12/19/2007, 00.00
VIETNAM
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Two Ho Chi Minh City parishes launch initiatives for migrants

A week-long series of pastoral and social activities on behalf of those left behind by the country’s fast-paced economic development ends tomorrow. Children get to go to school, learn the catechism and play games, giving their parents who have to work all-day long peace of mind.

Ho Chi Minh City (AsiaNews) – A week-long series of pastoral and social activities for migrants and their families organised by the parishes of Saint Paul in Binh Tan district and Xuan Hiep Thu Duc district in the diocese of Saigon is set to end tomorrow.

Migrants represent about two of Ho Chi Minh City’s seven million residents and many of them are Catholic. They do all sorts of jobs from factory work and selling lottery to waiting on tables in restaurants, hairdressing and sanitation work; many are involved in small businesses or are employed on short term jobs. Most rent out places that allow them and their families to survive or save enough to send home for the children, spouses and larger families they left behind. In the end the ideas they took for granted when they left change.

A man from Quang Nam province in central Vietnam talked to AsiaNews about the city’s rat race, the competitive mindset that seems to prevail among its people. “I can’t provide for my children back home,” he said. “They have to put up with so many difficulties. Besides material problems they have to cope with social ills and cannot advance their spiritual life. Personally, I want to make enough money to go home.”

With so many migrant children unable to go to school or even learn the catechism, many Saigon parish priests have had to organise short courses and teach vocational skills whilst inserting pastoral and social activities in the mix.

“I am from Quang Nam province,” said 34-year-old Nguyen Thi H. “My husband and I and our daughter have been in the city since 2004. He used to work as a mason for a building company but was diagnosed with tuberculosis to the lungs and cannot work any more. So I have to take care of the family,” she said.

“Every day from early in the morning to late at night I sell lottery tickets. But it is not enough to pay for my daughter’s schooling. Fortunately, the Saint-Paul Parish, which is close to home, offers pastoral and social services for migrant children. This way my daughter, who is 11 years old, can study in a class supported by the parish. They pay for teaching, school fees, paper and all the rest,” she added.

“She is learning the catechism and is part of a group of children who play and pray together. This makes me very happy and has lifted a heavy burden off my shoulders. I am trying to make at least 50,000 dongs a day (about US$ 3) to meet our needs and pay for my husband’s medical treatment. I pray my husband makes it.”

Nowadays in Vietnam economic development is taking place at a fast pace but little thought is given to the social and cultural needs of the population. Social problems are thus rising. Families come under severe strain, parents and the extended family neglect children, drugs are easily available, AIDS is spreading, more and more people form common law relationships and many young women resort to abortion.

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