I am back in Vietnam on my third program delivery trip. ( Big Big World’s 8th) I find myself reflecting on the possibility of new beginnings I am privileged to witness with the young adults living in Saigon and the children living in PhanThiet.
Yesterday morning despite jetlag, Bonnie and I rose early to go to the Saigon Notre Dame Cathedral. We were there to watch the pre-wedding photos taken of Hang and her husband to be, Dong. We had arrived at our hotel late the night before and headed out to the cathedral with only 4 hours of sleep. Hang has done a lot to make us proud over the years and there was no way we were going to miss this momentous occasion. When we saw her step out of the car in her wedding dress, we had to put our sunglasses on to hide our tears of joy. We did not want to Hang cry too and ruin her makeup. She was breathtaking.
Hang spent many of her growing up years in the orphanage. She came to Saigon to study and graduated from pharmacy school. She and Dong work hard to supplement their income with a fruit stand. They will be married in September. Bonnie and Betsy will return to the wedding, not as representatives of Big Big World, but as two of her Moms. It was with joy and pride that we watched the wedding photos being taken.
A new family takes shape.
Babies often leave the orphanage and we never know where they go. Amazingly, at breakfast in our hotel, Giselle, daughter of BBW President Betsy, recognized a baby with a couple as one she remembered from our last visit. We learned that 3 year old Meilee is starting a new life in Switzerland with her adoptive parents. They are staying here while the paperwork for the adoption is processed. The first time parents and Meilee are joyful as well as a bit overwhelmed by the technical end of adoption and the emotion of getting to know each other. What a coincidence that they were at this hotel in Saigon with us and that we met them. Because we met, we are able to share with them precious pictures and video that we took at last year’s visit when Meilee was two.
A new generation steps in.
Another exciting new beginning is to see the college and university students begin to carry the baton with us. Several of them clearly see that sharing responsibility for the younger children is part of their giving back. Phap recently made an 8 hour round trip to the orphanage on the public bus to pick up Tan and take him back to Saigon to begin his orthodontia treatment, which one of our board members is funding. He and Phung frequently visit the children to share time and serve as mentors.
In addition to in country involvement, we are seeing children who were adopted from this orphanage as babies reaching back to support the children still living there. Lily, adopted at only 4 months old to an American mom, recently raised over $2500 with creative fundraising. She did this in lieu of birthday presents because “ I already have everything I need”. She joins Emily and Andy, who, in past years, asked for donations for books and other needs instead of bar and bat mitzvah gifts for themselves. We realize that sharing the commitment to give back with the children we serve is vital to the sustainability of our program.
Next steps for us…
As a board, we frequently discuss how to sustain the motivation and hard work required to attain a trade or education. In the days to come, join us on our journey as we explore pathways to spark that motivation; a day long adventure at the Vietnamese equivalent to Disney World, a designated gift from one of our long time donors. What fun for the kids! A visit to Saigon for the high school kids to visit the universities of the college students and explore the culture of academic life.
Follow our blog to hear about Big Big World’s annual trip- the foundation of our program.