In Their Words: Sang and Nguyen on their Fundraising Trip to Europe

In early 2024, Ms. Sang from the Anh Duong Center and Ms. Nguyen from the Thien Chi Center embarked on a transformative journey to Europe for the first time. Accompanied by Bernard Kervyn, the visionary founder of Mekong Plus, this three-week expedition was more than just a visit—it was an opportunity to forge connections with donors and sponsors, immerse themselves in European culture, and strengthen ties with Mekong Plus’ European team. In this exclusive interview, Sang and Nguyen share their remarkable experiences, insights, and reflections from this enlightening fundraising trip.


Navigating Professional Endeavours


Could you briefly introduce your NGO and the primary objective of your fundraising trip to Europe?

Anh Duong Center, a local NGO, collaborates with Mekong Plus in the Mekong Delta. Established by Mekong Plus, we share a common mission. The aim of our European trip was to bolster the fundraising capabilities in Vietnam. Mekong Plus provides us with opportunities to engage directly with potential donors, helping us expand the support network for the Mekong Plus, Thien Chi Center and Anh Duong Center networks.

local participation
Group photo featuring the Anh Duong Center team

Nguyen: Thien Chi Center, a local nonprofit organisation and partner of Mekong Plus, was established in 2005 with the mission of eradicating poverty. We engage the entire community in rural areas of Binh Thuan and Ninh Thuan provinces, focusing on assisting the most impoverished individuals, those with incomes below $1 per person per day, with a special emphasis on supporting women and girls. Our work centres around four key programs: microcredit, education and training, environmental initiatives, and infrastructure development.


For our trip to Europe, our objectives were to enhance the capacity of our fundraising team members, facilitating face-to-face meetings with our existing funders — whom we’ve previously communicated with via email or online meetings — and embracing opportunities to immerse ourselves in European culture. This immersion fosters open-mindedness and learning while expanding our network of potential funders, sympathisers, and supporters.


Can you share a highlight or a particularly successful moment from your trip related to fundraising?

One valuable aspect of our European trip was gaining a deeper understanding of our partners and directly conveying information not shared via email. For instance, the Luxembourgish association Aide Au Vietnam (AAV) encourages various sustainable initiatives to persuade others to back their projects and support to Vietnamese communities in need, while the Swiss association Frères de nos Frères (FDNF) expressed interest in learning more about our eyesight screening program in schools, the expansion plans for the recycled plastic program, and showed enthusiasm in supporting the bridge building program when introduced. I consider this engagement a success for our trip.


Nguyen: One highlight of my trip was the conference at Le Mess restaurant on the night of March 19th, focusing on the upcoming biking tours and cruises organised by Mekong Plus. Around 20 people attended and I had the opportunity to talk about our organisation and the impactful work we do in our communities. Sharing stories about our passion for aiding those in need and collaborating with Mekong Plus deeply resonated with the attendees. We enjoyed a delightful dinner together, discussing their future visits to our projects in Vietnam. Their enthusiasm to return someday was evident. Our stories inspired them to continue supporting Mekong Plus. Thanks to the efforts of our team in Belgium and Vietnam, after the event, we secured three confirmed slots for the cruises, with many others expressing interest in joining our tours in the near future.



Lunch break with Mme. Evain one of our generous donors
Lunch break with Mme. Evain, one of our generous donors

How did interactions with European partners and donors differ from your experiences in Vietnam?

Our European partners greeted us warmly, showing openness and curiosity by asking numerous questions about our work and personal lives. This made me feel comfortable and encouraged to share. Contrary to my initial nerves, I felt at ease.


Nguyen: European partners and donors are incredibly friendly, welcoming, and hospitable. They prioritise long-term goals and sustainability, contrasting with Vietnam’s often stronger emphasis on short-term results. They express genuine concern for our organisation’s future and our strategy to become independent local partners.

Meeting with SELAVIP Foundation a key partner that helps us build houses for the poorest families
Meeting with SELAVIP Foundation, a key partner that helps us build houses for the poorest families

Immersing in Cultural Discoveries


As a first-time visitor to Europe, what aspect of European culture surprised you the most?


Several aspects of Europe surprised me. The weather was notably cold, ranging from 2 to 16 degrees Celsius. The streets were impressively clean. The meals were meticulously prepared. People commonly commute to work on foot, by bicycle, or using public transportation like trains, subways, and buses.


Nguyen: As a first-time visitor to Europe, I was surprised by the pervasive emphasis on sustainability and environmental consciousness. The widespread use of public transportation like trains and bicycles, coupled with a dedication to waste classification and recycling, showcased a deeply ingrained commitment to environmental responsibility. Additionally, the appreciation for locally sourced and organic foods highlighted a strong commitment to sustainable living.

Sang and Nguyen all smiles posing in front of the Basilique du Sacre Coeur in Montmartre Paris
Sang and Nguyen all smiles posing in front of the Basilique du Sacré Coeur in Montmartre, Paris

Which landmark or attraction left the most lasting impression on you during your trip to Europe?

I spent considerable time exploring Paris by car, foot, and boat. The city’s breathtaking landscapes, grand buildings, and charming streets left a lasting impression on me.


