“While there are many expats who choose to come to Vietnam to make a life for themselves, sometimes we run into someone special who has come to help improve the lives of others”.
Klaudea Garces was born in Vietnam, in Rach Gia Province, but spent most of her life living in London. At aged 16, she started to take regular trips back home to visit family, and saw that there was so much work that could be done to help orphans and the poorest inhabitants of the country. This gave her a lifelong passion for charity work in Vietnam, and sowed the seeds to create a dedicated charity. She began using her own income and sought donations from friends back in the UK, to start, what has now turned into a growing and productive charity organization, “Living is Giving”.
Living is Giving is still a small organization that has already achieved great success. Managed entirely by Klaudea, her husband and local volunteers. Klaudea’s full time job consists of seeking out those most in need such as orphanages, elderly and disability care centers, rural mountain villages, and poor island inhabitants. She then speaks to those in charge to ascertain the biggest issues they face, and makes plans with them to provide solutions to their biggest problems. For some, this involves food and clothing baskets given to all members of that community. For others, the projects are grander in scale and include providing wells to give regular drinking water, creating greenhouses and vegetable patches to teach farming practices, solar electricity or building homes.
Discover Nha Trang had the pleasure of meeting with the founder herself, to find out more about Living is Giving, and the charity work that it does in Khanh Hoa.
DNT: So, how did you come to live in Nha Trang?
Klaudea: I was born in Kien Giang Province, but moved to England before turning 1. Much of my extended family still live in Vietnam, and so I would come back with my parents for visits. Nha Trang found me during one of my charity visits.
DNT: Can you tell us how “Living is Giving” started?
Klaudea: From my early twenties, coming from the very busy city of London, I always knew there was much more to life than working the rat race. I began to take regular trips back here to visit the country. We left Vietnam when I was a baby, and started off very poor ourselves, being raised by a church in Northern Ireland. When I first revisited Vietnam as a child, I fell in love. With the people, the culture, the food… but mostly, the realisation that it was so simple to help the poor and underprivileged. Later in my early twenties, having so much to be grateful for, I understood the importance to give back. Regions were so underdeveloped, and everywhere I looked, I saw people that needed help, and it grew from there. In 2006, I came back again, this time with my husband and we began a number of initiatives across Vietnam, expanding orphanages and creches, attending several disability centres, and providing to poor communities.
DNT: How did you fund the charity work?
Klaudea: Back then, we used our own income and savings, and as the work grew, and the projects became more complex and expensive, we simply asked for donations from family and friends back in the UK. In early 2014, we came back to Vietnam on a 6 month mission to do some specific charity work in Rach Gia. The 6 months passed by very quickly, and as each project completed, we found more and more that needed to be done. So, we made the decision to make Vietnam our home, left our jobs and our lives in London behind and created a base here in Nha Trang.
Can you tell us about the mission of Living is Giving?
Klaudea: Basically, we seek out those most in need and look for ways to improve their lives. I travel around the region to identify people that need help, find out the biggest challenges they face, and look for solutions to improve their situations. For example, we regularly travel to very poor mountain communities and provide food and clothing baskets to the villages. We then identify things that they need that can help them become self-supporting. I really believe that long term self sustainability projects and education, to achieve for themselves, are fundamental for change. We have provided electricity, water wells and filtration systems so that they have access to clean running water. We have built greenhouses and vegetable gardens so that they can farm their own food, and we’ve taught sustainability in areas such as poultry and livestock farming so that they can learn to have an income for themselves and their families ongoing.
I also love to work with the elderly and babies, and there are so many who have no family to take care of them, just like orphans that are continually left abandoned across the country. We often visit some of the centers who look after them and provide food and medication to those who need it, and sometimes more importantly, we just spend time with them. I take blind centres and orphanages out for trips, participate in as many local events and involve our community as much as possible.
Although Vietnam is developing rapidly, and the quality of life is improving year on year, there are still so many people and communities that are struggling, and being left behind. I believe everybody should do some charity work regularly; anything to give back to your community; It’s good for the soul, hence the name “Living is Giving”.
DNT: How do you fund the projects?
Klaudea: The search for funds is constant and never-ending. We still use our own income and friends and family donations. Since we’ve moved here, we’ve been fortunate to meet many amazing people who provide private donations for specific projects, and local businesses have been fantastic in providing both money and human resources to help us distribute goods and implement the initiatives.
We use our Facebook page as well to crowdsource funding for new projects. Once I find a new charity project, I make a cost plan to provide for it and post the details on Facebook. People then contact us with offers of donations and manpower to implement it.
DNT: Can you tell us of some of your favorite/most important projects to date?
