Sunday, October 12, 2014

'Compassion means we aspire to transform suffering'

Jan 2015 As I sit on the plane with bittersweet tears blurring my vision, a million snapshots of moments run through my mind like a movie.

- the way Sen grabs hold of me and giggles and laughs when I kiss her neck

- The way the toddlers take the few toys I brought to the babies cos they can hear them crying and try to appease them through the playpen pickets.

- The babies whose personality I can see already.... Duc, around 15 months, who once let loose, although can't walk steady yet as he is confined to the cot, goes as fast as he can out the door, hitting every child over the head in his path...

- The toddlers who haven't learnt how to self regulate yet and tantrum when someone takes their toy or when life just gets tooooo much...

- The older girls who look after the babies and how each one has formed a bond with a different one and take responsibility for them when they cry.

- The newborn who is not learning trust as she is left to cry till she shakes..... The babies who have no sense of security or attachment due to the inconsistency in care-giving responses. And it's not the carer's fault... a lot has to do with ratios, no time to do everything and then education - the importance of early child hood seems to be non existent here.

- their pure unobliterated bliss when I go pick them up from school and they see me down the dirt road

- The pride the Peace Village carers feel for their kids and when I ask to take them out there is a flurry of activity to find their best outfits amidst the torn rags.

- Getting splashed in the face from trucks as they speed by and me laughing hysterically on the back of the bike covered in muddy water.

- The older boys who are so bored that they play with baby toys when I bring them out and monopolise them... And I get frustrated that they taking them away from the younger children but when I stop and think about it for a moment, my frustrations melt as I realise that they have to resort to baby toys to stimulate them to just have something to do.

- Carers who congratulate me when I tell them I have a boyfriend and they wish me well and tell me that I should bring him here and get married here with all my children present....

- the way the less disabled help out the more disabled at Peace Village and take care of each other.

- the joy Peace Village got from being out and about!

 - the way the girls have kept photos of them and I safe in an album and show me that they haven't forgotten about our friendship and love...

- the fact that I don't get offended anymore when locals tell me I'm fat and brown and so ugly!

I recently heard a TED Talk by Joan Halifax on the subject of compassion that got me thinking:
She believes compassion is there within every human being. But the conditions for compassion to be activated, to be aroused, are particular conditions.

So we can ask: What is compassion comprised of? Compassion is comprised of that capacity to see clearly into the nature of suffering. It is that ability to really stand strong and to recognize also that I'm not separate from this suffering. But that is not enough, because compassion, which activates the motor cortex, means that we aspire, we actually aspire to transform suffering. And if we're so blessed, we engage in activities that transform suffering.

Phuong, a girl who we support to stay in school wrote me another letter this trip. She says that she prays every night that the other poor students in her village can have someone show them compassion too and support them to go to school just like I do for her. She goes on to write that if every person who was lucky in this life could help someone who was not so lucky, then the world would be a better place.

What is fascinating is that compassion has enemies, and those enemies are things like pity, moral outrage, fear. And you know, we have a society, a world, that is paralyzed by fear. And in that paralysis, of course, our capacity for compassion is also paralyzed.

Interesting huh?

So I shall leave you a list of where donations where spent this trip along with Phuong's prayer, which resonates with the below quote too...
"Do your little bit of good where you are, it's those bits of good put together that overwhelm the world" - Archbishop Desmond Tutu

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Love is that condition in which the happiness of another person is essential to your own - Robert Heinlein

Unfortunately I haven't come during school holidays, which means my outings with these children are confined to the weekends.
And even then it was a logistical nightmare as some still go to school Saturday morning, others Saturday afternoon and others Sunday morning too!
So! My first step was getting a list of names of children who attended what school and what days.
After that, a survey was conducted: If Genie Anna could grant you one wish for an outing where would you like to go?
Roller blading, swimming, happy playland centre and markets were the final answers.
Swimming was out as the pool is closed for the rainy season.
I told them they could put their names down for ONE outing.
What's it gonna be?!?!
I systematically went through the list of names in chronological order and asked them.
16 for roller blading.
29 for playland
9 for markets.

I found it endearing that the next day and the day after that, they would all come and double check with me that I still had their name on the correct list. They would ask a million times "what day and time are we going?!", perhaps hoping my answer would change and it would magically be right then and there.

Roller blading is always the one that sends me in a panic. Taking them out and bringing them back with broken bones is something I don't want!
And considering the roller blades are adult sizes, you can imagine what it's like having these tiny feet in giant boots and trying to roller blade.

What really impresses me is their perseverance. They fall and land hard on the concrete.... Every time I hear a bang, my heart stops for a millisecond. I whince, silently praying no bones snapped and they look at me, smile and get up with a laugh. Every time.

