In Hue. the old Vietnamese imperial capital in the northern part of South Vietnam, there is a social service centre set up a few years ago by the Archbishop. Vietnamese girls train there. Some carry on afterwards with social work there, others go elsewhere to help with the countless human problems arising in an underdeveloped country suffering from the torments inflicted by decades of w a r, A team of three foreigners works at the centre -two Belgians and a Lebanese. members of a lay institute. In the course of the three summer holidays I have spent in Vietnam in the last four years, I have had' the privilege of staying at the centre, becoming friends with the more permanent workers, and hearing about some of the work. The work I am going to talk about here is the maternity clinic in which Yvonne, from The Lebanon. has been specially involved. The clinic isn't under the direction of the centre or the archdiocese, hut Yvonne has for some time been more responsible for keeping it going than anyone else. She is still deeply involved in it, though when she showed me round it this summer she was on the point of switching some of her energies (once she had recruited them a bit, which back ly needed doing) to other things, since the clinic is now under the competent direction of one of its Vietnamese midwives. Showing me round was not an enormously lengthy business: it's just a small house, providing eight beds, absolutely minimum basics, and a couple of cubbyholes for staff to sleep in. The drains in the yard at the hack and side I could sec only in.their new. cemented-over condition: I had to he content with photographs of the swilling floods and mess that had been there before. But don't think the drainage problem is solved. The effluent has to go somewhere, and there just aren't any drains in that street. (They have been supposed to be going to be provided for goodness knows how long: but it will take more than that supposition to produce them in fact — a quite different sort of government. perhaps.) The people's slops go into the gutters, hut effluent from the maternity clinic going the same way nearly caused the destruction of the clinic by popular indignation. It is not at all a Christian area, hut it does happen to be a traoitional sacred spot: and another tradition (almost a world-wide one, isn't it?) regards anything to do with childbirth as unclean. There are plenty of people in that part of Hue. (and other parts) who would rush to the defence or the clinic now, and they increase in nuinbers all the time: it's the only place in Hue where a woman can have her baby free if she is too poor to pay, and there are quite a few mothers and babies around today who would be dead if it hadn't been there. But defiling and desecrating a sacred place was too much for anyone. The clinic's effluent has to accumulate in a covered sump during the day. and at night a man has to come with buckets (which means extra expense, of course) and transfer it to the river under cover of darkness.
That's just One problem. Others are: the rats, which eat through the concrete floor (honest1), they do. they eat concrete. I've seen the holes) and after that eat whatever there is, such as sterile sutures in plastic bags, for which there isn't room in the one steel cupboard.
And the absence of a waterfilter: there was one when I was there, but it was borrowed, and would have to he returned in a few days. Yvonne said she supposed they'd be boiling all their water.
And the roof, which was already leaking and threatening to LW in at the hack: but Yvonne.s last letter told me that some money had materialised for mending the roof.
To come to the point at last. I finally asked -Yvonne what was the one thing she would most like to have provided: and she said. a car. They have no means of transport except what can be hired or borrowed at the very time an emergency happens. This can be managed during the day. hut imagine running round the streets at 2 a.m. desperately knocking on doors to rind someone to rush a woman to hospital before she bleeds to death. The Hue hospital is adequately equipped, and almost adequately staffed, for saving lives On such occasions, but you have to get the woman there first,
Borrowing a car in the neighbourhood brings you up against that taboo against childbirth uncleanness again: people just don't want such a woman in their cars. Every emergency becomes a nightmare: and these are often women whose deaths leave a family of orphaned children to a country already helplessly .unable to cope with its orphans.
Yvonne knew exactly what she wanted — a tough little Honda van. with a back in which a person can be laid flat. It would belong to the social service centre, which would be able to make plenty of use of it for all sorts of social work in and round Hue during the day. At night it would be at the clinic, and one can't estimate how many precious lives it might save. She and Jacqueline, at the centre, worked out that the cost, with something for running costs, would be about £1,600. I promised I'd find it somehow, and I have, and the money has been sent. But the van hasn't actually been paid for yet. I am a few hundred pounds in debt for it, so ilanyone -would like to have a share in saving some mothers and babies in Hue, they could send something (cheques to "Hue Social Service") to Cecil Hastings, 17 The Avenue, St. Margaret's. Twickenham, Middlesex. You needn't worry about going over the target: Yvonne's letter told me that the price of rice has doubled in the last few months. The poor are dying of starvation while a few people still make fortunes. The mothers are liable to eat so little that they lose their milk.. Canned milk is more expensive still. So Yvonne provides a basic ration whether she's got the money for it or not. The debts mount month by month. Your money won't he wasted.