Wednesday, September 19, 2012

I am not afraid of storms...

"I am not afraid of storms for I am learning how to sail my ship..." - Louisa May Alcott


I never thought I would be able to feel so many different emotions in one day.
The last few weeks have been very challenging to say the least and I feel like I have been on an emotional roller coaster. I have been so full of pride for these children that sometimes I think my heart will swell right out of my chest; and other moments I ache and hurt for them so much that I feel like I can double over into a fetal position and cry myself till I run dry.

Sen: my beautiful baby girl has been doing so well lately. She has finally found her feet and realised that standing is a lot of fun and so will stand with me holding onto the side of the bed for ages. We practice our walking and I hope that she will walk by the end of the year.

I feel that she has super sonic hearing (as they say if you lose one of your senses, the others become heightened) because when all the other children make noise, or the child she shares a cot with is screaming, she takes her chubby little hands and covers her ears until they all stop.
The orphanage trust me enough now to be able to allow me to take her out by myself. So, we have gone swimming and at first she was a bit apprehensive but has taken to it now.

 In regards to adoption, I feel like I am still fighting the losing battle. Upon last investigation and meeting, here are my options:

I can have Sen if I live in Vietnam forever
I can have Sen if I marry an American and get American citizenship, or a Canadian or Spaniard (because I can do that in a day!)
I can have Sen if I get Vietnamese citizenship - (God knows how!)

No options involve Australia!

Could I move her to Ho Chi Minh to the ONE amazing blind school (run by Australia) I have found there where I am willing to sponsor and pay for her to go there? Apparently not. She belongs to the government and to this province. I cannot just chop and change children between provinces. I have to petition the government to do this. And that I will if I cannot have her. She cannot go to this school till she is 6, so I have 4 years to fight them. Unless she gets adopted by an American before that.

America has just struck a deal with Vietnam and this orphanage. Sen is on the list to be adopted out to America. They told me and asked me how I felt about it cos they were worried about my reaction. If I can't have her then I prefer her to get help in another developed country of course. Did my heart break into a million pieces at the same time? Without a doubt. Sen chose that moment to reach up for me and grab my face and giggle one of her famous hearty laughs.

Someone told me that perhaps I am not meant to help and 'save' just one little orphan... but rather, make a difference to many more...... I am not sure what I am supposed to be doing! I just do what feels right for me and hope that my gut leads me down the right path...

Some pretty major news is that the organisation I am with is closing down partnership with the NGO. After 8 years, it is all over and I worry now more than ever what will happen to these children. This means that there are no more volunteers coming through; there is no more human interaction for these children, no more learning english, , no more physio, no more nappies, no more fruit, no more medications...... the list goes on with what volunteers have provided for these children.

The last volunteer here leaves in 4 weeks. After that, I am a lone ranger! I will stay on despite not having support from a charity and do what I can with these children and with the money I have left over from all you wonderful people that have donated funds to me. I am hoping that when the dust settles, a new NGO will come in and take over...we are hopeful. However, that will not even begin to start happening till Feb next year.
Till then, I am going to come up with a plan and a basic budget to keep the basics and necessities going for these children.....

I created a monster a few weeks ago by having some of the girls in the orphanage come over to my house for a sleepover. The Director trusts me enough to take them for a weekend! I wish I had a video camera to record their reactions upon entering the house: they were amazed at everything. The squeals of delight that came from them was heart warming to see. They didn't know where to go and what to look at first: the vast space we have in our foyer/lounge room, the individual photos of each child plastered on our walls, the western toilet, the fact that we had hot water, mattresses and sheets on the beds! I was making their beds and they wanted to help me.... they kept trying to get in underneath the fitted sheet and were looking at me with some very confused expressions until I brought the top sheet and blanket out and showed them. They were scared of the western toilet and one girl was taking so long, I went to check on her; I found her, climbed up on the toilet seat, still trying to use it as a squat toilet. She looked so perplexed, trying to balance on the seat and pee at the same time. I went in and I showed her that she had to sit on it and we both burst into fits giggles over it.

Took the girls out for proper vietnamese food as opposed to broth and rice and they ate so much I was so pleased. We took a ride to the supermarket at night and they were in awe, mouths agape, staring out the window at all the lights exclaiming how beautiful Tam Ky is at night as they have never seen it before. We played games in the arcade, had an ice cream and headed home where they lounged, played games and watched movies. Getting them to sleep was impossible as they were so excited they kept jumping up and down and wanting to get up. Managed to get them to sleep at 12.00am...... and they still got up at usual time of 5.00am!
I got many hugs and kisses and they told me they were beyond happy... beyond content, beyond excited, beyond anything they have ever felt. Tears pricked my eyes watching them bestow their gratitude on me. To help me, they even made the beds and folded the blankets and then when we got to the pool, my hair was decorated with many many flowers.
When the older girls slept over, they decided they would help me clean my room and they took everything out of the cupboards, out of toiletry bags, out of the suitcases and proceeded to redecorate and put everything back in a way that they saw fit. I had about 100 bobby pins on display on my dresser, they took out all my 'pretty dresses' and hung them up and decided my ugly clothes need to be in the suitcase. It took me a week to rearrange my room back and find all my items!

When I dropped them back at the orphanage the boys were asking when they could sleep over! I didn't even think they would want to come with me but they were very keen to. Within a minute, I had about 50 of them surrounding me pleading with me not to forget them and take them too. I told them we did not have enough space for 50 of them to sleep at once and so I will take groups of 6 - 8 for sleep overs until each one of them have had a turn.
The boys were so different to the girls..... they actually asked before they could enter my room and take a look around, where as the girls were running around like they had ants in their pants; the boys played on the computer for hours and were happy doing their own thing. 4 out of 6 older boys have never been to the beach before. Still blows my mind how they have never seen the ocean. We got to the beach and the boys were silent, just taking it all in. They sat down in the shade and when I asked if anyone wanted to come into the water with me, their faces lit up faster than you could say Der! I told them they had to stay near me and were not to go deeper than waist high. There were small waves and we spent about an hour in the water jumping and crashing into them. So simple. So much joy. It made my heart swell watching them. We ate fresh squid on the beach and went back happy and content with full bellies.

I still have 3 groups of sleep overs to go..... the sleepless nights with them here, watching them have fun is well worth it.....

Peace Village are trudging along with no major dramas.....4 of the older boys have been engaged in a computer course the last month or so and have been enjoying it. It's great to see them learning something and trying so hard to accomplish their tasks. Son tells me he wants to do really well and then learn photo shop to hopefully get a job and support himself. He is on the look out for a girlfriend too!

Pics for those not on my facebook:

Love to you all

Sunshine after the rain...


"There are moments when troubles enter our lives and we can do nothing to avoid them. But they are there for a reason. Only when we have overcome them will we understand why they were there.”

2 go home, 4 get dropped off, 3 are found in boxes out front, 1 passes away..... it has been an emotional month!

