A Day at the Orphanage

Danang, Vietnam, July 2, 20015 – 5 am: A gauzy dawn heralds another sweltering day.  A few children, a tad groggy, emerge from their 6-bed dorm into the arcade girding the courtyard.  Some wield a wispy straw broom, the quintessential Vietnamese tool in a strictly one-handed exercise.  As the sun starts licking the ochre walls, a bell rings signaling everybody up.  A strange spectacle unfolds — more brooms appear, then wet mops on some 150 meters of tile floor.  As I pass through on my way to make coffee for myself, the children join in a “good morning” chorus while I try to inculcate without success the necessity to hit the corners.  Lack of precision is made up by enthusiasm and good cheer.  The central fountains are turned on and general waterworks begin with pumps activated and hoses deployed to water an acre of lush landscaping.  All 50 children from the youngest five year old to the 18 year old are engaged in some task without any direction from an adult.  The night person in charge joins me in the kitchen where two older girls are already preparing breakfast.
7:30: The dining room is now a beehive of activity.  Tables are unfolded surrounded by eight stools.  Each child carries in a full bowl of noodle soup and chopsticks.  Some will get seconds.  Conversations are cheerful and animated.  I deplore not understanding Vietnamese.  What are they saying?  I really want to know.  The meal done, tables get folded, the floor swept, dishes done and put away as if by magic.  The same ritual is repeated at every meal.
9 am: All seven staff have now have arrived on their motorcycles, smiling, cheerful and visibly ready to tackle a new day.  They work seven days a week.  From director to gardener, all have a precise job description, yet encourage children to participate.  I observed gardening, bread making, laundry, sewing, and painting.  There is plentyof time for reading, sports and quiet time and a two-hour siesta after lunch.
9 pm: A bell signals time for a circle to form.  An adolescent ring leader is selected to conduct a number of games involving much merriment.  I am bowled over by such a display of fraternal affection and support.
I choose July for my yearly trip so as to spend more time with the children, visiting with those I know and getting acquainted with new ones when school is out.  Most years I’m able to organize a field trip for as many as four days.  This year the trip was only one day so as to save funds for direly needed repairs to another of our three orphanages.
It takes about $30,000 per year for ASSORV-CA (Association for the Support of Orphans and Destitute Children in Vietnam) to operate one orphanage of 50 children.  The funds are generated by child sponsorship of $480 yearly, donations and fundraisers.

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