hello or as we are now saying alot more often now…Sin Jow!
Unfortunately the sisters at the convent we are staying with do not have wi-fi, hence the delay in getting an updated post out. However, they are feeding us more than we could ever have imagined morning, noon and night! Tonight is our second night here in Hue and we are staying within the massive grounds and building of this Catholic convent with over 100 sisters.
We arrived from the overnight train from Hanoi at 10am and Father Joe (from Salesian College Rupertswood) had recomended that we send an email to Sister Anne at the convent letting her know how to recognise us when we got off the train. So I sent this email to her – I have 4 daughters with red hair and a very tall husband. She found us alright. The tall husband worked a treat!
The sisters have a mini-bus so we are getting around in the sister-mobile with Sister Nhung (Agnes) and Sister Huong (Anne). They are lovely people. The whole experience has not looked like anything we had imagined from Australia. These are just some of the surprises:
1. We are staying at a palatial convent with lovely gardens occupying 3 rooms with air-con and all that we need – food, drinks, transport – we assumed we would be staying at the actual orphanage with limited resources. The sisters rise at 4.30am and attend mass each morning. Breakfast is 6am, lunch 12pm and dinner 6pm – no change at all from day to day. They go to bed early and go about their daily chores and learning. Every sister we have met (there have been many) are so friendly and just adore the 4 girls.
2. We will be the first family to leave Hue carrying extra kilograms – the sisters provide lavish meals where we eat in our own dining area. Meals so far have been crumbed prawns, beef, eggs, noodles, spinach dishes, cake, lots of Coca Cola, cheese and bread – we assumed it would be basic meals that the orphans and sisters/workers would eat. We keep asking them to makie the meals smaller and they nod their heads.
3. The orphanage is 7km away from the convent and has a kindergarten, orphans and disabled children – we assumed we’d stay with them but the orpphanage itself is quite large and well resourced. There are beautiful children attending kinder all day (where parents drop them off and pick them up) to deaf and mute teenage girls who live at the orphanage and have been taught to make amazing handicrafts (pictures will follow when I have access to wi-fi). There are also orphans – we met young children and babies who live there permanently and disabled kids – from the ages of 15 months to 22 years. Many have serious brain damage so their bodies are crippled. They have a physio and doctor that comes to treat the children but it is a far cry to what they need. As we said before we left they do thye best they can.
We carried over with us 2 pairs of AFOs (thanks Sue and Tate Kemp and Liz and Shae Benfell) and Sue also gave us a body suit of Tate’s that helps kids straighten their bodies. As soon as we met with the Superior (they call the head of the orphanage this name) we chatted about whether should find these useful. The AFOs and suit was tried on as soon as we met the children so all to great use. They have a larger boy who needs a suit. His body is badly disabled so I said I would check it out back home.
The many grey lead pencils that journeyed with us from Melbourne 2 weeks ago are safely with the Superior with half a dozen sharpeners! (thank you Coeli Carey). At the moment (for a month) it is school holiday time here in Vietnam. Many of the children, who usually stay at the orphanage and are disabled often go back to their families and stay with them for the holiday period. Many parents cannot look after their disabled children because they work the rest of the year so they stay stay at the orphanage.
We met one 19 year-old girl who is blind. At the age of 5 years she had an operation to remove a brain tumour but the operation made her blind. There wasn’t any braille on offer here, but maybe something that could be offered in the future.
4. Our older two girls – Charlie and Ashley stayed at the convent this morning and helped out with the kinder children – we assumed we would be together all of the time. Charlie and Ashley had a wonderful 3 hours in the class room without us! They sang songs and helped feed the kids who ate their lunch too slowly. The girls were beaming when we got back and had established a great little relationship with many of the sisters and children. They did a nice rendition of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star up the front of the class.
5. Let’s go shopping for them (not us!) – we assumed we would do a BIG shop for food, clothes, medicines for the orphans but they just don’t work the way we want them to work. They have their own system and way that needs to be respected. Everytime we mentioned we wanted to shop for the orphans the sisters interpreted that as shop for us! It took a while to get through but we managed to purchase books for reading, colouring in books, some food (that would keep) and small gifts.
The orphanage (and the rest of traditional Vietnam) do not stock up on things – they use what they need as they go. Most of the food is fresh, not packaged, so meals are made each day. The medicines are bought as needed as well as clothes. To tell you the truth – the overall vibe we got from this place and the people running it and living in it was one of happiness and contentment. It was lovely.
6. Netball turned into soccer – we assumed netball would become the next great sport of Vietnam! The 2 netballs we took with us (thank you Gisborne Netball Association) with pump were a hit more with the young boys as a soccer ball than a netball. However, the girls, especially Billie and Dacey had fun with their new little friend Thu who wore the United/Holy Cross netball tops, had an hour of fun doing shoulder passes, bounce passes and chest passes (photos to follow once I have wi-fi).
7. Children just want to play and make friends – and that is so true. Our 4 daughters relished playing and interacting with other children. At the kindergarten to the orphanage we witnessed the magic of kids building friendships without having to talk. Our third daughter, Billie made a special friend called Thu who is also 8 years old. They wrote their addresses so they can be pen pals. Billie bought her a gift and wrote a letter to her and have it to her today. While they hugged one another with massive smiles covering their little faces, I wept with such happiness and delight just thinking about how people can overcome any barrier to be friends with another human being. I still feel so much when I think about them both in the court yard of the orphanage.
8. They are not desperate for our money but most appreciative and humbled by our donation – they make do with what they have and let go of what they do not have. The kids are happy, the workers are happy and there are many young foreign volunteers (especially from France) who come to the orphanage for anything from 2 weeks to 6 months to assist.
Steve was trying to communicate to the sisters that we had an awful lot of money to donate to the orphanage but the message wasn’t getting through. So he pulled out some of the money he had been slowly withdrawing from ATMs from the Six Backpacks account from his money belt and the sister nearly fell over with disbelief! He had $1,000 (20,000,000 Dong). It’s hard to explain but they do not want money but if they are offered money they generously accept it and thank you for it. It becomes a formal occasion. We talked about how our community back home contributed to this donation and I can tell you that they are very thankful. There is no way we can possibly spend all the funds we raised all at once here (we will have given the orphanage and blind centre half of the money raised by the time we leave Vietnam), so we have got their bank account details so we can continue contributing over time. Our community is now an official benefactor to this very special place.
I realise this is a long-no-pictures-or-video-post, but I am sitting at an Internet Cafe in Hue, just around the corner from the convent. We occupy 6 computers – the girls are on Poptropica and Steve booking accomodation for our next city – Hoi’An (and yes it has free wi-fi). Next post will have all the pictures and video of our experience here at the orphanage and with the sisters at the convent.
Must be off now, back to the convent to bed. Hoping the sisters haven’t locked the gates to the convent on us!