Lunch at the Center

IMG_1644The older children and the nannies (including former ones) made an amazing lunch for all the doctors and BBW volunteers! We had a sweet and sour soup, a local fish, squid with greens, noodles, rice, crab, snails. Unbelievable. A truly amazing gourmet meal. And we were all so hungry! The kids ate in their space, mostly just soup :-(. And then they took naps!

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The Dentists, Optometrist & Doctor

The Dentists, Optometrist & Doctor

Wow, what a day it was today with the World Health Ambassadors. A team of 12 dentists, 1 general doctor and 1 optometrist arrived today. Quite impressive! In about half hour, they transformed the library room into a dental office, complete with two reclining chairs and started giving fillings and pulling teeth. It was a little assembly line with one person doing a visual exam of the teeth, deciding which needed to be pulled and which needed fillings.

For fillings, they went to the reclining chair, got topical novacaine, and the fillings began. BBW served as the professional hand holders for all the children and even the adults–who were all quite nervous!!

For extractions, you went outside, sat on the little porch, a dentist gave you shots of novacaine, then started hammering and pulling away. You would spit your blood into a plastic garbage lined pail, where they would put your tooth and the bloody gauze when finished. No biohazardous signs here!!

Some of the kids tried ducking it out, especially when they watched Anthony having a really hard tooth pulled out and saw how much pain he was in. My heart really went out for these kids and I realized what a baby I am when I go to the dentist. One little boy needed 8 fillings! One older child needed 3 extractions. Needless to say, pain meds were part of the day too. Thankfully, soup was made for lunch!

3 of the kids need glasses, which we were surprised was so low, and one needs a test for glaucoma, as he shows signs.

This is the very first time these kids have seen a dentist and eye doctor, and in some cases a doctor. We get the report tomorrow from the doctor. What an amazing day. And it’s not over yet. Tonight is the barbeque! The WHA team packed up and went to a Senior Center for the rest of the afternoon. They will join us tonight at the barbeque (if they haven’t fallen over from exhaustion!).

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Art & The Fruit Party

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Here we are, finally, in Ham Tan at the Children’s Center. Art is always such an icebreaker. Thanks to Rozane and Catherine who donated art and money to buy more art supplies–these kids were having a blast. And this year Rozane also donated a bunch of games which were a big hit! The power went off, so we have no photos of the fruit party, which was all done by iPhone flashlight held up by Earl, husband of Board Member Barb Quist. He was the tallest and he did his job proudly!!

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What We Did 2012

Our primary focus is education. Everything we do with and for the kids is to strengthen their confidence, make them feel loved, and let them know that they are accountable and we are watching over them.  Like parents.  We spend one year preparing for this one week and we do pack a lot in.
Our annual trip is the cornerstone to all we do with Big Big World.  This trip serves as building relationships and trust,  making the kids accountable, to us and to themselves.  We show up year after year because they need to see our faces.  They need to know that we are keeping up with them.  That we love and support them.
They wrote Big Big World a thank you card this year, and in it they thanked us for the support in school, the gifts and the activities. But mostly, they thanked us for coming over every year and caring like mothers would. They thanked us for leaving our families and traveling halfway around the world. They feel loved, they feel like they are special to someone. And they are. Here is what we did with and for them this year, thanks to your generous donations. What they do for us and our hearts cannot be captured in a list.

  1. Provided tutoring to all the high school students, mostly in English.
  2. Bought two bicycles for the two students about to enter college so they have transportation for their part time jobs.
  3. Bought a laptop for one of the students who successfully completed her first year of college and held down a part time job.
  4. Gave two academic achievement awards with donated Flip video cameras to best students of the year (one elementary, one high school).
  5. Provided tuition assistance to two college students, with two more this fall.
  6. Provided living expense assistance to two college students and one trade school student, and two more college students this fall.
  7. Donated about 160 lbs. worth of art supplies.
  8. Gave each college student $20 spending money.
  9. Took 26 children, the nannies and Center Director shopping for new clothes and shoes.
  10. Gave them all at least one, if not 2 or 3, donated stuffed animals.
  11. Brought cool donated used clothing from the US.
  12. Took the teens to the bookstore, where they were able to select six books each.
  13. Spent two days in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) with the teens, where we took them on a traditional Vietnamese dinner cruise and to a water park.
  14. Visited the the schools/facilities of 2 college students and 1 trade school student.
  15. Took the entire orphanage on a field trip to a hot springs park, where they swam, soaked their feet and fed crocodiles.
  16. Gave a donated Flip video camera to each of the two “families” at the orphanage so that they can document events in their lives.
  17. Paid for internet for the next year.
  18. Gave each child an individualized gift bag. Bags included a donated gift that was a special request by the child, as well as personal hygiene items.
  19. Gave the older children who didn’t have one already a donated iPod or mp3 player.
  20. Hosted the annual fruit party at the orphanage.
  21. Hosted the annual barbecue at the orphanage.
  22. Held two yoga classes.
  23. Made personalized bookmarks.
  24. Threw a swim party for all the kids at the hotel we stayed in, followed by our annual end of visit dinner.
  25. Talked to each child individually about their year, provided encouragement, some tough love here and there, nagged about teeth brushing, and pledged our support if they study hard.
  26. Bought a printer.
  27. Took the teens to a nonprofit restaurant where one of the orphans now apprentices, and bought a brick on the wall for $100 with Big Big World written on it.
  28. Made each child an individualized photo album comprising of photos we had shot on our visit.
  29. And last but not least, we provided love and hope.  Hope for a brighter future.  Love that a mother would offer.
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The Love Letters

