“Arthur, where the heck are we?”
That is the first thing I said to my boyfriend when I landed in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. It was night but you could not really tell from the heat and the bright flashing lights. When I looked out the taxi’s window and saw the masses of motor bikes swarming in and out of traffic, I was scared for my life. I had never seen such a ridiculous scene. I would soon come to learn that there would be countless things I had never seen, never experienced, never felt, and never imagined before. And if there was one thing that could summarize my trip in Vietnam, then that was it.
Arthur and I had done plenty of research for every aspect of our trip. We had looked through numerous hotels and decided on a hotel because of its location and reviews on the internet. Thien Vu Hotel
was in between Go Vap Orphanage and the notorious District 1 of Ho Chi Minh City. The hotel is a family run business with kind and gracious owners. We definitely made a great choice. We got very close with the owners as they even made us dinner on our last night in Vietnam, but the fact that I knew how to speak Vietnamese and that they knew that we were here to volunteer at Go Vap Orphanage sure did help.
How do I describe my first day at Go Vap? Well, for starters, it was something I had never seen before. Thanh, one of the employees there who used to be an orphan there as well, gave me and Arthur a tour of the orphanage. At each ward, there were these precious darlings with unfortunate situations. I did not fall in love with everything right away. There were so many beautiful babies without a family and really, without good medical care. I had volunteered a lot of time at the largest public hospital in New York City and I used to think that place was unsanitary and disorganized but it was immaculate compared to Go Vap. The lack of the use of gloves, hand sanitizer, and sterile material put these children in a dangerous environment. Despite my disapproval of Go Vap’s hygiene, I went on spending some time with the children in the Down Syndrome ward, I immediately felt at home and at ease. A little boy, maybe of seven or eight years old took me by the hand and showed me around the place. He told me to sit down and tugged on my hand when I did not listen to him the first time. He pulled me down to the floor to show me one of the caretakers feeding another child. He said to me “Look, she feed him! She feed me too!” The caretaker looked to him and told him to leave me alone in the most endearing way possible and proceeded to hug and kiss him. This was my first glimpse, and certainly not the last, at all the love at Go Vap.
I walked into the hydrocephalus wards and went slowly through all the three rooms. It must have been most heartbreaking moment of my life. Never had I seen so many sick children with such poor prognoses. I felt helpless because there was nothing I could do. I walked into the youngest room of the hydrocephalus ward and found the sweetest children. I think I had recognized some faces from spending so much time on the Vietnam Volunteer Network’s website and Facebook
, but to see these faces actually in person was a totally different feeling. After being so heartbroken, I was really down. But almost immediately, their smiles could warm you in an instant and their deep gazes into your eyes could capture you attention for a very long time. After that moment, I did not really feel my initial sense of powerlessness because I finally saw that there was something I could do. All these children desperately needed attention and love. The caretakers had too many children to take care of and could not give in their heart and soul, besides; they had their own children to take of too. However, I was here just for these children and was ready to give them all my loving.