Every year, as Tếtt approaches, disadvantaged rural kids in southern Tiền Giang province eagerly await gifts from a big Westerner with white hair and heartwarming smiles.
This Westerner is Robert Nugier, a 69-year-old French national.
This Tết is the tenth consecutive year he has visited Việt Nam to bring gifts to the poor kids.
His companion, guide and interpreter is his wife, Lê Thị Cẩm Nhung, who is a Tiền Giang native.
The tender-hearted man
Nugier first visited Việt Nam in 2002, when a Vietnamese-French friend took him to see poor rural families.
He was extremely upset upon seeing the emaciated, sunburned kids with unruly hair wearing tattered clothes.
“In France, kids are usually lacking in paternal love only, not material comforts like in Việt Nam,” Nugier said.
“My heart ached a lot seeing small-built, underweight kids toiling hard on the paddies with their parents or roaming the streets as lottery ticket peddlers, as if they were my own grandchildren,” he confided.
After returning to France, he shared the heartrending stories and scenes he encountered in Việt Nam and suggested the establishment of the Cannelle Association to raise funds to help underprivileged Vietnamese kids.
The next year, Nugier returned to Tiền Giang to initiate the plan with local agencies.
“We couldn’t help all those in need here.
So we decided to target normal kids, not high-performing ones, from poor families, who have never received support before,” he explained.
“We wanted to give them joy and encouragement and bring about change,” the philanthropist elaborated.
Each following year, Nugier spent eight months raising funds for his association in France, and the remaining four personally handing out Tet gifts to poor kids and helping needy families in Tiền Giang.
Over the past 10 years, Nugier and other members of his association have helped a considerable number of disadvantaged kids, provided funding and building more than 100 houses, four kindergarten classrooms, and several bridges in the area.
“French people are afraid to cross the crisscrossing canals and rivers on cầu khỉ (narrow, makeshift bamboo bridges) or by boat without safety guarantee.
They fear some unfortunate child may fall off into the water and drown,” Nugier explained.
Nugier always tries to communicate with the kids using simple Vietnamese words.
Whenever he sees a grimy, skinny kid, he hugs them hard and keeps saying ‘thank you’ in Vietnamese.
He once walked a long way to visit a poor family and meticulously noted every detail of their house, which is on the brink of collapse.
He promised to return the following year with a cow as a gift to them.
The French Samaritan said he receives more than what he gives by learning from the will to survive of the people he helps.
He is also elated to see their radiant smiles.
When it was created the Cannelle Association had only 30 members, but it now includes over 300 people thanks to Nugier’s persistence.
Nugier and other members pay for their visits to Việt Nam on their own.
They always make sure every penny of the money raised is given to the needy.
The members are set to come to Vietnam to hand over the houses they help build in early March.
They will be back early next year with another batch of gifts and money.
After each trip to Việt Nam, Nugier and his wife collect photos from the visit and publish them in Un Brin de Cannelle (A Bit of Cannelle), their own newspaper.
“The assistance provided by Nugier and the Cannelle Association has fueled faith and motivation in the needy kids,” said Võ Văn Lang, chairman of Tiền Giang’s Red Cross Society.