Beautiful Giang passed away last week. Having been with her for the last 6 months, I was devastated with the news. There was no descent, she was not sick, it all happened out of the blue which caught me off guard more than anything.
Giang was 17, but could be picked up like a toddler. When I first arrived, I was told to not bother with her, to not take her out of her room as there was no point. She was deaf, blind, could not understand anything, why would I take her out? Some other volunteers and I insisted on taking her out whilst we were there. Even just for some fresh air! Over the last 6 months, I have watched Giang respond to music and dance, I have seen her grasp for things when closer to her eyes. I have noticed that she would turn her head towards the direction of the music and when I would hold her close and dance, she would look at me and her little hand would rise up and stroke my cheek. One day during the first month of meeting her, I had her on my lap and she began pulling at her shorts to take them off. She got half way and I was getting agitated at her, thinking, why are you undressing yourself!?! About 2 seconds later I understood. I felt the warm patch on my pants. She had wee'd and was taking her wet shorts off. This anecdote made me realise, she understands alright, no one can tell me she doesn't!
I would moisturize her fragile little legs and massage them as I went. She would laugh and it was so cute, she would bring her hands up to her mouth and laugh behind them....
Giang has taught me so much about the human spirit and about the will to survive. I wonder what was really going through her head sometimes and whether she was in pain and could not express it to us. I know she is at peace now and not suffering.
I was fortunate to meet her mother 2 weeks before her passing and I am so glad that her mother got to see her recently. I was so excited telling her mother how much I loved Giang, how we have taken her swimming, dancing, out to a restaurant. I took pictures of the two of them together and promised to get them to her next time she visited.
I went and visited her mother out in the village. She was not expecting me and when she saw me get out of the car, she dropped the glass she was holding, ran up to me and collapsed in a sob in my arms. I felt my heart break into a million tiny pieces for her. She was wailing as only a grieving mother can. I could not move, could not do anything more except cry silently with her, whilst trying to comfort and hold her. She was thanking me for everything we have done for Giang over and over again. Her husband died from cancer a few years back and so she had to go find a job and had no one to look after Giang. She had no choice but to put her in orphanages and ultimately at Peace Village. I gave her an album full of photos of GIang with me and the other volunteers and she sobbed and kissed every photo. She broke down when she saw the picture of her and Giang. It's the only photo she has of them together. If it wasn't for the photos I gave her, the only other photo of her she would have had is one of Giang in the casket. We lit a lantern and watched it sail up into the sky. I told her Giang would be fine and safe with her father now. She asked me to come and visit her again when I could and I told her I would.
The day which we fear as our last is but the birthday of eternity. R.I.P Giang...

To top off my week, I was getting ready to pack up and leave the orphanage when the boys and the mother come and call me in. Something was going down; I could see three boys on their knees, hands behind head, execution style, with the older kingpin boys hovering on top of them. The mother did not look happy. The boys had 'guilty' written all over their faces.
I asked what was going on and no one would answer me. So I asked again and some of the other boys told me "an cap". Stole. Uh oh. I asked what did they boys steal? I got told money. From who? Other children at school. I asked them to give me the money. Heads still bowed, the boys told me no, no more money, they bought ice cream with it.
After a lengthy discussion about stealing and ending up in prison, to the fact that it is wrong, and if they want something they need to ask, I told them that I would be showing up at their school the next day so we can find these children they stole from, apologise and give them back their money. Their eyes grew large like a deer caught in headlights; I can imagine that what I was suggesting was going to be humiliating and embarrassing. One of the boys started crying and when asked what was wrong, he said that he was afraid that I would not like him anymore. I explained that of course I liked them. I told them that  everyone made mistakes, what we had to do was to fix it. Then its all over.

I marched up to the boys school and upon entering the gates, a stir began which moved like a Mexican wave around the rooms: there was a white girl in the school yard! I did a lap and found the three culprits. With the help of the mother, she explained to their teacher what we were going to do. They each pointed out the children they stole from and I took them all into the playground, away from all the other students. The mother spoke to them, the boys spoke to the children, apologised and then I handed them money to hand back to the children.
School was nearly over and so I had a gathering of parents circling the perimeter, trying to listen to what was going on. What could possibly be so important that a westerner was here?
The boys were nervous, fidgeting, had their heads bowed, playing with their fingers. It must have been a very hard thing to do and I was proud that they rose to their mistake and made it right. I explained this to them and gave them a hi - 5 and a cuddle. They smiled and I could hear them exhale at this point and their little hearts go back to a steady beat.
I sent them back to class and then went and waited for all our 26 middle primary children to come out. I had many nods and smiles from the other parents, some looked confused at to why I was there, some clearly thought I was crazy that it was 36 degrees and I had bare skin showing and was exposed to the sun. (Here in Nam, white skin is considered beautiful; the darker the skin, the lower social status apparently as they assume you work outdoors in the fields etc. In this heat, I kid you not, everyone is dressed like a ninja with only the eyes exposed!) When the bell rang, there was no mistaking as to which child I was picking up from school: most of them saw me from across the playground and soon enough, all you could hear was "anna, anna, anna" and many feet shuffling as fast as they could through the dirt to get to me. They ran up to me and I got my cuddles from the girls and a hi - 5 from the boys. I felt very special that moment. I looked at the children and noticed that they were all beaming, chests inflated as they looked around at all the other children and parents... my kids walked out with me with an air about them, as they looked as the others and silently told them "yeah! she is with me!".
They each were holding a part of me as we exited the school together. I asked who wanted an ice cream, which was followed by an ear bursting unified "yay". If this was a movie, the camera would capture the look on all the mothers and children watching us, slow motion an angle on me and the kids walking away all in one big bubble of love and then fade out to the sun setting on the horizon.....

To top this story off, I have to tell you that yesterday, one of the boys that stole, came back from school and came and handed me some money. I asked what for and they explained to me that he found the money in the dirt on the way home from school and it wasn't his, so he was handing it to me. I told the Director and she was giving me the thumbs up.... Mistakes - call them unexpected learning experiences.

Must leave you troops as I have an outbreak of head lice at the orphanage. I armed with my swimming cap on, 10 bottles of treatment and nit combs and I am off to combat!
Bring on August!


“When we strive to become better than we are, everything around us becomes better, too."


3 new children this week (newborn, 6 year old and 7 year old) brings us to a total of 71 children. When I first got here in 2010, there were only 33. Hmmmmmm.......

Slowly, we are getting there. Someone has to teach the children and instill in them values and social expectations.Stealing is not on, looking after possessions and sharing is a skill they must learn. I have recently been leaving games at the orphanage - a huge trust factor in this considering everything goes missing or gets stolen! I leave one game a day with the older boys. I explain to them that if they can watch this game for me, return it to me the next day with all pieces intact, then I will keep swapping games over for them and leaving them here for them to play when we go. One week in and it has worked really well. I am proud of them. They run up to me and hand me the game, i check all is there, thank them and let them choose another to keep for the night. we did have one incident where one of the younger boys went and stole a piece from the chess set and threw it over the fence. His actions earned him a good old hiding from the older boys. They seem to have their own retribution system and pecking order in there. This little boy was new to the orphanage and so I think is still learning what he can and cant do. Stealing a piece from an older boy and throwing it over the fence.... I do not think he will be doing that again in a hurry. I told them not to worry about the piece and I explained to the little one that he cannot throw pieces of toys over the fence or take things that are not his without asking. I did not penalise them for that missing piece, so have continued to give them different games through out the days.

We have had quite a few families visiting their children which has been lovely to see. Every parent at Peace Village has spent time with their disabled child and I got to meet them and they were all welling up and crying as I told them how beautiful their child was. They just kept squeezing my hands and saying thank you. One mother was so excited to see her son Tri walking in a frame. He could not do that before coming to Peace Village and was beaming with pride as she watched her son in the walker we have for him take steps.