Klaudea: There are so many, but some of my personal favorites include Diep Son Island off the coast of Khanh Hoa. We worked with Lanterns, ShareIt, and NTU to install solar electricity and taught them how to recycle and resell the trash that accumulates on the island. Diep Son has recently become a popular tourist destination, and the locals were taught how to capitalize on this to generate income for the entire community.
Another important initiative was the “Dropbox” Education project that deals with unwanted pregnancies. Due to the stigma attached to infants born out of wedlock, there is an alarming number of babies who are simply left to die in rural communities. We introduced the ‘Dropbox Education Program’ so that mothers could bring the unwanted child to a designated orphanage to ensure the baby would be taken care of. Many continue to appear in noodle boxes in the middle of the night.
In South Vietnam, we continue to work with the local monks. Last year we completed the build of a trade school where the locals can now come and learn a trade that will give them a proper career in woodwork, metal work etc. Recently I find myself being asked for more sewing machines and tools needed to provide a life skill set to these different poor communities. Its truly wonderful to see their enthusiasm to change their lives.
So who is involved in the charity?
Right now, my husband and I run the day to day operations in sourcing projects, securing donations and putting everything in place. However, we’ve been fortunate to meet so many great people here. We work closely with the team at Lanterns Restaurant who help us identify new communities that need help. Nha Trang University have been absolutely amazing, and the students and professors there give us a constant source of volunteers. Similarly, local businesses such as Kidcastle International School, Skylight and California Fitness have provided both donations and their staff for individual projects. The local expat community here in Nha Trang are fantastic, and many of our friends are involved too.
DNT: What are the biggest challenges that you face?
Klaudea: The first challenge is to keep finding donations and funding. As a charity, we can only operate when we have enough money to provide for each project, so the biggest stress is securing funding for the work. We have a project on every 3 weeks or so, and there are so many that I want to do, but don’t have either the financial or human resources to achieve them. Then there is the political side, and dealing with bureaucracy and local officials is often very challenging. Many are not open to outside help and this can make our work difficult at times. But we remain respectful to them all, and only help where we have approval and support.
Furthermore, education is not as easy as you would think, and the Vietnamese are often resistant to change or new ideas. It’s a constant battle to get them to stick with the programs and methods we teach them, for example in maintaining a vegetable garden or to keep recycling after we have left.
DNT: Can you tell us of your plans for the future?
Klaudea: Right now, we have been focusing on Khanh Hoa Province, and South Vietnam, but soon I would like to expand our reach to Phan Rang and Da Nang etc. I am constantly being approached by different charity groups who do great work across Vietnam, so we have plans to collaborate with many of them soon. We are also in talks with a Finnish company who will hopefully help us to implement a massive water desalination project later on this year. This will revolutionise many poor communities who struggle to have access to clean water. It will create fresh water from seawater, and we are extremely excited about putting this into action.
My main goals are to secure bigger donations, and to approach larger organizations so that we can keep growing Living is Giving, and provide for more and more people. Eventually, we would like to take it to South America as well.
DNT: What can the Nha Trang community do to help “Living is Giving”?
We welcome any and all help that people wish to provide. I am often contacted by local expats and Vietnamese who want to give something back to the community, but are not sure how to go about it. You don’t need to provide donations to the charity (although we certainly welcome it). We need manpower as much as anything, so we are always looking for volunteers to come and work with us. If you have any skills or knowledge that you think would be useful to the communities, then you are always welcome to join us. I believe that, in addition to providing for people, Living is Giving is a great way for the local community to get together and bond, to make new friends, and to develop a real community spirit amongst those who live and work here.
In short, we are seeking:
- Donations for upcoming projects (listed regularly on our Facebook page). Whether it be private benefactors or companies who want to get involved, there is no donation too big or too small.
- Volunteers to pack food and clothing bags, visit orphanages and care centers, and rural communities with us.
- Educators: People with formal education in areas such as ecology, engineering, sustainability, farming, etc who can pass on their knowledge and experience. Of course, this is not a requirement: we want anybody who is enthusiastic and feels that they have something to give, even simply their time and care.
- A Website – We are currently just using our facebook page to promote the charity, but moving forward, we really need a nice website to present all of the work of the Charity. If there are any kind souls in the Nha Trang tech community who would be willing to help us with this, we would be eternally grateful!
As a special personal request, I would ask the expats to support the local lottery ticket sellers. These people spend all day selling tickets for the government lottery, and make a tiny 1,000 vnd per ticket that they sell. I often see them shrugged off by locals as a nuisance, but please be considerate of them, and maybe buy a few tickets that will cost you the price of a cup of tea!
DNT: Thanks so much for meeting us Klaudea, and we thank you for your wonderful work in the community!
If you would like to get involved with “Living is Giving”, be sure to check out the facebook page HERE. By liking and sharing it with your friends, we can get more exposure for this great organization!