Children clad in jackets and rain boots sat in rows with cold hands stuffed into their pockets. These children, ranging from 2 to 6 years old, had made their way to the Hoa Mai Kindergarten with their parents in order to receive Tet (Vietnamese New Year) gifts that they hoped would bring more warmth into their lives.
On February 3, Samaritan’s Purse traveled to Yen Bai Province, about a four hour drive from the office in Hanoi, to distribute 156 winter jackets, warm blankets, and gift bags filled with milk, cake, toothbrushes, toothpaste, and soap. Samaritan’s Purse had never been involved in Yen Bai Province before, and it was the government that invited us to conduct a distribution there.
The drive was a bumpy one. The mountainous dirt roads were unpaved and only wide enough for one car at a time. The driver honked at every curve in order to warn possible oncoming traffic.
We arrived at the school at about 1 p.m., and the air was filled with a chill fog. I could see the white cloud of my breath when I exhaled. A farmhouse next door shared a fence with the school, and I heard the clucking of chickens as they scurried about.
The school was empty except for a few teachers and children because it had been closed for the past two days due to the Tet holiday. We unloaded the boxes containing the gifts and were warmed with some tea as we waited for more children and parents to arrive.
Slowly, mothers with brightly colored head wraps and scarves started streaming into the school with their little ones tagging along beside them. Some parents came without their kids, probably because of the cold weather. About a half hour later, everyone gathered in the courtyard. Ha, the government official that joined us on the distribution, spoke first to the children and parents, introducing Samaritan’s Purse.
Minhtrung Le, the project manager, then explained to the children the reason why we were there: to love our neighbors as ourselves. He shared that because we have first received love, we came to this school in order to extend what we were given. He encouraged the children to also love their neighbors as themselves, remembering today as a moment when they were the recipients of love.
Next, the team shared with the children about the importance of personal hygiene and demonstrated how to brush teeth and wash hands. She sang a song about brushing teeth to the tune of “Row, Row, Row Your Boat,” and many of the mothers and children laughed as she sang with hand motions.
Finally, it was time to distribute the gifts. The children waited in their seats as teachers, parents, and volunteers came to the front to select jackets of appropriate sizes for their children. Each child was helped into their new bright blue winter jacket, and soon the crowd of children became a sea of blue bundles.
Having these jackets helps keep these children in school because the cold weather is often an obstacle for students who need to walk to school every day. The teachers were impressed by the quality of these three-layered jackets and blankets and were glad to receive something that would last these children for several years. They said, to them, this was a true display of love.
“We went in the right place at the right time,” Minhtrung said. “And the results were beautiful.”
My hope is that these small gifts will serve as a reminder to these children and their families that they are cared for, not only by their neighbors at Samaritan’s Purse but also by the One who first loved all of us, the One who enables us to love others as ourselves.