Sometimes I question if whether some visits from families are beneficial or just cause more pain to these children. Of course I would love for parents to keep up a connection with their child, even if they cannot afford to have them at home. One mother (who is rumored to be a prostitute) comes and visits her 4 year old girl often. Every time she shows up and leaves, little Vy is hysterical. She cries and cries and is so sad for a while after. A 4 year old cannot understand why she has a mother, yet still has to stay at the orphanage and cannot go home with her. The mother asked me today if Vy is always sad, because every time she comes to see her, she is sad. I wanted to tell her that she is sad because of you! She is sad because she misses you. Yet, I am sure the mother is dealing with her own grief and feelings of guilt of leaving her there and so it's not up to me to make her feel worse about her predicament. I explained to her in my limited Vietnamese that Vy was actually very happy and always playing and she was very clever. i told her I would print out some pictures and leave with the Director for her to take next time she comes. She seemed grateful.
Darling Tram has been in the orphanage since she was born 10 years ago. She has a sister who is at home and a brother who used to be at the orphanage but is now back at home with mum and a new husband.
Tram's mother came to visit and I was watching from afar with tears in my eyes as her mother showed off her brand new baby to Tram. Tram now has a half sister. She was just amazing playing with her and chatting to her mum. A few times I noticed a distant look in Tram's eyes and could only warrant a guess as to what she was thinking. How can she go off and have more children and leave Tram behind? If she can afford to have another child, why not take Tram home instead of popping out another one!!!!! ??????
I am judging, I know. It's wrong, I know. But I cannot help it. I am in a state of vexation when I think about it, when I think of poor Tram at the orphanage thinking about all her other siblings back at home. Why is she the one who got left behind?

On a happy note, I was fortunate again to have my birthday here with the children second year in a row. I was so touched with the children, who have nothing but still thought of presents they could give me. Some girls made boxes for me out of paper, some found old tissue boxes and old notebook wrapping paper to give me my present in. All taped together with band aids as sticky tape is non existent. Tram gave me one of her skirts as a present.(I wore it on my actual party night and she was glowing). I got many bracelets and about 1000 mini paper cranes they had painstakingly made to line the boxes and my presents. The younger girls drew pictures for me and I got about 50 Vietnamese love letters.... even the boys ran up to me quickly, grabbed my arm, put a bracelet on it and said 'sinh nhat anna" (happy birthday!) and ran away shyly.... the younger girls had nothing to give me, so wrapped up their hair clips and gave them to me as gifts. I was truly touched. I dont think I could have been happier if I was given a brand new car or a million dollars.

 Peace Village bought me a cake and Son, god bless him, got some money from his family and then sent out one of the admin staff to go and buy me a card and flowers. We ate sinh to, everyone got a cake, we danced, sang and every one was happy.

Baby orphanage got a feast of food Mrs Hanh our wonder cook made.... they got to eat shrimp and crab and pork.... the kids were licking their bowls to ensure every last drop of the soup was consumed.
I bought all the baby girls dresses and dressed them up and Sen was the belle of the ball I must say!
After 3 parties, 5 huge cakes, 100 mini cakes, ice cream , sinh to (smoothies) and a gigantic feast, everyone went to bed satisfied and happy!

I must say, I may have to bike ride all the way back to Sydney to burn off the cream and cakes I consumed on my birthday..... you think I am exaggerating? I ate half a cucumber and a tomato for lunch (it was THAT hot, I didnt have appetite to eat) and then skipped dinner because yes, I am still fussy and I do not eat crab and shrimp and pork... so I ate like 5 pieces of cake for dinner. Then for after dinner entertainment, at the adults party there was MORE cake..... and to really gross you all out, guess what was leftover and eaten at breakfast? :)



“A year from now you will wish you had started today"


I hope everyone is faring well and enjoying life. Things are plodding along here - no two days are ever the same being here! Sometimes I cannot believe I have been here for 6 months already! Attached is a link to a summary video I have put together about my last 6 months here.... I hope you like it.

The children have been spoilt this last month - we have had a youth tour come and they have spent a lot of money on them, buying them everything they need for the new school year which begins in Sept. Karaoke, pool outings, ice cream, sinh to (fruit/veggie drink), you name it, they have received!

I went to a Local Government meeting recently - 4 hours, 150 Vietnamese Officials and 4 westerners that stood out! They had the kindness to translate all the speeches befroe hand into English so thank goodness I could read along as they spoke so I knew what was going on. The basis of the meeting was to talk about relationships with Internatioanl NGO's and to discuss projects they have coming up  for the next 12 months that they need support with.
I was saddened to read that in this province ALONE, there are 8,000 orphans and 65,000 children at risk and in vulnerable positions. I hate to think what the total number is for Vietnam in its entirety. 
I did manage to meet the other Westerners and have a good chat about what they are up to, as well as pick up some other projects I was interested in. Some of the poorer communities, up in the mountains and the ethnic minorities near the border of Laos seem to be struggling. One project was to build outhouses (toilets) for one village that have none at all and so sanitation and hygiene there are non existent. To build 34 outhouses, it would cost $13,000. A preschool was asking for a playground; they would need $3000.
I aim to go out and visit some of these districts and communities in the next coming months, would be very interesting me thinks!

Back at the orphanage, the girls were in cleaning mode. I stood in the corridor, out of sight, watching them all through the bars. I got a little misty eyed watching the girls clean out their own individual drawer with so much love and pride. Most of them had junk in there. Bits of thread, an old marble, a top from a jar, some old wrapping paper, a paper with some stickers on it, broken bits and bobs..... yet, the way they arranged and cleaned and put things back carefully and in a neat order touched me. This was their only worldly possessions. It didn't seem to matter what they were, just the fact that these items were theirs to call their own...

I have somehow acquired the role of a nurse recently. This sticky humidity heat has attacked many children with heat rashes. I have also noticed an increase in scabs, cuts, infected bites and ulcers. Armed with my little green first aid kit under my arm, I make the rounds and inspect little hands and feet. This all came about when I saw one child with autism hit another very hard and made his lip and gum bleed everywhere. I called the nurse, showed her and she just smiled at me and walked away and did nothing. The second child I saw had a mosquito bite that was weeping and there were ants in it. I showed her again so she can disinfect it and treat it, and when I returned the next day, nothing had be done about it. Both nurses at both placements seem to sit in their office and watch the children through the window. When I confronted one of them with a little boy whose entire toe nail was ripped off and it was infected, did not seem to notice, know when it happened or did anything about it, despite the children telling me that they showed her days ago. So I have taken to bringing my own box of creams, swabs, band aids etc.
Both Peace Village and Tam Ky Orphanage children come up to me when they see me with my green box and start showing me all their wounds, cuts and scrapes. Some of the 4 year olds, show me cuts that have nearly healed and want some cream or a band aid on it. Children and band aids - I guess the obsession is a universal phenomenon!

Last week, we did some craft with the children and handed out 6 pairs of scissors. Only 4 came back. Uh oh. Here we go. We had all the children seated to have fruit and I asked where the scissors had gone to. They kept saying no, no, no more. I told them, until the scissors came back, I would not be handing out fruit. Within a minute, one pair magically appeared. Still missing one pair of scissors. Waiting and waiting.....60 pairs of eyes on me, some pleading with palms up to hand them a piece of fruit. I would not falter. As much as it pains me to use fruit, food and outings as a means of getting them to understand, it is the only way they respond! I am sure the other new volunteers that joined me that week, were thinking that I really was the wicked witch. The 6th pair did not surface and so I told them that I would give them one more chance; I did not care who took them, but I needed them back. The scissors were not theirs to take. Taking them from me without asking to borrow or have them was stealing. They cannot do that when they wanted something. If they did that out in the real word they would go to jail. So, I explained I would take the fruit home and return to the orphanage in the afternoon, where I would like to have my scissors returned. If I get them back, then I will hand out the fruit.
Goodness me, the commotion. The older ones were yelling at the younger ones to return them. I went and locked up the fruit and then got in our car to leave. As I was about to close the door, I heard many scurrying feet and voices yelling "Anna, Anna, Anna". The scissors were returned.
So, I thanked them and then told them they can sit down again and I will get the fruit.
All this for a pair of scissors? I was asked by the new volunteer. Yes. Because if I let them get away with this, then next week it will be something else and something else and then bigger items and it will not end. How else can you teach them that it is not acceptable in here, and it is certainly not acceptable out there in the community.

