An Australian-Vietnamese couple has chosen to forego retirement in lieu of earning money to pump into charity projects for impoverished children in Vietnam.
Roy Erle Hornsby, 70, his Vietnamese wife Phan Thi Thu Lan, and their philanthropic efforts are becoming a hot topic of conversation in Hoi An, a popular tourist hub in the central Vietnamese province of Quang Nam, where Lan operates a nail salon and Hornsby runs a web design business.
The couple’s nail salon turns out dozens of mani-pedis each day in an alley off Nguyen Duy Hieu Street in UNESCO-recognized Hoi An Ancient Town, but it is not Lan’s nail work which has earned her and Hornsby praise in the community.
Just a few kilometers away, in Trung Chau Hamlet, Cam Kim Commune along the Thu Bon River, the couple has built a nursery to care for the children of poor workers.
From outsiders to changemakers
Lan, 49, first met Hornsby, an Australian veteran, while he was working as a programmer at a large university in Ho Chi Minh City in 2003. Seven years later, in 2010, the couple tied the knot and returned to Australia.
While the pair enjoyed their life Down Under, Hornsby could not forget the pastoral landscape and peaceful tranquility of Hoi An and, in 2014, he and his wife decided to return to the central Vietnamese city to settle down for good.
One day, while the couple was having their house built, one of the construction workers from Trung Chau Hamlet explained to Lan that she was considering giving up the job in order to care for her child.
In their attempt to understand the hardship their worker was going through, Hornsby and Lan visited Trung Chau.
“I didn’t realize there was such a poor rural neighborhood in Hoi An. Most of [the people in Trung Chau] are low-income workers who can’t afford to send their kids to nurseries,” Lan shared.
That realization spurred Hornsby and Lan to set up a meeting with the then-chair of the Cam Kim Commune People’s Committee, who confirmed that the absence of state kindergartens and private nurseries in the hamlet meant toddlers were typically left in the care of unregistered and untrained babysitters.
Though they had not even finished construction on their house, the couple asked the commune leader if they could take on a second project – building a brand new nursery for Trung Chau. Of course, they were met with an enthusiastic “Yes!”
The couple was then taken to a dilapidated, weed-covered building with a rusty roof and collapsing walls and were told it had once been a two-classroom school. It was all theirs, the chairman said.
|Truc Xanh Nursery School, nestled in a poor neighborhood in Hoi An City, Quang Nam Province in central Vietnam, was built thanks to Roy Erle Hornsby and Phan Thi Thu Lan’s financial support. Photo: B.D. / Tuoi Tre|
“We shuddered at the thought of revamping the decrepit school but were set on turning it into an amazing space for the kids,” Lan said, adding that the couple funded the project through VND200 million (US$8,583) of their own savings and calling on donations to cover the remaining costs.
Their call for support was answered by financial aid from friends and physical help from a group of students based in Da Nang City, approximately 30 kilometers from Hoi An, who volunteered to clear the site.
It took nearly a year, but by the time the renovation was completed Trung Chau had a beautiful nursery adorned with murals and paintings, brand new furniture, a new dining room, and restrooms.
Lan and Hornsby settled on naming the nursery 'Truc Xanh,' or 'Green Bamboo.'
“Lan and her husband are a fixture here. They meticulously weed, build toys and grow clean veggies for the kids. We are really thankful to them,” one of the school managers said.
But even with construction complete and vegetables growing, the duo still feel they have a long way to go.
“We want to do everything possible for the kids so they have a good time and their parents don’t have a single worry when they go to work,” Lan said.
The couple now funds the school with the entirety of their earnings from Lan’s nail salon while they live off savings from Hornsby’s time working in Ho Chi Minh City.
Next on their agenda, Lan and Hornsby say, is an even more ambitious project: building a vocational school to provide tuition-free training for orphans and autistic children.
“We wish to spend what is left of our lives to earn as much as possible and call for donations so that we can construct another school for disadvantaged kids to receive training in what they are strong, so they can earn their own livelihoods later,” Hornsby said.
In the meantime, Lan does her best to make that dream a reality by offering free training to orphans at her nail salon.