Sunday, August 23, 2015

Music is the medicine of the mind

July 2015: Party time: bringing Peace Village and Baby Orphanage together. Important for children to see the disabled and be able to help and not be afraid of them.

Music and karaoke. All of them love it so much and get right into it. I stood back watching with tears blurring my vision.

I was watching Phuong sing and he was so passionate, getting into it, feeling the music, tapping his foot, clearly gesturing and making facial expressions in imitation of the singer of this song.

I know he has a family. I was getting emotional thinking about his mum and how she is missing out on all of this. He was so shy and timid when he first arrived. And now, he wouldn't let go of the mic! I was admiring him, full of pride for him. I'm just sorry his mum can't see these things in her son. All because of what? Poverty? Her husband died and she couldn't afford her son anymore? So she misses out on seeing her son grow and flourish and become future members of this society. And then I get angry thinking about how unfair it all is. Money. All because she doesn't have enough. And other people in this world have more than enough. It makes my blood boil in frustration.

"A man's true wealth is the good he does in this world"

Reflections written by Jason, January 2015 trip:

I was looking forward to sharing Anna’s world. I was looking forward to finding out what she found so enchanting about the kids in Vietnam. What was it that I was going to experience that would be any different to reading her Blog or watching a story on the news about poverty in some far-flung developing country. I have seen the same videos that most of Anna’s friends have seen on Facebook. The ones where the kids start pouring out of the orphanage, yelling out “ANNA ANNA ANNA” mobbing her, like a rock star trying to get from the airport to her hotel. I saw those videos and was happy for Anna, happy for the kids she was helping and happy someone, other than me, was doing something that I could easily support with a few dollars.

After travelling half of Vietnam, we arrived. The reality of arriving at Baby Orphanage is an unbelievable assault on the senses. Anna told me that the kids were good but if they find my iPhone in my pocket, they will become obsessed and want to play with it all day, better to hide it. So as we walked in they mauled me. Hundreds of kids all yelling hello at the same time in jovial, ecstatic voices, full of joy, even though the situation there is terrible; they have nothing and they have nobody. I was overwhelmed. I went outside and I burst into tears. Like a tropical monsoon, the tears flooded out for about 5 minutes, and then I was fine. I said under my breath “thanks mum, thanks for loving me” and I went back inside.

The boys there are so looking for a male role model, someone they can test and push up against, someone they can learn from.

I was supervising the colouring in and Lego.

This little boy sat next to me and kept to me like glue. He has the most beautiful little smile, so innocent, so happy, open and willing to love. Amazing that he is so willing to love, even though he has been abandoned by his family. He seems like a little puppy dog, just happy to see me, to be alive and to play the helicopter game. The helicopter game was the best and worst thing that happened in Vietnam. The best part of the game was when I would have a kid hold onto each arm, I would spin around, and they would attempt to hold on. The worst part of the game was when I would have a kid hold onto each arm, I would spin around, and they would attempt to hold on. The game became so popular that I came home and could suddenly lift weights at an Olympic level.

They have the essentials in the Baby Orphanage; food, shelter and a tiled floor. However, love, they scurry for themselves. They look for it amongst each other and it is hard to find, there ain’t no mamma or pappa to really love them, but there is a camaraderie. I wonder, would they really be loved at home if they had their parents? Is love a duty or is that something we have constructed in the rich world, in Sydney, here in Australia. Where everything should be like a Disney movie.
The majority of these kids are probably getting a lot more here in the Baby Orphanage, even with so little; I guess “a lot” is a relative term. I know about relativity because we went out to Tien Phuoc, an extremely rural and difficult place to live. We went out to visit some very poor families.
One family has three boys who are both Hemophiliac’s, the closest hospital is eight hours away. The mother in this family is in remission from Breast Cancer and one of the sons unfortunately passed away when he was eight years old. This family has a daughter, she is seventeen and topping her class. Anna pays her school fees. When we visited the family, the mother showed us the report card of her daughter from school. She is doing so well, the mother is so happy. 
 I wanted to cry. I have no idea what life is about, why we are here and if there is any point to existence at all, but I can tell you, that as I was being shown the school results by this frail, recently infirm mother, as her heart was glowing, I was just happy, the powerful kind of happy that is laced with absolute sadness. It is what most selfless acts of charity feel like; it is why giving often feels so good.

The whole family has a future, the mother has a bright light in her eye and her brothers look up to her. They are so poor. So poor. So poor that the father needed a gallbladder operation to remove some stones, he could barely stand upright and was suffering for three years, Mission: Nam-Possible paid for his operation. This was $25. I spend more than that at Sushi Train. $25! for a life changing operation. They are so poor, so poor. However, even though the boys are so unwell, the husband was sick for years and the mother just had Breast Cancer, they still press on in their one-room shack. Part of me does not know why they bother; what a seemingly miserable experience of life. However, the other part of me knows why they do press on; they press on because they just have to, we all have to. Life is not measured by how easy, luxurious or joy-filled it is, but rather, in just being and doing the best we can with each day. I would not dare to measure my happiness in life against the happiness of the mother as she showed me her daughter’s school report.