Must be off, but I leave with you some things I have learnt recently:
* Never assume that Vietnamese super glue which is sold at the fish mongers is the same as the crappy one from the $2 store. It actually works and the missing skin from my pointer finger is living proof!
* Vietnam starts the age of a baby from conception, so technically, they believe they are 1  when they are born. This confused me so much! I met a family who told me their baby was 4 months old.... I bought a present for them and went over to meet little bub, only to realise they meant 4 months in utero!
* Goddess of mercy - a goddess that protects those traveling. Nearly every car/bus you go on here has one super glued to the dashboard. I am told that if the taxi/bus I enter does not have one, to not enter or travel with them! Apparently, statistics have shown that people in car accidents in Vietnam do not have a statue of her in their vehicle.
* If we meet in this life it is because we knew each other in some capacity in a past life.

Till next time,

Plant flowers in others' gardens and your life becomes a bouquet!


I have been riding my bicycle 14km to the orphanage and back home again every day. Thats about 14km of dusty roads, maneuvering pot holes, water buffalo's, big trucks and other fellow bike riders - both pedal and motor. I always arrive at the orphanage covered in a layer of dirt and the kids laugh at me when I take my sunnies off and see where the dirt has left a ring. We then spend a minute or two trying to wash my face and wetting my top cos I am so hot and need to cool down. This is apparently very funny to the younger ones. Clearly they have never heard of wet tshirt competitions. This and the incessant heat got me thinking and on a whim, I went out and bought 70 water guns. WATER FIGHT!!!!! I know, I know, I should know better as a teacher but really, this heat is driving me mad so I have an excuse, I mean a reason for it! The children call me 'com com din din' which means 'crazy' and some days I tend to agree with them! I was bracing myself for a tell off by the mothers for getting all the children wet but even the carers were laughing at me as I was ganged up on by the boys who took aim and had me as their target. It was cute to see even little 2 year old Huy try get in on the action and would hold his gun out and try to wet his fellow friends. When I pulled the guns out again for a second water fight the week after, we had strategies and action plans in place and the girls got the boys good. In the end I got caught for aiding both sides and the punishment was me standing up against the wall unarmed mind you, with all the boys and girls aiming their guns to me and emptying their cartridges. I think my squealing could be heard in the next village!

Handing out fruit is still a mission here. Volunteer who draws the short straw gets to hand it out. It's all on for fruit. They do anything to try scam a third or fourth piece. They love it so much and yet, fruit is still a commodity here.Fruit is something 'extra' and without donations from kind volunteers, fruit would not be served to them. We are very lucky to have enough money for fruit for all the children at both placements; thats 100 children that get fruit every day, every day of the month. All for the price of $100. That's about 3000 pieces of fruit a month!

We managed to take BO and PV out for excursions but the highlight one had to be the soccer game for the boys. I was predicting chaos and losing one of them at least but after a rocky start, all was well. My heart breaks when we arrive at the orphanage with the list of 9 boys that we were taking as all the other boys stand by the bus pleading and asking if they could come to. They point to themselves and try to get in at the last minute. It would be impossible to take all 40 boys out at once and with my limited Vietnamese explain to the ones left behind that they will come out next trip. I caved last minute with a few of them and from 9, we ended up with 13 boys I counted initially. As the bus took off, little did I know that cheeky little Chang got out from underneath the seat and sat very quietly looking straight ahead. I noticed him when I went to do head count number 2 and we had 14 boys. I began to chastise him immediately. The bus stopped. This trip was for all the boys who have been listening and trying hard. Let's just say that 5 year old Chang is not in this category and I was prepared to turn the bus around and take him back. Yep, someone needs to be bad cop and give them tough love. Moon, the other volunteer with me, convinced me not to as we were running late and so he ended up coming after a big lecture about his behaviour. For being sneaky, he misses out on the next 3 outings. Yes I know, I am the big bad wolf. If I let him get away with it, then all the other boys would get ideas that they too can misbehave, sneak onto the bus and there would not be any repercussions.
The boys loved the game, their eyes were glued to the ball, scrutinizing the players, making predictions as to game play etc. We were sitting behind the goal post and in true Vietnamese style, there were no barriers enclosing the game. Which means that every time the ball was down our end and they would attempt a goal, someone in the crowd got smacked in the head. After the game we went and had a drink and before I could say anything, they had opened the bottles on the tables. Oh Boy, we were taking back some very hyper boys as the bottles on the table were all red bulls and energy drinks! We ate our street food and happily got back on the bus where the boys sang all the way home.Their singing brought tears to my eyes. An outing so simple, yet had so much meaning for them.

Another huge improvement we helped instigate was installing a well at Peace Village. Sometimes Tam Ky has water shortages and they can go for days and weeks without clean water. We dug a well all the way to the bottom of the jar and have accessed the water underground. This water then gets converted with the pump and the purifier and they have clean drinking, cooking, bathing water all the time. A long term investment and one that will help their daily lives immensely. Many thanks to John & Lyn Quilty and their donors for providing funds for this project.

June saw us have a very successful month and the children received many things they needed. I cannot say this enough, but a thousand thank you's could not be said to all of you generous people who have made this possible for me to provide to them.

I shall leave you all with this image: the girls walk home from school at about 10.30am and on their walk up they pick fresh flowers from the side of the road and without fail, upon arrival at the centre, they give me a bunch and then add a few behind my ear and pin one to my hair clip. I get great big sweaty cuddles and huge smiles as they go off to unload their school bags and change. This tiny gesture full of significance which occurs non verbally has become part of my weekly rituals. These girls and their consideration make my heart swell. I sigh, look up to the sky above and send my gratitude. Bliss.

For those of you not on my facebook, below are the links for photos from BO and PV.


Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Birthdays are nature's way of telling us to eat more cake


"Your birthday is a special time to celebrate the gift of 'you' to the world"
Most birthdays come and go in the orphanage.... no celebration or even mention of the little ones special day. I decided to set up a birthday chart and try to acknowledge the child's birthday in some capacity. Getting them all gathered around a cake, singing Happy Birthday and creating a sense of connectedness, family and belonging makes me all warm and fuzzy inside and something I want to try and do for the children - at least make them feel good on their birthday... and feed them cake of course!
Some children have no known birth date which makes it harder, but here in Vietnam, every one turns a year older on Tet anyway so we shall celebrate theirs then! Just occurred to me then that I am actually 31 here already if I follow their custom.... uh oh.....

Thanh’s 14th Birthday was coming up and she wanted a jacket. I told her I would take her shopping for one. Quynh Chi is 7 years old who has a birth certificate saying she is a year younger. They won’t change it and so she has been held back from school until she turns “6”. She stays at the orphanage 24/7 with the younger toddlers while her peers go off to school.
I decided to take Quynh Chi with me and Thanh to the markets. Her little face lit up like Xmas lights when I asked her if she wanted to come. In the taxi, her eyes were glued to the window, mouth agape at the scenes her eyes were taking in.
When we got to the markets, she grabbed my hand and clung to it for dear life. It occurred to me then that this could be her first experience at a market. I did not even consider how this little expedition could be daunting for her. Entering the markets, the scents wafting through the air permeated her nostrils and she was holding her nose in disgust and gesturing to me that it was smelly. It’s funny how I do not even really notice the smell anymore and how it does not bother me. As we got deeper into the chaotic world of market stalls, she clung to me harder, wrapping both my arms around her, holding her in a bear hug the entire time we were there. I was telling her it was ok as we quickly walked through to find the clothes section.
Browsing aisles and shops for Thanh’s jacket and not finding the one she had in mind, I asked the girls if they wanted anything else. Out of everything Quynh Chi could have picked to buy – I pointed out shoes, bags, clothes, bracelets..... she chose an orange. Wow was all I could think. An orange? She didn’t want new sandals even though the ones she was wearing were one size too small, she did not ask for anything more than an orange. I bought her a frozen yoghurt and a 30cent sparkly bracelet too. I was hugged and kissed very tightly as a thank you.
Thanh was having no luck with her jacket and after countless efforts with the stalls and 2 happy laps, I realised she was after the thick, puffy winter coats. We are heading into summer and so of course we wouldn’t find a jacket like that till at least October!
I knew that because I am aware of seasons and stores rotations that coincide with the seasons.  These children aren’t aware because it is not part of their world. They just get given their clothes.
Social pragmatics and understanding conventions is something that comes second nature to most due to being exposed and conditioned to how one is expected to behave in social situations and out in the community.
Quynh Chi found it very confusing as to why we were wasting time waiting around in the supermarket after we had found what we wanted. She kept pulling me towards the exit once we had our items. She did not comprehend that to buy items from the supermarket, we had to wait for the cashier and pay for said items.
These little outings have so much potential for learning and engagement for these children.....

