Go Vap Orphanage is old, like much of Vietnam. When I entered the buildings I wondered how many children have passed through these gates/corridors/rooms over the years.
My first day was a bit of a blur. I met Mai and Sydney who showed Jen (my new volunteering friend) and I around the orphanage and helped with translating, very helpful! Everything was confusing, from what's all this purple stuff all over the babies bodies, to what are the staff thinking about me! The staff were friendly with inviting gestures and smiles, no need to be worried. I counted 23 babies laying around on the mats in the playroom, how amazing, all these babies and not one of them crying! That didn't last long! And so continues the day.
Each day after this I became more informed, less confused, and above all I began to see the need for volunteers, and this is where the work being undertaken by Kim Nguyen Browne, founder of Vietnam Volunteer Network, is vital. The support I received from Kim has been fantastic and I couldn't have wished for a better organisation to volunteer through.
Here are a few examples of what I did during my days at Go Vap Orphanage:
The special needs ward:
The kids in this area seem to have a multitude of issues. They are all different ages, all different abilities, all different personalities and they are all looking at me! I helped one of the carers move the children into the play room, which is next door to their sleep room. Some walk, some crawl/shuffle, and some need to be carried. We all sit up at the table, some children play with the toys put on the table and some just sit there, one colour’s in a colouring page. The noise is incredible...there are squeals of excitement, banging of toys on the table and floor, babbling, clapping, talking, singing, all blended with loud Vietnamese children’s music. But it is fun!
Play time continues until around 10:15am. I help pack away the toys with the carers and then the children are moved to the hallway were they are fed. This is messy business. When helping to feed the children, always have the bowl out of reach of the children, I learned the hard way. They rest at 11am.
The terminally ill and sick ward:
The rooms on this ward are full. All 3 rooms, with 18-20 children in each, all in cots. As I look around the rooms my heart starts pounding, I don't know what to do, where to go, or who to give my time (the only thing I can give at this point) to first. They have all been given their unique cross to bear. Some have Hydrocephalus, some have Spina Bifida, some have Cerebral Palsy, all have a smile, even if only for a second when you look into their eyes and connect with them. I spent a lot of my time on this ward, I did fall in love. In truth for many of the children on this ward there isn't much you can do, but if for one minute you let yourself remember when you have been sick and stuck in bed, then the thought of someone being there, sitting with you or touching your forehead can be a much appreciated and comforting feeling. So that's what I did. I sat with them and gave them human touch.
There are also the children that can move around; these kids are a lot of fun. Like any 2-7 year olds they are full of energy and love to play. They always captured my attention at some point during the morning. I found that by playing with these kids, the other children that were not able to move easily could also join in the fun by watching, listening and occasionally copping a wayward toy to the head (only soft toys) which always made them smile.
Many times I cleaned up vomit, nappies, spilt food, and drool...and there's plenty of it!
The special needs class:
My time spent with this group of kids was wonderful. The first time I met these children they were playing outside, sitting in groups and sharing some toys. It didn't take long for a few of the kids to grab my hand and make friends with me, showing me their rubix-cubes and yoyos, their most favourite toys on earth! One young boy likes throwing balls and engages me in a game, when you look at his eyes it seems impossible that he can see anything, but he has amazingly great hand eye coordination and is able to out play me with his accuracy and precision. A lot of my time is spent with this boy, he holds my hand, puts my arms around his chest so that I am cuddling him and always finds something for us to throw to each other, once taking my water bottle, drinking the entire contents in one go, and using it as a ball, what can you do but laugh.
When you are with these children you have to look past their physical features and their ages and take what you find, which is loving, cuddly, and playful kids that want to hold your hand and play with your hair and touch your leg when talking to you.
The Director, Co Loan also kindly invited me and 2 other volunteers to join her, the staff and the children on a trip to the beach. The trip was over 2 days, spending one night away. This was an amazing time, truly indescribable for the most part. The kids were wonderfully well behaved and made the most of their time away, from singing on the bus trips to playing games together at the hotel. We had 2 glorious days at the beach, splashing, swimming, playing and generally just soaking up the sun and happiness! The smiles on the kids’ faces never once faded.
My time spent at Go Vap Orphanage will be forever remember and cherished, I will return, I will do all I can to help my new friends and I will encourage others who are considering volunteering with these kids, and others in Vietnam, to do so!
Thank You to Kim for giving me the opportunity.
Thank You to Co Loan and the staff at Go Vap Orphanage for being welcoming and friendly.
Thank You to the children of Go Vap Orphanage for allowing me into your lives.