Deidre’s Gift

In early September 2013 I was searching for a few used books at a northern suburbs second-hand book store. I was due to head to the mountains in north-west Vietnam to launch the new Platypus programme and knew that electronic entertainment would be unavailable, so I looked forward to a bit of reading.

I struck up a conversation with Deidre, who works in the shop, and Vietnam and the Platypus activities came up in conversation. She suddenly dashed into a small back room and emerged minutes later, brandishing a $50 note.

“Would this do any good there?” she asked.

“$50 is a life changer,” I told her.

It turned out Deirdre was no stranger to tough times, but had enjoyed a helping hand when it mattered and she well knew the value of a bit of help. A new Bentley has proven elusive so far, but she wanted to lend a hand. I accepted het gift and promised I would find a good home for it.

Two weeks later, we hit the mountain road between Ha Giang city and Yen Minh, in Ha Giang Province. We were in far north-west Vietnam, mountainous territory near the China border where well-engineered, narrow and twisting roads provided a challenge to driver and vehicle. We summited before heading back down to a small village that had suffered a major setback recently when an epidemic took a toll of livestock in the area.

On the road to Yen Minh

On the road to Yen Minh

This was a massive disaster as the main activity thereabouts is subsistence farming. The terrain is mostly too steep for rice cultivation so locals compete with rock formations for a little soil for hard-scrabble corn cultivation. Options are limited, with livestock being the precious commodity standing between a family and the toughest of hard times when conditions turn against the locals.

The Women’s Union had purchased two piglets on Deidre’s behalf, and we called on a family that had lost both their animals, effectively the family disaster pool or superannuation fund. It was a very severe loss that they had not been able to recover from. The gift piglets, henceforth known as Laurel and Hardy (Abbott and Costello were ruled out as being too political) were introduced to a stunned family. I failed to appreciate the beauty of these two little beasts, but the oohs and aahs assured me that Deidre had hit the mark.

Laurel and Hardy settling in

Laurel and Hardy settling in

We tried to explain that a mother near Mindarie wanted to help, but folks thereabouts do not as a rule meet westerners and it was all a bit much for them. There was simply no way of explaining Deidre’s motivation, but there was no real need anyway as there was a whole lot of love happening.

A happy family of battlers

A happy family of battlers

Laurel and Hardie settled into their new treated and disinfected digs very quickly and we continued our journey to the sound of contented oinking, and the broadest smiles that a million dollars could possibly buy.

Deidre’s gift presented a fresh start to a worthy family, proving that one should never underestimate the good that can flow from a seemingly modest donation.

Thank you, Deidre.

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