Tri from Peace Village also turned 20 this week. He asked me to get him beer for his birthday but I was not allowed (Director's orders) and so he had a tantrum. I bought him a cake and had everyone there to sing for him and he refused to come out of his room. I was trying not to laugh. He did eventually come out, under the condition that everyone made a big deal and fussed about him. Which we did.Well, it was his party and I guess he could cry if he wanted to.


Little bit of love goes a long way...


 “I can accept failure, everyone fails at something. But I can’t accept not trying.” –Michael Jordan

Hey peeps!
Thought I would update you on some of the other things we have done here (that don't involve assemblies and angry faces!)
  • Get a playpen for the kiddies to ‘hang’ in whilst the carers can still control them. Thanks Laura for providing the funds to do this! Gets the children out of their prison cots for a bit.
  • Installed a western toilet and redid the plumbing in disability room
  • Got walkers and wheelchairs for disabled children
  • Paid for 7 (yep, 7) sick babies meds and 2 more hospital visits
  • Visited another orphanage in the mountains that gets no government funding and relies on grants and donors to get by; bought the children there art books, pencils, stationery, comics and reading books. Also discovered there was no shower so the carers have to boil water 18 times a day to give each child a bath. So we also installed a shower, hot water system and western toilet there
  • Started English classes with carers at Peace Village to be able to communicate with them!
  • At Peace Village, once a week, we take a group of children out to eat. Just for a change of scenery! And to plant the ‘reintegration’ seed. I was saddened to see one restaurant turn us away because the ‘retarded’ children were bad for business.
  • Got a proper cupboard made for the disability room at baby orphanage – with doors so the flies do not hang about the children’s food.
  • Next big project we concocting plans on is to clear the land at the back of baby orphanage so they have an area to run and play. The boys have so much energy and I know that half of their behavioural issues can be mitigated if they could expel some of this energy. Anthony was a jungle gym when he came and had at least 5 boys hanging off him, playing ninja’s, chasings and rough and tumble with them.

My new baby love Chien has his new girlfriend... the other baby dropped off a few weeks ago. She is a few weeks older than him and I actually met her father a few days ago. He walked in whilst we were talking and playing with her. He told me he was 26 years old and her mother died 5 days after giving birth. He said she was 6 weeks old and her name was Linh. The sadness was etched in his face. I could not imagine what he has been going through the last 6 weeks, losing his wife and his daughter. He was staring at her with this look full of sadness, wonder and some happiness. When I handed her over to him, tears rolled down his cheeks and mine as we sat there for a moment in silence, watching Linh.
He then asked me if I would adopt her and my heart stopped for a second. It was like I could feel his pain; see the anguish in his face and it broke my heart. I told him I wish I could but I was not allowed. I tried to offer some words of comfort to him that she was being taken care of well and she really was a happy, thriving little thing but he would not look at me, just kept his head bowed the entire time.

My plan to find the single Canadians coming has fallen through... well..... Sort of; there are still two single Canadians coming.... only problem is, is that they are 3 and 5 years old!!!!
But as one door closes, another opens right?! During my squished bus ride in a 12 seater bus with 24 other people, a grandfather offered me his grandson to marry. I had just finished yelling at the driver(in Vietnamese if you please!) for trying to charge me 100,000 dong for a 40,000dong bus fare and Pop must have thought the fiery Greek temper was a selling point to keep his grandson in check! I did not even turn around to see what the grandson looked like....

Sen update! Little Miss has been feisty and hitting me a lot lately when I force her to get up on all fours to practice her crawling (must be picking up on my attitude and temper recently!)
She crawled 2 – 3 paces forward last week!!! AND now she has finally realised she can stand on her feet so she stands up if you support her. She also claps her hands if you tell her in Vietnamese to clap her hands.
I fed her, her first banana the other day. At 17 months she still only gets runny goo to eat.... She loved it so much; she was hitting me for feeding her too slowly in between mouthfuls!
The assemblies seem to be making an impact and I was really touched when some children came up to me and handed back some of the stolen toys. Anthony lost 50,000 dong running around with the children and the mothers actually came and asked if it belonged to anyone as opposed to pocketing it. I was impressed and felt like we have taken a step forward..... at least today anyway!
Little bit of love goes a long way.... and it is these little achievements amongst a whole heap of adversities and chaos that make me sigh and say ‘ is all worth it”

Till next time,



Playing with the children on morning March 7th, we see a lady on a motorbike carrying a bundle of some sort. She hurriedly comes in through the gates, enters the (empty)security guards 'box' and drops it off. She then quickly drove off without a word. Go to see what it was and yep! It was a newborn. I was asked to name this bubby boy and so I have been busy trying to find a name that suits him.
After weeks of researching many Vietnamese boy names, let me introduce you all to.... Chien.
Chien means fighter/warrior and God knows, he is going to have to be one tough little one to survive....


Two kinds of gratitude:  The sudden kind we feel for what we take; the larger kind we feel for what we give.  ~Edwin Arlington Robinson

Amber is a past volunteer who literally fell in love with the neighbour - the boy next door to our volunteer house. A graphic designer from Canada, Amber decided to move to Vietnam to be with him. She learnt Vietnamese whilst waiting for her visa to come through and as of last year, traded in everything she knew for Tan.

We discuss this concept every now and then; how do you go from a country like Canada to one like Vietnam? Lifestyle, culture, perspectives and norms are all different.
Yet, being here for 3 months now, even I am surprised at what you can get accustomed to. Or more like, what you can live without and still function and be happy.
Coming from the land of plenty there are so many things I can see we take for granted. For me, hot showers will never have the same meaning again! On most days I compete with the shower to see who will outdo who. I gotta think strategically and have a plan to be able to wash my mop of a head and do all the rest before the hot water runs out. At the moment the shower is winning and I end up squealing through the lather rinse off. One day victory shall be mine....Till next time shower!

When Anthony came to visit, I thought I would have the longest list of things for him to bring me. But when I went to write it – I had nothing written down except for Nutella , Greek olives and Macca’s (can you believe Vietnam has no Macca’s?!).
This again got me thinking and debating with fellow volunteers: it is amazing how much we cling to materialistic items! I literally have a handful of clothes, 2 pairs of havianas and 1 pair of shoes. I didn’t even bring a handbag. I think of my 20+ handbags sitting all lonely back in my wardrobe wondering why I ever needed so many! Suffering from a case of keeping up with the Jones’ and confusing ‘need’ with ‘want’ maybe? Hmmmmm

I have never been happier with my mattress on the floor, chinese laundry with all my undies drying on makeshift clotheslines throughout the hallways and in my room, using toilet paper as napkins, having no hot water to wash dishes, no microwave, no oven! I am even getting used to the mosquitoes! You can no longer play dot to dot on me from all their bites – it’s like they’ve accepted me now too!
Seeing men sitting astride giant trucks with full unsecured loads of building materials clearing electrical wires and telephone lines out of the way so the truck has clearance to pass is normal for me now; as are the buffalos and cows I have to watch out for when riding my bike down the dirt path road to the orphanages. I pass the local markets where people deliver 3 fat pigs to a stall on the back of their scooter; I get offered cow cartilage as a ‘treat’ and going to a ‘cafe’ which is literally in someone’s front living room where Grandma serves us beer in her pyjamas? I do not even bat an eye lid.

