

Catholic volunteers in Loc Quang, on the border with Cambodia, work among Cambodian families living in Vietnam. Thanks to the volunteers, initially viewed with suspicion by the local police, the migrants now live in better conditions.

Loc Quang (AsiaNews) – Viewed initially with suspicion by the police, Catholic volunteers have been working in Loc Quang parish, Loc Ninh district (Binh Phuoc province), for a few years. The small town of 12,700 people lies some 17 kilometres from the Cambodian border and is home to many Cambodian migrants, mostly very poor peasants, whose situation has slightly improved thanks to the actions of the volunteers.

About 25 per cent of the population lives below the poverty line, eking out a living on a dollar a day. For Cambodians matters are even worse since they don’t have land of their own and must hire themselves out to locals. In the rainy season, when farming is not possible, they go into the forest to look for rubber trees’ seeds. By and large their lives are truly poor and miserable.

In 2000 some volunteers arrived to live and work among the local population, pursuing their mission. Since 2002 when spreading the Good News began having good results, people’s lives also began improving. Many gave up superstitions and started living underdevelopment behind.

“I can read the Bible in Cambodian,” a boy told AsiaNews. “Now I can also study in my native language. Brother Hai teaches us every day. During the day I drive cows into rice fields and get 5,000 dongs (about 3 pennies) and the owner also gives me food.”

A girl said that Father Paul and Brother H. showed them how to boil water and cook. “I love both of them. They have been here since 2000 working with us. They brought us the love of Jesus and the Good News,” she added. “I go to Mass every Sunday. We have a church and pray together.”

Ms Hue, a volunteer social worker, remembers that “the previous year police would routinely ask Brother Hai questions about his work and activities in the community. The Communist government looked on Catholics with suspicion and did not understand what we are doing.”

“Brother Hai organised a class to eliminate illiteracy among children and the poor,” she explained. “Last year local authorities and the police ‘invited’ Brother Hai to the police station only once, not like the previous year, 2006, when he had to go many times.”

Ms Hue noted that during his interviews with the police Brother Hai explained that he and his colleagues had come to town to teach Cambodian to the children and help people overcome the difficulties they face. This way they can contribute to the country’s progress. “Now people take part in parish activities and Brother Hai has trained two young volunteers who can teach children in Cambodian and Vietnamese.”

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