J’adore the children at Thien Phu’oc orphanage in Saigon.
I was hesitant, dare I say nervous, to volunteer at an orphanage in Vietnam. Not only had I never worked with children with disabilities but I was uncertain about how to volunteer exactly. Should I just call and show up? Is it ok to barge in and hang out?
Absolutely! I called Thien Phu’oc orphanage and was told to stop by at anytime. And so I did.
The first day wasn’t easy. It’s hard to face human suffering and on the surface the children appear to be in pain. Many of the children at Thien Phu’oc can not walk, some can not talk and some are impacted by Agent Orange. Upstairs were 16 smaller children who have more severe mental and physical disabilities; they’re not mobile and spend most of the day laying on their bed.
I was so uncertain what I should do, and if my silly back rubs and attempts to smile and chat with the kids were doing any good.
But as I walked downstairs to spend time with the more advanced kids, something really unexpected happened. One of the older kids piped up, “Hello! Where are you from!”
I was shocked! The sisters who work at Thien Phu’oc don’t speak much English and here was this kid in a wheelchair speaking perfect English with an American accent! The boy’s name was An and he is AWESOME.
This small interaction helped to remind me of the advice given to me by my best friend (who is a school psychologist): Try to talk like you would to any kid their “true” age. Their receptive skills are probably much better than you suspect- they understand a lot more than they can verbally communicate.
Talking just happens to be one of my strong suites.
If An can teach himself English then who knows what the other kids can understand! After this I was able to relax and enjoy spending time at the orphanage. Some days we spent time doing physical therapy and other days I read, played ball and just spent time hanging out.
The kids are utterly fantastic and are absolutely thrilled to spend time with you. And after a few hours I realized that An may be the only person that speaks English, but all the children communicate in their own way: pointing, smiling, motioning with their heads. Even the smaller children upstairs will follow you with their eyes and give you a big smile or nod their head when you sit down. Not only do they communicate with you, they care about and look after each other.
I was surprised to find myself looking forward to returning. It wasn’t hard to fall in love with some of these smiling faces.
I highly recommend spending several afternoons at the Thien Phu’oc Orphanage. Here are the details – just give them a call and head to district 12 on a xe om. It takes 30 minutes to get there and roundtrip cost is about 7 bucks. Free time is from 8am-11:30 and 2:00-4:30 pm.
If Sister Kim Chi isn’t around, you have to ask where the toys are stored (unfortunately they’re not just lying around). They toys are kept in the very front room on the right – just point to the door and someone will give you the key.
Sister Kim Chi at Thien Phu’oc Orphanage
156 / 1, An Phu Dong Ward, District 12,
Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). Vietnam
Tel / Fax: (84-8) 7195997 0903 949 981 0918 207 660