PRESIDENT, GLOBAL COMMUNITY SERVICE FOUNDATION (GCSF)
U.S. BASED NON-PROFIT ORGANIZATION PROVIDES
HUMANITARIAN ASSISTANCE—INCLUDING HEALTHCARE,
EDUCATION AND INCOME GENERATION ACTIVITIES—TO
THE PEOPLE OF VIETNAM, BURMA AND OTHER
SOUTHEAST ASIAN COUNTRIES
* * *
GCSF’s Recent Work Includes Opening a Residence in Dong Ha City,
Vietnam for 50 Blind or Visually Impaired Children and Launching the
Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies Program In Burma
When longtime international travel agent Marcia Selva launched her adventure travel company Global Spectrum in the early ‘90s, one of the countries that piqued her curiosity was Vietnam. Selva, whose husband is a veteran of the Vietnam War, had been under the impression that the natives were still hostile to Americans, so when she and her sister landed in Hanoi, she told everyone who asked that she was from Canada or Australia.
When they hit Da Nang, Selva was tired of the ruse and admitted to being from the U.S. One particular moment stole her heart–when a Vietnamese man beamed at her when she told him.
“I was crazy with joy and all the things I had been conditioned to believe fell away. Having visited so many times since, my feeling is that war is hell no matter what side you’re on. But at the height of the war, in the center of the country, the Vietnamese people there saw many of our soldiers helping their children in the schools and orphanages. They realized as they still do that Americans are humanitarians who do the right thing, that we’re compassionate and caring.”
The trip Selva thought would be just a “blip on the map” instead evolved into a lifetime of passionate, widespread humanitarian work of her own as the Founder and President of Global Community Service Foundation (www.globalcommunityservice.org), a Washington, DC area based nonprofit organization dedicated to reducing poverty in Southeast Asia by implementing sustainable community based programs that focus on improving access to health care, education and income generation activities.
With the support of concerned friends and fellow travelers, the Fairfax, Virginia based Selva incorporated GCSF (a 501c3 non-profit in the U.S., also considered a non-governmental organization, or NGO) after witnessing firsthand the extreme deprivation and hardships of the Southeast Asian people during her travels to the region. Today, Global Community Service Foundation has an active board of directors, a committed team of U.S. and Southeast Asian staff plus a growing network of global “voluntourists” whose dedication and hands-on support are invaluable to its success.
Additionally, GCSF works closely with other NGOs, resource providers and international groups to ensure the success of its mission. Together, they have positively impacted the lives of thousands of people since its founding.
“A lot of our Vietnam based efforts are centered in and around the Quang Tri Province in North Central Vietnam, which was formerly known as the demilitarized zone (DMZ), the area that split the country between north and south,” says Selva. “It’s a very poor area dominated by a pocket of ethnic minorities, with numerous landmine and Agent Orange issues still. I immediately knew this is the area where my heart was and where the greatest needs were.Things started small, with groups of tourists who—instead of giving randomly to people begging on the street—helped needy families in Quang Tri secure water buffaloes to aid in their work and sponsored family wells for access to water. We did the same in the Mekong Delta by supplying fisherman with small boats and fishing nets. Our travelers who had seen struggles of so many families, and witnessed firsthand how their donation could make such a difference for someone less fortunate, often came back to the US inspired and gratefully continued to be financial supporters of GCSF.”
After the Vietnamese Department of Foreign Affairs granted her an INGO (International Non-Governmental Organization) license, Selva knew the GCSF had to increase its reach and offer more than water buffaloes, fishing boats or wells to families. “Our original mission was that all people should have access to clean water,” she says, “but seeing all of the various needs of the people we began believing in community service on a global level.”
Putting faith in the ability of her board to raise money via charitable donations, the organization invested in larger scale projects like schools, providing food and shelter, helping with healthcare issues—with a special focus on the most vulnerable - people with disabilities and the ethnic minority population.
One of GCSF’s core elements is its belief in the power of one person to make an enormous difference. A single visit to an orphanage by a Chicago based ophthalmologist and Vietnam veteran named Dr. May led to the creation of a work facility/eye care center for the Vinh Linh Blind Association (with the $60,000 he helped raise) and the goal of building five additional establishments of rural work facility/eye care centers throughout the province. To date, three of the eight districts have facilities. With the sponsorship of the Illinois Association of Ophthalmology, a distance learning ophthalmic technicians training program with Chicagoland based Triton College is scheduled to launch in early 2012. The technicians will service all eight districts and 3,500 villages in Quang Tri Province, offering eye exams and helping the visually impaired.
In May 2011, GCSF participated in the groundbreaking ceremony for the Landon Carter Schmitt Residence, a central building on the still developing campus of the Quang Tri Center for the Blind. The Residence is designed to house and support 50 blind and visually impaired children. In addition to the provision of rooms and safe living space, associated training and life skills programs will enable the children to attend local public schools and prepare them for future independent living. The residence will include living areas, a library equipped with blind and visually impaired enhanced computers, a multipurpose room, caretakers’ rooms, an intermediate care room and facilities for personal hygiene.
More than 60 people attended the ceremony, including the senior Vietnam National Blind Association representative, provincial government officials and friends of namesake Landon Carter Schmitt (a compassionate advocate for disabled Vietnamese). The ceremony was highlighted by vocal and choral performances by children from the Quang Tri Blind Association; dignitaries from this association and the Quang Tri provincial government spoke about the value the Residence will bring to the lives and education of the children. After the tragic death of their beloved son and brother, the Schmitt family decided to establish a fund in Landon’s name to support projects in Vietnam, where he had lived and worked for five years. The fund contributed $200,000 toward construction costs.
The immediate goal of the Quang Tri Center for the Blind is to enable blind and visually impaired children to attend local public schools once they have the necessary skills to integrate into that system. They will receive supplemental education onsite focused on life skills that will include music, technology, athletics and mobility training. The Quang Tri site will include a clinic building, classroom building, a building that will be transformed into an IT training facility and Indoor Fitness and Mobility Center, a dining facility and an administration building.
In recent years, Global Community Service Foundation has extended its outreach to the disadvantaged people of nearby Burma. GCSF’s humanitarian efforts in Burma are sanctioned under the OFAC (Office of Foreign Asset Control) granted them by the US Government. In 2010, GCSF expanded its 10-year health initiative in the Inle Lake region by launching the Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies program at the Golden Girls Dispensary and the Metta Hospital, facilities GCSF established and continues to support. This endeavor brings counseling and improved medical care to more than 32,000 families living in villages around Inle Lake, one of the most beautiful yet poverty stricken areas of the world. Pregnant women and their infants now benefit from medical services, medicines, nutrition counseling and health education from the beginning of pregnancy until children are 18-months-old.
“In Burma,” Selva says, “we remember the day a pregnant woman was rushed to a dispensary, sponsored by GCSF, because she had taken a terrible fall. She knew she would get good treatment there. We recall the satisfaction of being able to tell the one local doctor whom we support that he could now purchase much needed medicine for his hospital. Likewise, we could inform the headmaster of a leper colony that his students would have teachers next year because we would build a proper dormitory for them. These are just some of the results of the past year’s work.”
“Why has Global Community Service Foundation chosen to work in Vietnam and Burma when there are hundreds of poverty- and disaster-ridden areas of the world to consider?” she adds. “Our answer is simple but very pertinent: We care about these people. We’re there. We make a difference. There’s a bookmark on my desk that my mother once gave me with an inspirational poem on it about never giving up. Every time I get to the point where I feel the challenges of this work are too great to continue, I look at that—or read an email or just remember the looks on the faces of the adults and especially the children we have helped. What little we’ve given means so much to them. How can you walk away from something like that?”