The Director told me that apart from an outing with Amber, another past volunteer to eat at Mrs Hanh's restaurant, the kids haven't been out out since I took them last time I was here.

I wonder if their perseverance is attributed to the fact that they seldom get out and when they do, they make the most of learning how to roller blade, or,  could they all possibly possess this specific learning disposition?

After working up an appetite rollerblading, Mrs Hanh cooked a feast for them. And boy did they work up an appetite! 16 boys demolished:
4.5 kg noodles
45 spring rolls
Can Pepsi each
Two chickens
600g of fried shrimp
1.5 kg of fried rice
Small tub of Ice cream each


Sunday morning I psychologically prepared myself for the 27 kids and two buses which was the next outing. We rocked up in one bus and they were all waiting outside, in their Sunday best, waiting for us. They began cheering and jumping up and down in a chorus of "A-na, A-na"..... Music to my ears....

We all got on the buses and the girls sung the entire trip to the playland.

Once we got to the "supermarket", which over here means everything from groceries, electronics to a playland, they all listened as we explained that no one was to run off and that everyone had to hold hands. If someone did not listen and ran off, we would all be going back home.
The older girls each grabbed one of the youngest and held their hands. What an amazing little team they have. They may not have families, but all of them together are definitely a family unit. They look after each other, save some of their sweets and candy and give them to the younger ones if they are crying or missed out. When I was handing out yoghurts, they made sure to ask for one for the girls who were still at school, ensuring that they didnt miss out.
But I digress.
Entering the playland, squeals of joy and laughter emanated from all.
Where to go first? A scurry of feet in every direction.....

The sand pit, reading corner, ride on cars, moving train, jumping castle, computer games, basketball, fishing..... So much to do!!!!

Every time I walked past them they would call out my name and wave at me..... That smile of theirs lit up the room and their joy was so infectious, each one of their sparks landed in my heart and filled it to the brim....

27 children ate 140 Banh Xeo pancakes for dinner! We filled up an entire restaurant and ate till we burst.

These guys, given a can of coke each, surprised me when they didn't open them.
They all went and drank water and took the cans home. I felt like it was a way for them to extend this experience.... Bellies full of pancakes, they took the coke home to have with their dinner instead.... Very different behaviour to the older boys who drank their soft drink so fast, they didn't have enough till the end of their meal!
Lots of sweaty, sticky cuddles all the way home for me with many thank you's and "I'm happy" exclamations made all the stress of these outings in 37 degree humidity heat worth it....

Two hours later I was back at the orphanage to take the eldest 7 girls to the markets. Last outing.
It's funny how universal girls' wants are: when I asked them what they wanted to buy, they all exclaimed 'shoes!'.

We got in and they went nuts at the first shoe shop we walked past.
Tuyet wanted a pair of sport shoes and the lady told her they were 200,000 vnd. $10. They all thought that was so expensive!!!! I would've bought them for her but they refused. And lucky they did. Stall further down had the same ones for 100,000 vnd.
I decided to do a little commerce project with them.

I told them that they each had 150,000vnd to spend on anything they wanted. They collectively gasped. 150,000 each was alot of money to them. To me, it was $7 per girl.
And they were so good. They went and had a look around, they tried bargaining, they went from stall to stall comparing prices.... And the cutest, was that before they agreed to buy anything, they made sure that I liked it too. If I said no,  I didn't like it, they put it back and kept going.

They asked me if I wanted anything and I said I wanted an anklet as I lost mine and they went in search of the prettiest anklet for me.... They then asked what my boyfriend wanted and I said shirts and they went looking for shirts for him too.... They all wanted to put in a little bit of their money to buy him a shirt. I refused but was so touched at their consideration.

In the end, two girls had money left over, so they pooled it together and bought another Tshirt for one of the other girls, who needed more clothes than them.... Again, so considerate of each other.
Thanh, the oldest there, and one who shares a special bond with me, needed jeans but we couldn't find any for less than 200,000 vnd. $10.
I ended up buying them for her and then jokingly said that she blew my taxi budget so she had to walk the 8km back to the orphanage now! They all had a giggle...

The fashion at the moment are short shorts and short tshirts.... I was glad I was able to purchase these for the girls so they feel like they are part of the 'in crowd'.... Their emotional development is just as important as the rest and unfortunately, one that gets ignored abit here....

With more sniff kisses from the girls to end another day, everyone went to bed happy and content.

"The most valuable things in life are not measured in monetary terms. The really important things are not houses, sticks, automobiles and real estate, but friendships, trust, confidence, empathy, mercy, love and faith" B. Russell.