The size of Vietnamese weddings had me thinking of Greek Weddings. Amber and Tan invited 250 people but were expecting anywhere between 300 – 500 to turn up. The amount of food served could compete with a Greek spread. All you hear is ‘eat more’ and whether you like it or not, food gets piled onto your plate. They made me eat so much I actually threw up – and that did not even stop them. They said I now had more room to ‘eat more’ again!
There was no photographer (official photos get done a week before!), no RSVP’s, no bridal party or bridal table. The bride and groom did not even get to eat because they do not get a table – their role is to walk around from table to table all day.
Cheesy music eat your heart out here – we had techno versions of Britney Spears, Celine Dion and then the Vengaboys Boom Boom Boom was a highlight. I do need to mention here that I got so excited when the bride and groom walked in to my favourite composition by Yanni. Who would have thunk it that Greek Yanni would make it to a Vietnamese wedding! After the techno entertainment, they come around with slips of paper and people write their name down – for what you may ask? Yep. Karaoke. So the rest of the wedding has the guests up on the stage singing songs. In lieu of flowers, if you liked the singer you would stab a bread roll through your chopstick and go up and offer it to them.

We brought 9 of the oldest girls from the orphanage to the wedding with us.  I thought it was a great experience for them to be there.They got up and performed a traditional Viet dance which of course had me getting teary. It would have taken so much courage to get up and perform in front of 350 people. I talk about reintegration for these orphans alot at the NGO meetings and I felt that this was a great example of starting to cultivate that seed; their community seeing them as able and capable to contribute. From this, my brain started ticking and now, we are going to start taking small groups of children out of the orphanages for ‘outings’ once a week..... more on that in future updates though!
I was watching our 9 girls at the table. Their eyes would grow wide every time a new platter was served. You could see it in their faces they just wanted to attack the food. Instead, they offered us the platters first, then the eldest two made sure the rest of the girls got a share and were ok, before serving themselves what was left. They do not get ‘real’ meat at the orphanage. They get rice everyday cooked in a chicken, beef or fish stock, but never any pieces of meat. They ate and tried absolutely everything on that table – except the rice! They did not touch the rice and I do not blame them! I was actually worried their stomachs couldn’t handle all the food and were all going to be sick that night from over consumption! I was happy they had fun.

On the Sen front...... I still battling with the adoption agencies here. One day it looks promising and the next it's all systems down. They have changed their laws again and so I will go back in a few weeks and harass them again....

Lots of love,

By changing nothing, nothing changes!


“Don’t say you don’t have enough time. You have exactly the same number of hours per day that were given to Helen Keller, Pasteur, Michaelangelo, Mother Teresea, Leonardo da Vinci, Thomas Jefferson, and Albert Einstein.” –Life’s Little Instruction Book
Really? Is it March already? I cannot believe it!

Last 2 weeks has seen me spend most of my time in hospitals with some children. I took little Lan to Danang – the closest city to Tam Ky (about 2 hours away) with a suspected colon/intestine issue. She is 3 months old and still 4kilos. She not putting on any weight and vomiting and passing blood. She just got out of the local hospital where I was told she was treated for pneumonia. I took her to Danang as I wanted to have her thoroughly checked out and get CT scans if needed, which do not exist in Tam Ky. Long story short, there is nothing wrong with her intestines, all blood tests came back clear and everything functioning well. She is just got malnutrition so we have to fatten her up and get her a proper formula. After being Dr Papoutsakis via google, I would assume the blood was from all the antibiotics they pumped her with at first hospital. I ordered a heart test at the last minute, just because we were here and thought might as well. And I heard a rumour that when she was in the hospital in Tam Ky, she was in for a heart condition, That changed to pneumonia and then that got changed to dengue fever. Which one was it?! Heart ultrasounds came back that one of her valves? Arteries that leads to the lungs? Was narrow and not pumping enough blood and working extra hard.... well that was the best translation I got. I wanted to speak to a cardiologist. So I did and he said that we had to wait until she was at least 1 year old to do anything about it anyway.
The funniest diagnosis I got for Lan, was when we first got there: The Dr took one look at her and said “this baby is fine and she will live a long life... look at her ears!”. Lan has gigantic ears for a baby and here, big ears mean a long life. Thus, he didn’t have to examine her cos she had big ears and so was going to live a long life!

Back in my hood, all is progressing well. I have a retired couple here with me for the next 3 months and are fantastic. I thought i had energy but they surpass me without a doubt. At 65 years old, they have 7 children, 12 grandchildren and are on fire! I did not get out of bed all weekend (jersey shore marathon... could not help myself!) and John is up at 5am, going for a jog, doing exercise in the park! We have implemented a lot of changes and put a routine in place for the placement visits which is working really well and we are utilising our time alot more productively.
In terms of my time, I thought i would come here and relax a little, lead the simple life..... pfffffttttt! Yeah right! Always looking for a challenge I guess....
So for the past 2 months I have been involved in a pretty exciting venture. I have not said anything cos I still have my doubts that I can pull it off, however, we have had some recent developments and I am excited!

We have this vision to be able to give the children more than they are receiving. At the moment, the government budget is $20 per month per child for EVERYTHING. As you can imagine that does not begin to cover the necessities.
We want the children to have access to proper health, nutrition, education – in every sense of the word. I would like to see these kids reintegrate back into their community and society positively. One of the saddest things i heard recently was that our orphan children get teased and bullied at school for being orphans. This broke my heart.
Soooooo... with a help of a few key players, we have been on a mission to start up an NGO here with a US counterpart to pilot our own specific program. Needless to say Vietnam, not very organised and it takes yonks to get anything done or get answers. But so far, I have managed to lead 4 successful meetings. Some of these meetings have been with Unions, The Local Government and prominent characters in the community. Somehow, I have ended up being the key player in coordinating all this; I am Secretary at all the meetings and an advisor to the forming and setting up of these programs. These meetings are slow and tedious because we have to translate everything back and forth.... tis quite an ordeal. But if we can manage to get this through, it will be amazing for the children. At this stage, we have finished our proposal to the government and have submitted a first draft! I am so excited! I know we are way off a victory or getting any of this off the ground but I guess by changing nothing, nothing changes! I have to try and give it my best before giving up on it!

Now, I must get back to reading about business plans.... I swear I will have an MBA by the end of this!



Chuc Mung Num Moi!