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We received such beautiful, heartfelt, tear-jerking notes from various children, lovingly decorated with flowers and other little designs.  Here are a few of them:
Dear Mom Cynthia, I’m very thankful to you and BBW for your concern.  I promise to study harder and harder.  I love you very much. I wish you a good health, success and happiness.  Love, Hang.

Dear Cynthia, You are a very good and kind person.  You love everyone.  I am very happy when I am hugged by you and feel like my birth mom.  Thank you very much for coming to visit us.  I love you very much.  I wish you a good health.  Love, Hue

There are more, but these are the only two I have translated.  Here are photos of Hang and Hue.  Hang just graduated from HS and will be entering college.  We are so proud of her.  She is like the big sister to all the kids at the Center.  She cooks, she helps in every way, she admonishes them when they are out of line.  She has a heart of gold.  Her biggest concern is the well being of her grandmother, who lives 3 hours away.  That will probably be the hardest thing for her when she goes to college, because then her grandmother will be more like 6 hours away.  Hang asked if she could get her shopping allocation in cash instead of buying clothes for herself, so she could give the cash to her grandmother.  What an amazing young woman!!  We did, and Bonnie bought her a new outfit anyway.

Hue is the actual big sister of two younger brothers, Cong and Tan.  I remember when we first met her a few years ago, after both her parents had died. She was so protective of her little brothers, and so hard to warm up to.  She is still a protective big sister, but she has gained more confidence and is more trusting and open with us–as if I had to say that after showing you her letter!

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The Final Goodbye July 31, 2012

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On Tuesday morning we arrived at the Center at 9 am for our final goodbyes. We gave each kid an individualized photo album. Putting this together each year is a real labor of love. Sorting through our photos and selecting ones to put in that child’s folder, then compiling it all together on a USB drive, bringing it to the local printer, who then hand delivered them a few hours later, returning the USB drive with a virus on it (same thing last year!). He remembered us from last year with fondness. It’s really cool because there are so many people now who have become part of the Big Big World family–the photo guy, the people at Mom Da Chim–this year, they gave us the pool party for free and discounted the food 10%, even the people in the market that we buy the barbeque meat from each year remember us, Father Hank, Father Tin (a Vietnamese many who has been in training for 10 years and will finally officially be a priest next month. He is also a very talented magician), and more. But I digress. Back to our goodbyes. The kids’ faces beamed with delight as they poured through their albums. Kate started this tradition in 2010 and it has continued. We realize that a lot of what we provide is what a parent would usually do for a child–document their life through pictures, encourage them, support them, give them a gentle kick in the butt when needed, praise them for their successes, celebrate with them, and give them lots of love, hugs and kisses!

We gave each of the children, well young adults really, who were going off to college $20 spending money. We called them all together separate from the other kids. Bonnie and I had a hard time even doing this, because their faces looked so sad. Phap especially has such expressive eyes. You could lose yourself in the depths of those liquid black eyes. And they were filled with sorrow. Then it was time for the final goodbyes. I gave each child a hug, said “I love you!” and gave them a Vietnamese “kiss” cheek to cheek, drawing in a big sniff. Hang and Duyen were especially broken up–Bonnie and I have truly become mothers to them. I am reminded of the important role that Big Big World plays to these children–not only financially, but emotionally and even spiritually.

I don’t have many photos of this morning. I was just too torn up emotionally to take pictures, but I am including a lot from Terrey’s stash of photos documenting the whole trip. She did a fabulous job capturing lots of beautiful moments with her fabulous camera. There’s one of me holding all the roses that the kids presented to me one by one on my birthday–it reminded me of the rich rewards I receive from being part of Big Big World–yes, we do a lot for these kids, but they give everything they have in return. And in that moment, I felt showered in riches that transcend anything material.

