|Tran Hong Dung, vice chairwoman of the Forever 20 Foundation |
Remembering the idea 17 years ago to create the foundation of Forever 20 Foundation, vice chairwoman Tran Hong Dung said, “In 2005, the publication of the two wartime diaries from Dang Thuy Tram and Nguyen Van Thac captured the imagination of readers and became a runaway best-seller.”
Generating a buzz for the community, the diaries contributed to arousing gratitude to those who have sacrificed for the country’s freedom.
At the time, a group of veterans and writers, artists, and intellectuals in Hanoi had an idea to establish a charity fund to help veterans, revolutionary contributors, their family members, and disadvantaged people to maintain the movement of refuelling the tradition of being “forever 20”, and so the foundation was born, Dung explained.
The foundation’s first chairman was the poet and veteran Pham Tien Duat, followed by the lieutenant general Huu Uoc. The current chairman is a hero of the armed forces, Lieutenant General Doan Sinh Huong. Members of the group are veterans, invalids, and their family members, who go on charity trips to help those that are in less fortunate circumstances.
With the spirit of aspiration, strength, and dedication, the footsteps of Forever 20’s members have been imprinted from the country’s north of Lung Cu in Ha Giang province to the southernmost point in Ca Mau.
Thanks to the contribution of benefactors, hosts of enterprises, and the contribution of the fund’s members, over the past 17 years, the fund has awarded tens of thousands of gifts worth nearly VND4 billion ($174,000) to veterans, revolutionary contributors, children, disadvantaged people, and heroic Vietnamese mothers. In addition, in 2019, the fund was proud to inaugurate a gratitude tower worth over VND1.2 billion ($52,000) at Truong Son National Martyrs Cemetery. Every July – the month that marks War Invalids and Martyrs’ Day – the foundation organises hundreds of trips to burn incense for heroes and martyrs at Truong Son Martyrs Cemetery, Quang Tri Ancient Citadel, Road 9, the historical Truong Bon monument, and the graves of 10 women at Dong Loc junction.
Dung shared that every year, they organise an average of eight charity trips across the country, sometimes returning to the same location several times in order to provide extra support. She choked with emotion to tell the story of hazardous trips to visit Dan Lai ethnic group, one of the smallest communities in Vietnam, with a total of about 3,000 people scattered across Nghe An province.
Dung explained that the tribe is in the core area of the Pu Mat National Park, which is about 130km southwest of Vinh in Nghe An. From the wharf on Pha Lai dam in Mon Son commune, Con Cuong district, it took two hours going upstream on the Giang river to arrive there. This ethnic group, known for the practice of sleeping upright, has been in danger of extinction because of extreme poverty. Without electricity, they are isolated from the outside world and the only way to contact them is through a local border station.
“People are extremely poor and they have nothing to wear in the winter. Thus, we decided to come back here three times to provide blankets, raincoats, and more. On the third trip, we took food to them but could not directly hand them over due to storms,” Dung said.
The trips to Dan Lai ethnic group are part of dozens of hazardous visits to remote areas. During the trips, members are faced with dangers caused by storms and floods but they do not give up, despite the fact almost all members of the group are over 60 years old. Forever 20 runs against the typical charity stereotype of energetic youngsters doing what they can for those in need - the foundation is mostly made up of older veterans who desperately wish to meet and help fellow comrades. And the issues that age and lack of mobility causes will not stop them from doing just that.
“We are not afraid of difficulties or deprivation, and we are always ready to hit the road because our works bring simple happiness for people,” Dung said. “We are unable to forget meetings with local people in border provinces, the radiant eyes of children when they receive gifts, the image of women who break down in tears when receiving clothes from the fund, and the smiles of old veterans when receiving military uniforms,” she shared.
These foundation members have the companionship of people who directly joined the wars and martyrs’ family members, including Nguyen Van Thac’s family members as well as Doan Ngoc Tram – the mother of martyr Dang Thuy Tram. “She accompanied us on every trip, including dangerous trips that normal people give up. It was not until she turned 90 years old that she was forced to stay at home due to health problems. However, she always follows up on our activities and even knits sweaters with a yellow star and red flag pattern to give to children, saving up money to send to the fund,” Dung said.
Refuelling the source
In some cases, Forever 20 comes across sacrifices that have yet to be properly recognised, and one of those was the sacrifice of 10 Lam Ha women in the war.
“We visited the graves of 10 Lam Ha women in Ha Nam province many years ago and listened to the story about their silent sacrifice in the war. We were surprised because this relic site was nearly forgotten although it is not far from Hanoi. Thus, we were determined to call for participation from local authorities to restructure the graves as well as recognise their sacrifice,” Dung said.
The foundation mobilised local authorities and other people to help honour the women in an official capacity. The fund also organised a national science conference to discuss their victory and issued a proposal for the honour. After a lot of effort, the 10 women were posthumously awarded the title of “Hero” in 2018 and the site was also restructured; it is now a popular relic.
In recent years, students of the University of Social Sciences and Humanities at the Hanoi National University joined veterans on trips to old battlefields. Those activities not only contribute to adding knowledge about history and traditions, but also build character, awareness, and responsibility of young people.
On behalf of original and older members of the foundation, Dung concluded, “We hope that the next generation will inherit and promote our work, and we also hope that more benefactors will find out about the fund so we have the money to help more disadvantaged people.”