* One of my friends was coming to visit and so I had to skip the morning at the orphanage to go to DaNang and get her. The other volunteers told me that all the kids were asking for me and just walking around going "Anna, Anna, Anna" looking for me. Things like this just make my heart go mushy..... how will I extract myself from them!?! So, the bus trip up to DaNang..... my first time on a Vietnamese bus as I have been avoiding them. But it was $1.50 for the 2 hour trip instead of $30 for private car. So, here I was expecting to go to a bus station or bus stop, but I don't know what I was thinking! The bus literally just goes up the highway and if your standing on the side and want to get on, you flag it down. The bus then slows down to a crawl, where there is a man who stands at the open doors and his job is to grab your hand and lift you onto the bus before we speed off again. Again, I become the tourist attraction where for the entire 2 hours people stared at me. It was an interesting journey where I observed: people getting on and off the bus in random spots, people carrying live chickens, dead chickens, photocopiers and even a fridge that made it on the bus!
My darling friend forgot to get a visa and so could not enter the country. I then had to endure another bus ride back to Tam Ky, only to get onto another bus back to DaNang the next morning to go pick her up from the airport. Third bus trip was pretty much the same except there were 100 more people on it. All these old people got on the bus and we still had 1.5 hours to DaNang. Nobody moved for them, so I got up and offered my seat to the Grandpa who smiled at me. Then the bus began applauding and started giving me the thumbs up. I must have made a few young people feel guilty cos they then reluctantly got up and gave their seats to the other senior citizens. So, what was I to do now, in the middle of the bus hallway, wedged in between 2 giant boxes almost as tall as me, live ducks in front of me and dead chickens behind me and a lady vomiting into a plastic bag next to me? Turn my ipod on and sing and dance of course!
Just for fun, as soon as I picked my friend up when she finally made it, we went back to Tam Ky, only to have to catch another bus back to DaNang the day after for a Happy New Year feast at the main volunteer house. Third day in a row. So far, 10 hours of buses. Anyone would think I was enjoying these trips!
New lot of volunteers arrived and the norm is to go to Hoi An for the weekend.... who am I to break tradition?  So off to Hoi An again..... the kids and carers in the orphanage were happy to see me and calling out my name as I walked through the gates.....I swear it's the best feeling when they all smile at you and come running up for cuddles.
We went to My Son - historic religious relics site... it was raining and my giant purple raincoat made me look like a giant purple blob but at least I was not hard to lose! I accidentally bought a motorbike raincoat so I had this clear plastic square in front of me - and because of my height, this clear plastic square ended up at my crotch. Needless to say, the jokes began about me becoming the raincoat flasher......

In Hoi An, we go to the orphanages and then we get pampered with massages and great food. This time I decided to get a foot peeling. You cannot wear shoes here as you are constantly taking them on and off to enter houses, children's rooms etc. Also because of the mud and rain, there is no point! They get wet and stay wet for a week. So rubber thongs it is but they leave your feet dry. This foot peeling was going to be amazing I just knew it. We rocked up and the lady pulls out an old fashioned blade/razor thing.... you know the ones that men used to get in the old days when they went to a barber to shave their face? exactly the same one! And she literally begins shaving the soles of my feet. Ummmmmm ok. Weird. Put this one down to a Vietnamese experience!
The rain has semi - stopped and so we have been attempting to ride the bicycles to placement. After the food and cakes I have over - indulged in, I need to bike ride back to Sydney. Except here, " big bum, fat legs" are considered 'sexy' so I am like model material :) Anyhoo, back to bike riding: first attempt saw me hitting a lazy cow in the middle of the highway who would not move.My options were: a) swerve left and risk getting hit by a truck b) swerve right fall into the muddy rice field or c) go straight and hit the cow. I went for option C. Second attempt at bike riding saw me turn a corner, lose control and fall into a muddy puddle, skinning my shin and scraping my palms. I got back on like a trooper, only to fall off it again 30 seconds later. This stack, was gold. I fell, let go of the bike and as the bike fell, I jumped off the bike and landed on both my feet off to the side. Stuntman material. Truly. After that, the other volunteers made me wear a motorbike helmet whilst riding as they did not trust me. Just to be safe, the 4th time we went riding, I was banned from the bikes and had to double up with my friend. I was cackling the entire way as my friend was riding and carrying my weight on the back. I was teasing her so much but she threatened to drop me into a puddle so I waved my white flag.

Talking about bikes and helmets: A dude riding his motorbike through the roundabout somehow lost his helmet. It fell off in the middle of the road. He looked at it once and decided to keep going. As soon as he was out of sight, two ladies, who witnessed this scene, from opposite ends of the roundabout, began running to retrieve said helmet. They both got to it at the same time, where a tug of war ensued for the fallen helmet. I am not sure who won, but someone must've been happy with their new freebie.
Back at the baby orphanage the older boys left me a surprise. Every time we get there, my camera gets taken from me where the older children have fun taking photos.  When I got my camera back at the end of placement, I went through my pics and as I am flicking through them, I let out a gasp and a shocked little scream. I had many pictures of the boys' penises on my camera. I could see the headlines now: "Western Girl here to adopt a baby, caught with child pornography pictures". I wish I spoke Viet now to tell them off. But I had to resort to showing the pics to the carers to tell them off for me and tell them to not do that with my camera or they won't have it again. I didn't want to tell them cos I was worried they would get beaten after we left.... when really, they are only at that curious age.
At Peace Village we had some success in teaching them a few songs in English. They loved a very simple song called "Hello, How are you?". Thats pretty much all the words and then they go round the circle and say their name as we say hello to them individually. I think we sang it for 20 minutes straight. Then I taught them heads, shoulders, knees and toes which also went down a treat. Such a simple thing, yet so much joy!
Another week has passed and so what do we do this weekend? Well.... a new volunteer came this week and he wanted to see Hoi An so why not? There is this cafe in Hoi An that makes the most amazing cake I have ever had in my life. Its chocolate and when you spoon into it, hot melted chocolate oozes out of it. The selling point and what it took to convince us to go back to Hoi An was that we could have this cake again. We went down for a day, just to eat yummy food and overdose on this cake. Yeah........... so much for losing weight over here!

So Hoi An round 3? 4? (I have lost count) consisted of eating cakes, eating pizza worthy of Sydney standards, getting a coffee and honey body scrub and cucumber wrap and lounging on the beach for about 5 hours. Hard weekends here.
New Years is on Sunday (today!) so Hoi An was quiet yesterday. The children at the orphanages who have families/parents, get to go home. It's the only time of year they are allowed. I witnessed a few parents picking up their children. It was bittersweet to watch their faces as they hugged their children. I walk in with other volunteers and know these kids better than their parents do. I could tell the little blind twin was sick, she was not herself and when Laura approached and she heard her voice, she outstretched her hands for her to take her and cuddle her. The mum let her go but it was a little awkward as we didn't want to impose and take the child from her mother, but at the same time, she was reaching for Laura. I wonder what the mother was feeling.
The other children who do not have parents were lingering on the sides, observing. My heart broke watching the entire scene unfold. Would it be better to have family and go home once a year? Knowing your family cannot afford you and 'gave you up?" Especially when some kids like Tram, have 3 other siblings and she and her sister are the two 'chosen ones' who live in the orphanage when the other two stay at home? Or is it better to just not have parents and know that straight out but have to deal with not knowing where they have come from or who their families are and they were just given up. Either way sucks. How can we break this poverty cycle?
New Years Eve today and we have been out drinking since 11am. Home for a 'sleep' apparently where it all starts again in about an hour. I am told Year of the Dragon is a very prosperous time. I am just lucky I can start my new year all over again and make new resolutions! Yay!
Chuc Mung Num Moi - Happy New Year!

When in doubt, choose change...

