I recently heard from Jennifer Weaver, the 22-year-old woman who had decided to stay on as a volunteer at the Go Vap Orphanage in Ho Chi Minh City after her parents and the rest of her humanitarian tour group returned to Seattle. She’s back home now, and here’s what she’d like Americans to know:
“These kids will steal your heart. It is easy to get attached to the healthy newborns, but spending time with some of the more disabled and sick children makes you realize just how wonderful they are and how much they love getting individual attention. Attention is something that many American children take for granted, but over here having time to play with other people is the highlight of each child’s day.
I found that the three things most of these children need most are health care, education and individual attention. Actually, because the orphanage is home to so many very sick children, I think it would benefit a lot from a connection with either a medical school or a doctor’s group in Saigon that could send well trained (probably volunteer) doctors to the orphanage to check up on the children regularly (as a long term thing, not just short term). The kids right now are receiving medical care that is sufficient to keep them going, but better care that emphasized preventing fatal and chronic conditions would greatly increase their QUALITY of life. At the moment, Go Vap just doesn’t have enough staff to provide that kind of care because every time a child goes to the hospital, one of the caretakers has to go with him or her and stay there with the child. That takes a person away from the children still at the orphanage. So they could use a group of doctors that are willing to come and check up on the children regularly…
Kim was right that the best things to give are equipment and time (and I will add one to that – skills. While we were there, there were people training staff on how to deal with certain disabilities or volunteering their time as a physical therapists or psychologists, and that was infinitely helpful). Money is not the best thing to give because like all in counties, there are good people and there are corrupt people in Vietnam. Time and equipment, unlike money, are very likely to get to the intended recipients.
Overall, though, the experience was both touching and eye-opening, and I hope to go back again in a year or two to visit the children that are still there.”