The other story I will relate about Tien Phuoc is about the day we delivered a cow. A cow can provide an income for the family. There is a local bull that is taken around to each cow and he services them, then the calves are sold.
This is my favourite photo of Anna, and it’s not photo shopped.
This is exactly as it looked on the day: Anna, a cow, and biblical beams of light showering her little ‘Heart of Gold’. This cow was given to a mother of four children, her husband recently died while working in the fields by falling out of a tree.

They don't have WH&S, they don’t have insurance schemes, they don’t really have anything there. So, she was left alone suddenly, with four young children.

The immediate response here in the Developed Rich World is “I can’t afford to have four children in Australia! Why should I feel sorry and help her? She should have planned it out and waited till she could afford them first!” I understand the aetiology of such hostile analyses. Our lives here in Sydney, or in other Developed countries aren't all Strawberry Fields, our lives aren't perfect here, we are not all millionaires and many of us don’t have the luxury to pop out four kids on a labourers salary, so why should we help her?! However, we also have endless choices here and often assuage our desire for four kids because we crave other things from our lives. We have education here, we have contraception here, we have choices, broad, tall, endless, ceaseless choices here - whether or not you believe and experience the phenomena of incredible choice here in Australia: it is true. In a rural Vietnamese village, it is not.
The woman who received the cow, she cannot afford to buy food; she cannot afford to support her four kids, her husband died. She is alone. We gave her a cow as some nominal source of income, but she struggles. She struggles so much that as she met Anna she was trembling. A grown woman with four offspring trembled. As she grabbed Anna’s hand, she trembled. She trembled like this because, I believe, her prayers were being answered. Somehow in this sparse and lonely universe, some random Greek chick from Sydney got on a plane and then got in a van and then travelled 100 km over four hours on bumpy unsealed roads to deliver a cow to a recently widowed mother of four in the darkest corner of the most remote village in a country that has been ravaged by colonisers, murderers and Americans. That is why she trembled. Because for some reason, something in the universe made all this happen. That is why the rays of light beam down with biblical reverence. It is because she felt touched by something bigger than all of us.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Always seek out the seed of triumph in every adversity - Og Mandino

July 2015: Tien Phuoc: this trip round saw me head back out into the jungle to deliver yet another cow to a poverty stricken family. This would be the sixth cow donations have purchased. I must thank Rotary Glenhaven for contributing $500 towards the cost of "Glenda", the cow. The total cost of the cow was $600.

I've written about the Tien Phuoc district before. It's huge. It expands for hundreds of kilometres. Within it there are different communes. I thought I had gone as deep into the district as possible, but I was wrong. I would say today I ventured deep into the heart of the jungle. The roads were dirt and bumpy and we climbed up steep mountain tops along narrow cliff sides to get to our recipient.
Meet Mrs Hai. Mrs Hai is 33 years old. Her 34 year old husband died from liver cancer earlier this year. They have two sons, Nam, aged 7 and Long, aged 4.

I liked Mrs Hai and her energy straight off the bat. Her sons were gorgeous. They were confident and not as shy as some other children I've met out here. As soon as I started pulling out the toys I brought for them, little Long hurled forward and tried to take them. There was a collective shout from the adults around him telling him to wait.

His excitement at seeing the bubbles was so magical to watch. His pure joy was something I would have loved to bottle up and sprinkle all over the world. 

Mrs Hai told me she met her husband in Saigon when she went there to sell peanuts on the streets. He was selling lottery tickets over there. They fell in love and moved back here to her home town.

Sometimes the poorest people are the most generous. Mrs Hai wanted to thank me and so she killed one of her chooks and cooked a feast for us to eat. We had to decline as we had other people to visit. I felt so bad that she had gone to such an effort for me. In the end, she settled for me taking a bag of dragon fruit from her trees.

Mrs Hai seems like a battler, not one to crumble at what fate had thrown her way. She was emotional about her husbands passing, yet had a logical, fighter mentality about her. This was her reality: this was what she was facing: how was she going to survive this? She has the support of neighbours and her father is around to help her with the boys. She joined the Women's Union. She got in touch somehow with an Australian charity who built her a house and paid for 50% of it. She took out a loan for the other 50% of the house. She wants her sons to have a stable home and a roof over their heads. I was in awe of her and her attitude in the face of adversity. I just kept thinking... I was a year older than her. This woman was a year younger than me, with two small children and a husband who died a slow, painful cancer filled death. How would I cope in her position? I could not even fathom it. Maybe I guess, you just have no choice and have to battle as best you can. Some may give up, others fight stronger and harder like Mrs Hai.