Hey All!
I seriously feel like I have been here for months!
3 weeks in and so many stories, I don't know where to start! It has been eventful to say the least:
* I went and got a massage at the most expensive place in Tam Ky (a present from Dr Brett) which left me with a headache at the end. Apparently massaging up my nose was part of the deal. Then I got a head massage which entailed her grabbing fistfuls of my hair and pulling them really hard till my eyes watered.
* I think I have already mentioned that no foreigners come through Tam Ky. I went to the supermarket "Co - op Mart" and it's always an adventure going there. I am like the tourist attraction. People follow me, some go on a stealth mission and follow me throughout my shopping experience,  hiding behind shelves if I turn to look at them. Others are more obvious and are curious to see what I am buying so just rummage through my trolley. My fun was trying to decipher Viet writing and whether I was buying shampoo, conditioner, body wash or body whitening lotion.... yes, they are obsessed here with having white white skin and all their moisturizers have body whitening ingredients in them. My friend Sarah is a Goddess here as she has white skin!
* I have been meaning to ride a bicycle around Tam Ky for exercise and so far have only managed it once with the rain. But even riding a bike around here attracts me a following! It's funny when motorbikes ride past me and they look and then do a double take with a look of surprise on their faces "oh look! It's a westerner!" and they slow down and say "Hello, what's your name?". The other catch phrase they all seem to know is "Hello, how old are you?" but if you deviate from a predictable response they get all confused and have no idea what to say! When I say Hello how are you back in Viet they get all excited and laugh... it is really cute!
* I ended up getting a mild case of hand, foot and mouth disease  - or something of its kind. The babies had an outbreak of it and of course, they shared the love. My face was very attractive with blisters for about a week...... soooooooooooooo itchy!
* Back at the Baby Orphanage, the weekend I was in Hoi An, they had a very special visitor... the Vice President of Vietnam! She took a special liking to Sen and even cried when she held her. Awwww! Sen knows who to woo and when to be cute. I was abit gutted I missed her, would have been a great chance to ask her about taking Sen back to Oz! But now I know she has a connection to this orphanage and Sen made her cry, I could perhaps use it to my advantage when I start petitioning and writing letters.....
* Sen was burning up when I went in one day and picked her up. I could tell straight away she had a temp. She was grizzly and no one could figure out why.... der! So I took her temperature with an old school thermometer and it came up as 39 degrees. I showed it to the carers and they said that was normal and she was fine! I argued with them to give her panadol but to no avail. She was also wearing the normal 6 layers of clothes they put on babies here and I wasn't allowed to take any off. I then by-passed the carers and took her to the Director and told her she needed Panadol now. She listened to me and got the nurse to give her Panadol. 39 not a temp! I wonder what they consider a temp to be then?
* It is the small things here that make me send messages of thanks to whoever is up above. Some of the other volunteers bought the children fruit to eat as they do not get any fruit - unless we bring them some. As soon as they saw the plate come out, Brianna was charged and surrounded by so many little outstretched hands. The plate nearly went flying, she kept walking backwards until she hit a wall and at one point I thought she was toast. Julia then emerges with another plate and she was not as quick as Brianna, so her plate was demolished by the children quick enough to get to her. It was quite sad really. It is like survival of the fittest in there. We finally got them to sit down at tables and divided the fruit up. I did see some of the older ones who finished their fruit, go up to the slower toddlers table and steal their fruit. When I yell at them to stop that they just laugh at me and imitate what I am saying. I feel sorry for them and can't get angry.... pecking order...... all this for fruit! I think of all the fruit back at home and the children in the child care centres I have seen who 'don't like it' and we fight with them to eat it!

* I know I have mentioned before from a previous trip that they feed the children lying flat here. Brianna, who is a speech pathologist, told them she was a feeding Dr and so called a meeting with all the carers where she explained to them the mechanics of swallowing and how food travels down and if fed lying down it could go into their lungs etc. We got the carers to lie flat and fed them yoghurt and they all choked or instinctively got up to a sitting position to swallow. we asked them how it was and they said it was very difficult. really? No! How do you expect the disabled children to swallow then? It was a very successful meeting. I think they responded so well because we took the time to explain to them why it is bad. We westerners come in and tell them ' you shouldn't do that, feed the children sitting up' without ever any explanation as to why they should do that. Now they know why! And I am pleased to say that for the last week, at feeding time, all the children have been up and the disabled children, at least at an angle! Small steps....... Sen wasn't swallowing 3 weeks ago when i got here - they just lie her flat and drip the food into her open mouth until she spits half and they shovel that back in or chokes on the other half and it goes down somehow. She started swallowing this week! I been feeding her at an angle every day and every day i prop her a little bit higher and higher. Im nearly at a sitting position!

* They moved the disability room over to the other block last week and when they were doing it the Director came and asked me which room I liked best and that they would put Sen in there. I told them it didn't matter, it was the carers that made the difference, not the walls..... but I was touched that she would ask me anyway!
* A preliminary assessment on Sen shows that she has curvature of the spine - kyphosis I think is what they called it.... if we do not get this rectified, little Sen is going to be a hunchback for the rest of her life. I am told I will need to get a brace for her as now is the time I can fix it and teach her how to sit up straight and train her spine. I am having trouble finding a  brace here in Vietnam, in fact, finding any disability and OT materials for the children is almost impossible here unless we get it made from scratch. I torture Sen every morning to try and sit up straight and I hold her shoulders back to force her and she gets so cranki with me.... she swipes at me and has a whole body tantrum where she kicks her legs. Fiesty!
* Feet are considered dirty here and I was told that when you sit down on the floor, you should never have the soles of your feet facing or pointed to anyone..... I have had toe rings and anklets on since I was 16 and forget they are there. One of the first things people here notice about me are my pretty feet! It's really weird and they almost make me wanna take em off but I feel naked without them and have not been able to take them off yet! I am in an agrarian community where pedicures are unheard of unless they are elite society and they do not work in the fields. They point to my toes and anklet and then point to themselves, gesturing for me to buy them some also. When I returned from Hoi An on the weekend, they were all eyeing me out and checking my wrists to see if I added any bracelets..... They all asked me to buy them jewellery from Hoi An but here, word spreads like wild fire and if one gets something, you have 18 other carers surrounding you for them to get their piece also. It's not only survival of fittest for the children, but for the carers too!

* I wanted to do something for the carers to show that I do appreciate their hard work.... New Years is coming here and wow is it major! Picture Xmas, New Year and your birthday events all in one. That's basically what this is. Families here save up all year for this "Tet" holiday. Literally. It is the one time of year that they buy clothes, shoes, new products for the house..... celebrations go for like a week before and a week after. The entire town is decorated in yellow flowers and they sell flowers on every corner. Mandarin trees are also bought as gifts. At midnight at Tet, you go visiting other people's houses. If you are 'unlucky' and have had bad luck for the year, then you are not allowed to visit other houses! Our program managers husband died 4 months ago and so she is not allowed to visit any houses because now she is unlucky. One of my favourite carers at the orphanage got divorced and so she is also considered unlucky. Interesting! I digress... sorry! Soooooo..... I went and bought 24 hair clips, one each for the carers at the orphanage. Think of the ugliest, fake bling bling chunky hair clips you can and that is what I got. They love them. the bigger, the better. So, for Tet and for Happy New Year, I gave them a clip each after a meeting I had with them. I told them that I was here to support them in their roles but that we cannot do it without their help and cooperation. I asked them to give me feedback in regards to what they wanted us, the volunteers to do to help make their job easier, what we did to annoy them and since I was staying for longer term, I could implement changes and help tell new volunteers what works best. They were good and responded well when I told them I wanted to improve things! And then I gave them their clips.... they were so excited and I got so many 'sniff kisses'. The carers that randomly got the bigger clips with more fake bling bling on them were parading them around and thanking me telling me that I must think they were the prettiest carers since they got the best ones! I was glad they were happy. Some would not open them and said they were saving them for actual Tet to wear them then. Awwww!
* Peace Village has also been great so far. The older children are amazing and so happy to see us every time! We have been doing YOGA with them and the other volunteers have said that when they started doing it, they could not even cross their midline! And now? They can do stretches, cat poses, coordinate their movements and even do deep breathing! All these children have physical deformities and intellectual disabilities. Yoga is not an easy thing for them to do. I have no idea about yoga so we have started doing aerobics and body combat with them now too... not that I exercise and know about these either but it's easier for me to just jump around..... we pump the 'doof doof' music and punch the air and walk around in a circle marching to the beat.....aerobics Vietnam style!
I going to love and leave you all here.....