Vietspices Search

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Dự Án Nguồn Sống (Living Water Project in Vietnam)

A man working the sedge field: captured by anh Ba who's representing The Spices Of Life during his visit to the Village in Vũng Liêm, District of Vĩnh Long Province.

Every last week of the month for the last twelve months, I've been receiving an auto payment from a blog reader U. Le for The Spices Of Life's charity via Paypal. Every single time I see the payment notification in my mailbox, I'm deeply moved by her trust, kindness and generosity.  It inspires me to do more.

In March, when I saw a post on Facebook with pictures of the children from a poor village in Vietnam with Ngân (a friend from church), I immediately messaged her for help with organizing an event to help the poor children. It was her last few days there before returning to the States so she couldn't do much but was able to send me a few pictures of the people she met who were so destitute with serious health issues.

One of them was a woman who suffered great pains due to her cervical cancer. Her family couldn't afford a doctor or admit her to the hospital as they're struggling to make ends meet. She was forced to stay home and writhe in pain for as long as she could hold out. When Ngân visited her, she was in her last stage of the cancer. There wasn't much we could do for her. We donated a $100 U.S dollars to help her family through their difficult time.  Sadly, she passed away two months later on May 26th.

In the same rural area of Vĩnh Long where the lady lived, there was a 50 year old man who had a large tumor on the side of his ear for years but had no means to see a doctor.  We gave him $100 to initiate his care.  Unfortunately, he didn't make it and passed away on May 13th of this year.

The last picture Ngân sent me was of baby Nghĩa who was burned badly. On her last day in Vietnam, she came to the hospital to visit the baby and met the mom. The mom has a mental illness, so there volunteers who took turn to stay at the hospital to help the mom take care of her baby. They also raised money to pay for the baby's medical expenses. We pitched in  a $100 US dollars to help out with additional expenses. After almost two months in the hospital and 3 surgeries later, we're happy to learn that bé Nghĩa is now well.

But the above scenarios were only a prelude of what's to come for our work.

Though the Vietnamese economy has achieved impressive growth in the last two decades, the majority of the rural communities dwell in stark poverty in contrast to a wealthier urban population. As we all know poverty increases people's chance of illness and disease due to poor nutrition, lack of access to clean drinking water and sanitation. And when you don't have much, you take greater risks to ensure your family's safety and survival. 

For the last month, The Spices Of Life has been undertaking a very important project of providing clean water access to the families who reside in impoverished conditions in these two villages -Tân Hưng, Cà Mau Province and Trung Thành Đông, Vĩnh Long Province). Both are on the Mekong Delta region of Vietnam. Our mission is to provide remote villages safe drinking water to alleviate some their hardship and help ensure their survival.

Trung Thành Đông, Vũng Liêm District, Vĩnh Long Province

Tân Hưng, Cái Nước District, Cà Mau Province

Thank God we have a team who is very trustworthy, dedicated and passionate about helping the less fortunate. But before we can begin, we have to hurdle over the red taping in Vietnam. Everything we want to do for the villagers must be accompanied by prior authorization from the local officials. With the approval of the officers, our team took several trips to the villages to talk to the villagers and observe their day-to-day activities.

our team entering the remote village in Vinh Long province

Sedge (lát) plant in the background

this family still clings onto the rudimentary looms

What we learned from these villages at Tân Hưng, Cà Mau Province and Trung Thành Đông, Vĩnh Long province is that they are so far away from the city so there's no electricity and water is scarce. They rely on rainwater and groundwater to survive. The situation is worsening due to the recent prolonged drought and saltwater intrusion. The villagers now have no choices but take showers in dirty water from the small ponds and lakes which cause severe skin irritation and itching. They drink and cook with water that they saved from the rain.  When they run out of rain water, they have to travel far to bring back clean water from the creek. 

Below are some pictures of a few households in Trung Thành Đông, Vĩnh Long province.

getting every drop of rainwater for drinking, and cooking  

they have no choices but to wash their bodies with this dirty water

After visiting the villagers in the remote village of Trung Thành Đông, Vĩnh Long Province, anh Ba, who represents us, took another day trip to the village in Tân Hưng, Cà Mau Province. The situation here as evident is more dire than in the previous villages.

It's almost impossible for the villagers to afford to drill a well for water or buy a large water container to catch the rain as each family works so hard to earn a living by hand weaving mats. They grow and harvest the sedge about three times a year, then cut, classify, split, dry and dye the sedge to have good sedge threads. Making mat is hard work and they earn only $2 to $3 per day. When anh Ba entered the village, the villagers rushed toward him with feelings of happiness and worries, stress, and excitement. We do understand why they have those mix emotions as they have been promised help in the past that were never delivered.

anh Ba and a villager

anh Ba is giving a promise of hope to the villager's family

We want to expedite this project but the tedious process of researching both online and through direct contact to find the right well drillers and water container companies present an obstacle. Once we have all the info, this is then communicated to the team in Vietnam so that they can work with local contractors and officers to find the best solution to provide the much needed water. Over here, chị Trâm, who lives in Boston, Massachusetts, has been doing a lot of good work on her own for the less fortunate in Vietnam. I have teamed up with her to move this project forward. I appreciate her help so much and she's been phenomenal.

