Monday, March 19, 2007

Visit to Can Tho Oraphanage

[English Version][Vietnamese Version]

We boarded a chartered taxi from Saigon to Can Tho six o’clock in the morning. It is rather early on a Sunday morning but I have only been in Vietnam for a week perhaps I am still not sure the difference between day and night. The trek is about 4 hours to Can Tho from what I am told. My cousin Hanh Dung and chi Lien from VNHELP accompanied me on this adventure.

The driver anticipated a delay at the river since we had to drive onto a ferry which would take us across the river since the bridge is still being constructed. Being that it is Sunday morning, it was not too backed up. I then proceeded to call co Yen who was the head master of the orphanage. She asked me to pass the cel over to the driver so she was able to convey the exact directions to the rendezvous point.

We were greeted by several volunteers of the orphanage on motor bikes. Our taxi could only go so far since we had to traverse dirt paths and dilapidated walking bridges for the last leg of the trip. I had a big box of toys and was not sure how we could lug it without the car. To my surprise, the volunteers had no problems trekking the box on little mopeds since this is the main method of transportation in Vietnam.

With the assistance of chi Lien and direction of co Yen, we made our way through the dirt walking paths on the outskirts of Con Tho to the orphanage. The children must have been fore warned since they greeted us with great fanfare. Both chi Lien and I were poised with camera in hand. The children were therefore eager to pose and basked in the limelight of attention. Since the orphanage was quite a ways out in the boon docks, I guessed that the children did not get that many visitors. They proceeded to take me by hand and nearly scream with enthusiasm s they drag me towards the rabbits and goats. It became a game of show and tell. Everything seems to be a wondrous object to be showed. The cats and dogs were cuddled and held for display with great affection. The other animals such as rabbits and goats were also proudly displayed as pets even through these animals were caged and raised as for milk and meat to be eaten.

Co Yen is a gracious host showing us her orphanage which is also her home. There were two separate houses on this piece of farm land which is separated by a little stream. The younger children under 15 stayed in the main building while the second building housed the older boys. This is also where a class room was being conducted. The particular class being held on this Sunday morning was on human sexuality including subjects such as a young women’s period. This class was given by one of the volunteers to the older girls who were reaching their teens. The children do attend formal school and vacation classes outside the orphanage but these additional instructions were on weekends and evenings. Education is an area of emphasis since maps and chalk board lined the walls with book cases and proudly displayed teaching material.

Co Yen explained how the child that was accompanying us was the youngest child at the current age of four. Her orphanage can not take in new boards since there is just too much care that goes beyond her capabilities. Many of the children come to the orphanage from young mothers without the resources. There are also some children who were just abandoned on the streets of Can Tho which are then taken for shelter. There are some who stay during the evening while goes outside to work while others stay permanently at the orphanage. Co Yen does not advertise or have an outreach program, but these children find their way through word of mouth. There are many expenses that go into caring for these children. Besides the necessities such as food and shelter, schooling and health insurance contribute to the total cost.

Some of the children can see the toys flowing over the open box which I brought and were eager. Co Yen lined them up and instructed them to accept what ever “chu Sy” had to give. All the children were very well behaved as they accepted even the smallest toy hot wheels cars with great appreciation. Toys seem to be a great luxury since it appears that other necessities were more important.

We then lunch on the courtyard that was covered by a tin roof. The heat was oppressive in the middle the day but co Yen was very resourceful to have a little water pump sending water on the top of the tin roof. This cascaded cool water back down to the little adjacent pond creating a very comfortable dining area.

We then proceeded to strewn dark sheets on the windows of the children’s main bed room to create a make shift theatre. The children spread across the floor and the bunk beds to watch the cartoons which I was projecting onto the wall. Daffy duck draw much laughter but the Tom and Jerry characters were greeted with applause with instant recognition.

We thanked co Yen for her hospitality in preparation for our trek back to Saigon. Co Yen has created a wonderful sanctuary and home for these children. Cutting through the swamps on our way out of the neighborhood, it is amazing to see how co Yen was able to cobble together such nice amenities for the children with limited resources. It takes great dedication and a very special soul to give all of her self to such a worthy cause for these children. I am in awe with inspiration during my entire visit. She is the ultimate mom. Her affection is apparent when you see how the children interact with her seeing her as a guardian, care taker and mother.

It has been a few hours since we left Con Tho on our way back to Saigon. The delay for the ferry has held us back for a couple of hours. This gives me a little time to appreciate the gravity of how special this orphanage is. I can see it in the eyes and laughter of the children. They are just beaming with joy. I am so fortunate to spend a little time and witness how truly enlighten co Yen is.

For a complete set of the pictures, visit: