Vietnam Travel Diary
By Beth Woods
In the fall of 2014 Executive Director, Beth Woods visited Hope’s Promise homes in Vietnam for the first time. Moved, inspired and excited to go back again this fall, Beth shares some of her wonderful experiences with us.
Caution – you might just feel the need to GO! Where is God calling you?
Saturday: It was a very long 8,000-mile trip, but we finally arrived in Vietnam late yesterday. After a quick night’s rest, we drove a few hours to visit Hope’s Promise Home of Hope (HoH) 1. The house parents of HoH1 are amazing. Five years ago, they took in eight orphaned boys and this year one more joined them. They are now raising nine teenage boys, the oldest 17 and the youngest 13. I asked if they eat a lot and the Hope’s Promise Country Coordinator shared that when Bang (age 15) came to visit him the previous summer, he ate nine bowls of rice on the first morning. He said as a grown man he eats only one. The next morning Bang said he was still hungry after breakfast the day before and then proceeded to eat eleven bowls of rice!
After we left HoH1, we traveled to visit a Thrive education sponsorship program. The group is made up of 30 orphaned or vulnerable students who would not be able to afford an education if not for Hope’s Promise sponsors. The group is based in an area where the Jro tribal people live. The Jro culture does not believe formal education is important. Many parents keep their children out of school so they can work. There were 30 students in the program last year and all but one returned this year, which is very encouraging. The Hope’s Promise social worker shared that his biggest challenge is convincing the parents they need to keep their children in school.
The oldest Thrive student shared that she hopes to become a teacher after high school. The youngest boy is six years old and attended the meeting with his grandfather. He and his 4-year-old sister are living with their grandfather. His father died in an accident four years ago while his mother was pregnant with his sister. His mother died two years later from cancer. His grandfather is thankful for the Thrive program as it allows his grandson to attend school.
It was a long but inspiring day!
Sunday: Today we attended church and then, after lunch, flew to a province on the coast in central Vietnam. The people we met were so kind and inquisitive. Traveling took most of the day, and we arrived at the hotel just before bedtime.
Monday: Today we went to visit the family of HoH2. With two grown daughters in college, the HoH2 parents are now raising three orphaned children, Nguy, Nuy, and Douc. We were so impressed with the way the parents interacted with the children. They were very nurturing, stroking the children’s hair as they proudly shared their accomplishments.
The family from HoH3 joined us at the house. The parents of HoH3 have a biological daughter and son and have brought into their family three other children: Tam, Mo Phon, and Ho Bon. Wow! Ho Bon is a handful: busy, loud and strong-willed. It took both sets of parents and all the kids to keep him reigned in. But what a cutie! These parents were also very nurturing to their children. The father is such a happy and warm person. He loves to laugh and be playful.
We took the whole crew out to a restaurant for traditional Vietnamese lunch. Douc was my little caretaker during the meal. He showed me how to use my chopsticks, how to dip my food, and he kept loading my plate up with food. He would wrap fish and fresh vegetables in rice paper and hand it to me. I really dislike fish, but he was so sweet that I had to eat it. After lunch, we headed to the seashore for some fun. We played on the rocks and the kids posed for about a million pictures. The whole time someone was always yelling “Bon! Bon, come back here! Bon, not so far! Bon no!” I’m sure the kids slept well. I sure did!
Tuesday: This morning, we returned to HoH2 for some time to talk to the parents without the children. I asked them to describe each child. They said Nguy has a special heart, and he wants to serve God as a pastor. They said he loves his brother and sister but has a hot temper. When he gets angry, he sometimes uses his fists instead of his words. They joked he needs to work on this before becoming a pastor. They went on to lovingly describe each of the children in detail. The father told us that God has blessed them so much. He said their two children left home and they were lonely. Having more children to love and care for has made them happy.
After lunch, we traveled to HoH3. As Christians in a country with a communist government, we had to be careful not to draw attention to ourselves. The HoH3 home is more rural and rustic. They have a large vegetable garden and a lot of fruit trees. They raise chickens and sells eggs to make money for the family. They have a small home, and all five children sleep in one room with one bunk bed. I asked where their biological kids slept, and they said on the floor. I questioned why the older children slept on the floor instead of the younger ones. The father said they are old enough to understand that the three new children need to feel this is their home and they are family. Sleeping on the floor might make them feel bad. He said they hope to add a room to the back of the house but need to raise funds.
We asked them what the most challenging part of raising these three children is, and they very honestly said “Ho Bon.” They shared that in the beginning they were not sure they could do it and felt frustrated with him a lot. When Ho Bon first came home he misbehaved a lot. He would pick all the fruit before it was ripe. He would catch all the little fish in their lily pond and squish them. And they found him swimming in their drinking water basin several times. At school, he would get out of his seat and wander around. He wouldn’t listen to his teacher. But, they said, he has made a lot of improvement and is doing better now. They also said they are comfortable sharing with others in the community why he behaves the way he does, and people are understanding. They said they are more patient with him now.
Wednesday: Today hasn’t been the best day. It did start off great with a walk on the beach before breakfast at 6:30 a.m. and check out of our hotel at 7 a.m., but then it went downhill. Our itinerary had us traveling to HoH4 and arriving by 1:30 p.m., but we had to make an unscheduled stop at the mechanic for some work on the van. We headed over the mountain later than planned. The roads are very poor. The ruts in the road make for very slow going. It was bouncy and rough and rained much of the day. Of course, there are no rest areas, restaurants or convenience stores for bathroom breaks or food. Thanh packed food to eat in the car, so our lunch consisted of a Vietnamese version of Twinkies and Ding Dongs. Then we had some coffee flavored candy for dessert. Very tasty and nutritious too! After a very long day of travel, we arrived well after bedtime, too late to visit HoH4. Although things didn’t go as planned, I am excited to see what tomorrow holds.
Thursday: Today we visited HoH4. The boys don’t speak English, so we had to communicate through an interpreter. The parents at HoH4 have raised three biological sons and seem confident in the role as parents to these four boys. The father shared their biggest struggle is when Y Tien’s aunt comes to visit. He said she whispers to him when they are not looking and are not sure what she is saying. He said Y Tien is a bit difficult for a few days after her visits but then returns to normal.
After leaving, we went to visit the relatives of Y Ngoanh. His tribe is in a village not far from HoH4. To get there, we left the paved road and drove on a dirt road for a while. Then we parked the car and walked on foot down a narrow trail through the trees and finally arrived at a small secluded village. We visited the home of Y Ngoanh’s grandmother and grandfather. Their entire extended family joined the meeting. The people of the village must have gotten wind that foreigners were there and kept coming to get a peek at us through the windows and door. Most of them had never seen a foreigner before. Y Ngoanh’s family did not speak Vietnamese so we had to have two translators for the conversation; one from their language into Vietnamese and then one from Vietnamese to English. Y Ngoanh’s grandmother said she was surprised that we would come to visit. She said many times people give money to help poor children, but they never actually come to visit to make sure the child is okay. She said she was grateful that we cared and grateful for the opportunities we were giving her grandson who is in the Thrive education program. She said they pray for our organization all the time. I was so moved. This extremely poor woman who cannot read or write and lives in a small remote village in Vietnam is praying for us! It was a humbling experience, to say the least.
After leaving the village, we headed to the airport for our return flight to Ho Chi Min City. We arrived at our hotel at 9:30 p.m. this evening.
Friday: After a good sleep, we had our debrief meeting with our Country Coordinator, dinner with his family and then off to the airport for our long journey home. I am sad to leave Vietnam but excited that I’ll be able to see my family soon!
Looking back, my time in Vietnam was nothing like I expected; It was much, much more. I was privileged to see a small snapshot of God working in the lives of orphaned and vulnerable children. Before these children came to Hope’s Promise, they faced a grim future, and yet today each of them has a beautiful life filled with hope and love. Much of that hope is rooted in the love that they are now experiencing with their house parents and the Hope’s Promise country staff. They inspire me, and I want to continue to support them and to grow our orphan care program so that we can give hope to even more children around the world.
What about you? Where is God calling you to go?