With the current reserved funding, we are able to start out with 15 water wells. Each well costs at least $200 U.S depending on how deep the well is and the type of motor required for each well. If it's shallow, typically you do not need a motor to pump the water as you can do it by hand, but in this region you need to dig at least 120 meters (400 feet) deep to reach the water table, and therefore the pump is necessary.  Our mission is to provide 31 wells to the 31 poor families in Tân Hưng, Cà Mau Province. It would be less costly if a few families can share a well but unfortunately it's not practical as the villagers live so far away from each other that going from one home to the next requires a canoe or boat.

At the same time, we will also reach out to the 220 villagers in Trung Thành Đông, Vĩnh Long Province to provide each family a rain barrel urn instead of a water well because where these villagers reside there's no clean water well access. The rain barrel urn we are planning to build has the dimensions of about 6 feet high and over 3 feet wide, and can hold at least 1500 liters of water.  Each urn will have two hose spigots attached.  The costs is about $50 U.S each. This rain barrel urn capacity will be a significant benefit.

You may remember this quote from an earlier post that "no one person can solve all the world's problems, but what you can do is make that little corner of the world where you live just a little better." Well, this summer Cà Mau and Vĩnh Long Provinces will be that corner of our world. We will  live vicariously through the lives of these villagers. Let's help make it a little better, but we can't do it without your financial support and prayers.  

Below is a list of  our goal and current funding:

Our Goal: $17,200
31 water wells = 31 x $200 = $6,200 (donated by T Ngo from Real Estate Pacific Group, Portland, Oregon)

220 rain barrel urns = 220 x $50 = $11,000

Our Current Funding:
The Spices Of Life reserved fund: $1500
T Ngo, Portland, OR: $6200 (for 31 water wells)
A Abraham, Elk Grove, CA: $400 
T Dang, Boston, MA: $250 
T Dang's son, Boston, MA: $250
Anonymous, Folsom, CA : $100
Mom and her friends: $380
Thuy's mom, Elk Grove, CA:  $40
V  Vu, Elk Grove, CA: $200
T Pham, Sacramento, CA: $500
G Ton, Eden Prairie, MN: $50
ML Dang, St Louis, MO: $150
D Tang, Elk Grove, CA: $100 + $100
L Nguyen, Germantown, MD: $100
J Phan, Federal Way, WA: $600
Anonymous, San Jose, CA: $100
H and N, Orange County, CA: $50
Group of  Moms, Orange County, CA: $100
KL Tran, Riverview, FL: $50
D Nguyen, Braintree, MA: $100
N Dang, Elk Grove, CA: $100
T Do, Fremont, CA: $100
C Dinh, Houston, TX: $100
C Duong, Yorba Linda, CA: $300
P Nguyen, Frisco, TX: $100
L Hoang, Stockton, CA: $200
Q Vo, Springfield, VA: $100
V Vo, Springfield, VA: $100
H Vo, Stockton, CA: $100
NTTD                       : $100
ML Luu, Quincy, MA: $100
A Do, Springfield, VA: $100
L Dang, Tracy, CA: $50
T Nguyen, Santa Ana, CA: $50 + $50
B Tran, Penfield, NY: $100
K. Nguyen, Tracy, CA: $1000
T Truong, Garden Grove, CA: $100
A Hung, Elk Grove, CA: $100
T and U Le: $100
TN, Elk Grove, CA: $200
N.A, Metairie, LA: $50
V.A, Houston, TX: $50
P.A, Houston, TX: $50
T Nguyen, Moore, OK: $50
N Duong, Garland, TX:  $100
J Bui, Arlington, TX: $100
H Ly, Quincy, MA: $50
D Hoang, Hayward, CA: $100
T Trinh, Poway, CA: $100
KL Tran, Riverview, FL: $50
H Phan, Burien, WA: $100
XH Nguyen, San Francisco, CA: $100
B Madeiros, Elk Grove, CA: $250
C Hogan, Aledo, TX: $20
H Chan, San Francisco, CA: $50
LH Tran, Houston, TX: $50
A Hyun, Woodland Hills, CA: $1500
D and H Ngo, OR: $200
PLK moms           : $100
O Phan, San Jose, CA: $100
T Tran, San Jose, CA: $100
O Le, Beaverton, OR: $100
H & L Ngyen, Vancouver, WA: $100
T Jacobson, Elk Grove, CA: $200
T Delmima, Galt, CA: $100
KM Do, San Francisco, CA: $100

TOTAL Current Funding: $18,440

Once the well project is completed, each well and rain barrel urn will have a dedication plate as a token of gratitude to recognize the supporters of this project. Our water wells and rain barrel urns will look similar to these.

water well for village in Ghana

anh Ba is standing next to a 10+ year old rain barrel urn

I'm grateful for each and everyone of our readers, their families, and friends who have partake in this work and whose donations will provide a source of living water and thereby hope and life. Thank you.

