today was my first experience working at the orphanage for children in ho chi minh city. they care for abandoned children with mental and/or physical disabilities and agent orange victims and help to educate them to the fullest extent of their capabilities. there are about 400 children at the orphanage. i woke up at dawn from excitement, comparable to the feeling on christmas day when i was a little girl. met up with the two other volunteers from the uk...very nice guys who have taught me the ropes of dong currency and dodging the overwhelming masses of motorcycles on the city streets.
i am lying in my hotel room listening to interpol and drinking an iced vietnamese coffee. trying to put the feelings my heart and soul experienced today into words. don’t believe i can even scratch the surface...
after taking a bus at snail’s pace we arrived. behind big gates we walked through a festively decorated court yard and were instantly welcomed with huge grins. about 30 children were seated outside waiting for meal time. a little boy grabbed my arm and wouldn’t let go. i knelt down and he started playing with my hair and talking to me. i asked him if i was his canadian girlfriend, and conveniently he responded “yup!” if this isn’t love i don’t know what is. i promised him i would be back...and after gently loosening his grasp on my wrist my eyes swelled with tears.
choking them back we went upstairs where the higher functioning children spend their days. waving, hello!, smiles, playing...laughter. in a classroom i was greeted by a group of rambunctious young boys. i pointed to the equations on the chalkboard and one waved his finger at me and said nooooo! this sent them all into a fit of hysterics and they proceeded to chase each other around the desks.
i walk into a room that housed a little boy who will stay in my heart for a very long time.
he was lying on the floor crying hysterically. alone. severely disabled, unable to move. i lay down beside him and started stroking his hair. the way his head was tilted the tear from his left eye ran into his right. drying his tears, i started singing and put my fingers between his tiny hands and he held on. all of the sudden, he started smiling. i told him that all the girls must be jealous of his long eyelashes. this uncontrollable smile stretched into pure, innocent laughter. and then came my tears of the joy a simple act of kindness can bring. it was fast approaching his nap time and the nurse subtly pointed to her watch. how lucky am i to experience a love like this?
we moved our way back downstairs for another feeding time. i was given the bowl belonging to a little girl named gwen, confined to a wheel chair. i thought the airplane trick would be the craftiest way to get the huge bowl of rice and gray meat mash into her tiny belly. but the problem i experienced was while the food was in her mouth, she would find me very funny and start laughing. and then forget to chew. a few panicked calls to the nurses only to be assured to keep going and it’s not a big deal. they have the feeding down to a science, scoop and shovel, without missing a beat.
the nurses at the orphanage are absolutely extraordinary women...that level of kindness, humility, and selflessness should be an inspiration to us all. i spoke to sister mary who has been working there for over 17 years. she thanked me for being there. i was humbled. i hope i can spend some more time talking to her over the next few weeks.
the last section of time was spent with the severely disabled agent orange victims, confined to rows of cribs. again the time was spent helping with the feeding. the boy i was assigned, was incredibly sharp and through shakes of the head and quick blinks of his eyes directed me on how much water i should be mixing in his food. the boy in the crib beside us was an enthusiastic football player. while his legs were crippled... he was able to manipulate his leg back and then twist his foot, connecting with the small plastic ball...and sometimes hitting his bedmate in the head...which they both thought was hysterically funny. there is a blind nurse working in this ward who had the most vivacious love for these kids, joking and tickling them. they were all fighting for his attention.
as we were leaving i passed a boy separated in another room from the rest. he was strapped down to his bed and convulsing. i stroked his head but felt so helpless that i couldn’t relieve him from his suffering. i took a walk by myself to clear my mind...
after a walk through a park to decompress and a quick lunch with the brits i made my way back to the hotel for a rest. as i lay my head on the pillow the images of the little boy with the long eyelashes alone on the floor brought me to tears again. i called my mother on skype. it was nice not to cry alone. as strong as i want to be, it felt really nice to let it out.
tomorrow we have an early start. it is my first morning working with the street kids. we have organized a big football match and spent most of the night bargaining for “footie kits” at the night market.
i am very blessed to be on this journey. i have a lot of love to give. xo