Nguyen: The Eiffel Tower left the most indelible impression on me. I visited the Tower three times, captivated by its dazzling illumination against the Parisian night sky. Its intricate design against the backdrop of the Paris sky was awe-inspiring. The tower symbolises the grandeur of European architecture and holds a special place in making Paris unique.



A trip to Europe wouldnt be complete without a visit to the Eiffel Tower in Paris
A trip to Europe wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the Eiffel Tower in Paris

Can you describe a memorable meal or food experience you had while in Europe?

Meals in Europe often come in generous portions. Nguyen and I often found ourselves sharing a single portion during each meal, occasionally even taking leftovers home in order to avoid wasting.

Nguyen: On March 7th, I had my first lunch in Belgium at Le Mess restaurant with Ms. Loanna and Ms. Marie-Pascale. After enduring a long flight and a 12-hour layover in Doha, we were welcomed by freezing temperatures upon landing in Belgium. Despite initial apprehensions about potential language barriers, the delicious meal, cosy ambiance, and warm reception from these kind ladies, who are supporters of Mekong Plus, quickly alleviated my concerns. The European dining experience, characterised by multi-course meals and a focus on vegetarian options, stood out from Vietnamese dining customs.

First European breakfast on a cold morning in Belgium
First European breakfast on a cold morning in Belgium

What differences in daily life did you observe between Europe and Vietnam that intrigued you the most?

Europeans have a strong reading culture, most homes carry books and sometimes even a library. They also have plenty of modern and useful equipment in the kitchen and fireplaces are widely available, which is great during the winter.


Nguyen: A notable difference between Europe and Vietnam is the strong reading culture prevalent in Europe. Europeans prioritise reading, which you can see from the presence of bookshelves in most homes. They value books for intellectual enrichment and leisure. Additionally, Europeans cherish memories through printed photographs, capturing significant moments to reflect upon cherished memories and personal history. In Vietnam, walls are often adorned with photographs from weddings and other significant events.

Meeting with Mr. Franz Van Rijckevorsel a waste management solutions specialist
Meeting with Mr. Franz Van Rijckevorsel, a waste management solutions specialist

Reflecting on Personal Insights



What did you find most challenging about travelling in Europe, and how did you adapt?

The extremely cold weather posed the biggest challenge, leaving me exhausted on the first day. I coped by layering up with warm clothing, which made the rest of my trip much more comfortable.


Nguyen: The language barrier was the most challenging aspect of travelling to Europe. Not everyone spoke English, making communication sometimes difficult. To navigate this challenge, I remained calm, maintained confidence, and adapted by speaking English slowly and clearly. I also used body language and translation apps on my phone. Being open-minded and flexible helped me overcome the language difficulties.


Having returned from Europe, is there anything you now see differently about your own country or culture?

I hope Vietnam can make progress in environmental protection. The emphasis Europeans place on walking, biking, managing waste, and maintaining clean streets is admirable. Once again,their reading culture, at home or even on trains, is impressive.

Nguyen: Returning from Europe, I noticed differences in eating habits, transportation, and environmental awareness. While European visitors may initially struggle to adapt to Vietnam’s fast-paced dining and reliance on motorbikes, Europeans generally prefer leisurely meals and sustainable transportation like walking or cycling. They also prioritise sustainability, which can be noticed with widespread practices like recycling and reducing plastic usage.

Students participating in our plastic waste recycling programme in the Mekong Delta
Students participating in our plastic waste recycling programme in the Mekong Delta

What insights did you gain from this trip that will influence the future strategy of Anh Duong Center and Thien Chi Center?

Returning from Europe, I realised that they too face financial challenges, including homelessness and having to take care of refugees. Yet, they also support impoverished nations in Africa. This insight encourages us to develop strategies in order to fundraise locally within Vietnam and within the ASEAN region.


Nguyen: I realised that fundraising, especially in Europe and globally, is becoming increasingly challenging. For the future of Thien Chi Center and Anh Duong Center, I believe it’s essential to shift our fundraising approach and focus more on Vietnamese donors. We can tap into corporate social responsibility (CSR) funds from companies and encourage small donations through social media platforms. Developing innovative and sustainable projects to attract donor interest and expanding the donor network in Singapore, the US, or Australia are also viable strategies. Additionally, exploring the potential of organising biking tours that combine project visits with local cultural experiences could facilitate direct community engagement and potential donations.



As Sang and Nguyen returned from their European odyssey, their perspectives have been enriched, their networks expanded, and their resolve strengthened. The warmth and generosity of European partners and donors left an indelible mark, reinforcing the importance of global collaboration in addressing poverty and fostering sustainability. Their journey has not only deepened their appreciation for their work but has also illuminated new paths for future endeavours at the Anh Duong Center and the Thien Chi Center. With renewed energy and insights, they look forward to building a brighter, more sustainable future for the communities they serve.


Many ways for you to make a generous contribution :


As Mekong Plus and its partners continue to pioneer change in South Vietnam and Cambodia, your support becomes integral. Whether it’s through volunteering, spreading awareness, or contributing to our initiatives, your involvement can be a catalyst for lasting change.

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