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Swim Party July 30, 2012

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The day had to come.  Our last full day with the children.  We hosted a swim party at the Mom Da Chim Lazi Beach Resort where we were staying, followed by a huge feast in their dining room:  a (fresh) seafood hot pot, scallops casino (still in the shell), cauliflower & veggies with shrimp, potato salad, and my favorite, this yummy thing called chicken salad–nothing like the one we make back home.  Cellophane noodles with chicken in a hot sour sauce.  Ohh la la!! We got more endearing cards from the children.  The younger kids spent the whole time swimming.  Most of the older children hung out, reading romance novels, talking with one another, swinging, walking on the beach.  We loved that this year, the hotel provided life vests and safety tubes for the kids–they don’t know how to swim, except the few here and there who have made a concentrated effort to learn.  They really took advantage of their time with us to take swimming lessons!  Interesting to do it with the language barrier.  At the end of the night, they not only sang some songs with us, but over half of the younger children sang solos.  I can’t post videos here, so check out the Big Big World Facebook page.  Hien, the 10 year old found on the streets this year, sang a song about dreaming about having a mom.  It says all this heart-warming things about what moms do, and ends with, but I woke up, it was all a dream.  He sang it with all his heart, and when he was done, his eyes were wet.  It was such a bittersweet moment.  Mr. Chuc, the orphanage director, said some really wonderful things.  Bonnie was eloquent as usual and talked to them about the cycle of poverty, and how they could break that cycle, not only for them, but for the children and their children’s children.  I think it was our best dinner ever.  They got the message.

We went out onto the beach and formed a circle.  Bonnie and I taught them the chant “We are strong, we are wise, we are filled with love.”  Then we did the hokey pokey–the kids had so much fun with that!  We played this King game they taught us, then it started raining, so we went under the hut and had ice cream.

The goodbyes were already getting emotional, even though we were visiting them the next morning.  We were also amazed that they piled themselves into one van!  Not an empty lap.  Lots of tearful goodbyes.

Then we went back to our rooms for an all-nighter putting together the photo albums for each kid.  We didn’t go to sleep until 1:30 am, and woke up at 6 am the next day.  Long, exhausting day!

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Hot Springs Revisited 7-29-12

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We took all the kids on a field trip to a Hot Springs.  We had 30 people total
and needed to rent a second van to drive us all.  I loved teaching a few
interested kids how to swim.  Most of them haven’t ever swam, and certainly have
never had lessons.  Hang and My Ty were pretty good at free style by the end of
the day.  We also put eggs in the hot springs and then ate soft boiled eggs with
a little spoon–yummy!!

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Shop Til We Drop 7-28-12

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Today was the big shopping trip, which the lovely and generous Kate and family
have sponsored each year we’ve been here.  We went in shifts–the younger kids
in the morning and the older kids in the afternoon.  Bonnie, Thao and I went
with the little kids, and boy was it fun!  My favorite moment was Hien, one of
the new boys (10), realizing that not only could he get this fabulous pair of
jeans but that he could get a pair of shoes and some shirts as well.  It was
like he hit the jackpot.  He kept taking my hand to show me his new jeans.  He
was so excited he could barely contain himself.  It was so fun seeing the kids
squeal with delight and pick out clothes that were unique to them and their
personality.  It was a double jackpot this year, because Terrey and her family
donated lots of cool clothes, which the kids had on the very next day.

While we were out shopping, Terrey and Mackenzie were back at the
Center with the older children.  Terrey brought this cool art project, making
decorative book marks, which was perfect since they had all bought books in
Saigon.  Then they did yoga.  I wasn’t there, but I saw the photos and heard the
stories, and oh my did they have fun!  She did paired yoga poses.  Only the boys
showed up for the class–and Mackenzie too of course.  Anthony was the
photographer and assistant and apparently took his job quite seriously.  In
between shopping trips, we had another exquisite lunch at the Center.  The fish
was particularly delicious, although no one knew the English name for it.

The older children were prepared for the shopping trip and knew what
they were looking for.  Lots of jeans and stylish shirts–again each child
picking clothes that suited them perfectly.  Although I think I’m going to ask
Duyen to take back her purple daisy duke shorts that she managed to buy under
the radar.   We loved seeing some of the t-shirts with attempts at English
phrases (see photo).  And the knock offs, where they had to change a letter to
be immune–I particularly liked “Jonkey” instead of “Jockey.”

Terrey surprised the girls by treating them all to a shampoo at the salon, which
allowed Bonnie and I to finish up our individual meetings.  We did four more,
and they were all very intense and emotional.  We felt good about all of them

When we came back to the hotel, I was greeted at my room with
two of the staff bringing me a birthday cake and a bottle of white wine to
celebrate my birthday–from the manager of the hotel!  And I started the day
with an exquisitely beautiful flower arrangement from Thao!  I feel so special
🙂  And my birthday won’t be officially over until noon tomorrow, since it will
still be July 28 in the US, and when I have talked to my kids–Lina for the
first time since I’ve left–she’s been at summer camp.  I miss them

I got room service–water spinach with garlic–one of my very
favorite dishes here, and baby squid with ginger.  I was expecting the little
rings, instead I got the whole baby.  I couldn’t bring myself to eat it.  See
the photo!

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