If you prefer to contribute by check, please make it out to: The Spices of Life and send it to the following address:
The Spices Of Life
PO Box 580255
Elk Grove, Ca 95758

You can also send your contribution via Paypal. If you use a smartphone, it will take you to a mobile version, scroll down and click on "view web version".  You will see the DONATION button on the next screen at the far right column.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Xôi Lá Cẩm (Magenta Sticky Rice)

click the picture for better image quality

I am excited that our magenta plants (cây lá cẩm) are growing brilliantly. We just harvested our first bunch of the magenta leaves for xôi lá cẩm - magenta sticky rice (sweet rice aka glutinous rice) that I have been wanting to share the recipe for a long while.

As I was boiling the water with the magenta leaves, my girls were super excited to see how just a bunch of little green leaves can turn into a beautifully radiant purple.  This is a natural food coloring plant, therefore, it is tasteless and won't affect the taste or the fragrance of food.

As soon as my first batch of magenta sticky rice came off the stove, it was an instant hit with the family.  This magenta sticky  rice is flavored in the rich, and creamy coconut cream and topped with fresh shredded coconut, a mixture of salted, slightly sweetened roasted peanut and sesame seeds.  Xôi (sticky rice) served warm or room temperature, wrapped in banana leaf not only holds everything together perfectly, but it also adds that subtle fragrance to the sticky rice.  I am lucky this year that both magenta plants and banana trees are thriving.

The natural mild sweetness of warm sticky rice brought back fond childhood memories in the 80's of how almost everyday I received breakfast money from my mom to enjoy such treats. As I stepped right out in front of my house, I could smell the wonderful Vietnamese street food breakfast. Sticky rice was always a comforting, traditional favorite.  And it's so pleasing to the eye.
RECIPE: Magenta Sticky Rice
Printable Recipe


1 liter bottle magenta water
4 cups sweet rice
1 cup coconut cream
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt

for toppings
1/2 cup roasted peanuts
1/4 cup roasted sesame seeds
 1 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons sugar
1 coconut

Cooking Magenta Leaves

Thoroughly wash and rinse magenta leaves or leaves with stems. Bruise the leaves and stems then place them into a pot, cover with water to the same level of the leaves above the leaves level. Bring it to a boil, turn the heat down to medium low, cover and simmer for about 20 minutes.

The leaves will emit a beautiful violet color. Turn off the heat and let it cool down completely. The color will turn a deeper tone of purple. Drain the magenta water into a bowl. Squeeze the leaves to extract the liquid. Discard the leaves. I stored magenta water in the 1 liter water bottles and freeze them for use later.

Soaking Sweet Rice

Wash the sweet rice a few times until water is cleared. Pour a bottle of the magenta water to the sweet rice and soak for an hour or two or overnight (I soaked mine for about an hour). Since the sweet rice is not submerged under the magenta water, be sure to mix it up occasionally so that the rice absorb the magenta water extract.

Preparing Coconut Cream

Combine coconut cream, salt, and sugar.  Mix well. 
Preparing Shredded Coconut 

Crack a coconut in half. Scrape the coconut meat using a bottle cap attached to a piece of flat wood or any tool that works for you.

Preparing Nuts

Toast sesame seeds on a skillet over medium low heat until golden. Do the same with peanuts. When both sesame seeds and peanuts are cool down completely, put them in a ziploc bag and slightly crush them to release the nutty flavors.

In a bowl, combine sugar, salt, crushed roasted sesame seeds and peanuts. Mix well.

Steaming Sweet Rice

Add water (1/2 of the pot) into the bottom of the steamer pot. Place the top steamer tray on top of the bottom pot. Pour the rice into the steamer tray. Make a small well in the center to create convection currents to help hot steam circulate. Cover it and steam on gentle, steady boiling water for about 10 minutes. 

Drizzle half of the coconut cream mixture to the sticky rice and fluff it well with chopsticks. Cover and continue steaming for another 10 minutes. Drizzle the remaining coconut cream mixture and fluff it well. Steam it for another 10 minutes (total steaming time is 30 minutes) until the sticky rice is soft and translucent. Fluff with chopsticks for the last time then turn off the heat.  


Serve magenta sticky rice warm or at room temperature on a serving plate or a banana leaf;  mound the shredded coconut on top, spread a spoonful of crushed nuts mix over the shredded coconut. Dig in!
Eat well.  Stay hungry.