November 20th was Teacher Day in Vietnam, a pretty big deal here where students usually buy teachers flowers in gratitude. The flower shops were loaded with beautiful arrangements and students flocked the shops. Considering the circumstances of the children here at the village and that many come from poor families, teachers don’t receive flowers from their students. On my way to the village, I stopped by a local market and picked up a simple bouquet of flowers in the Vietnamese colors and hopped on the bus. As I walked into my class, my teacher saw them and tears immediately filled her eyes. She has one of the most challenging classes and I wanted to make sure she felt special and appreciated. Teacher day also consisted of some dancing, singing, and presentations as a local bank sponsor came by to give a small donation to each teacher and brought some supplies and toys for the children.
As the week continued, a beautiful idea came to me. I thought to myself, “I should have a manicure party for the girls!” I LOVE painting my nails and it always makes me feel pretty and girly. Many of the girls have short hair (easier to maintain and to prevent lice at the homes) and I wanted to make them feel like the beautiful little girls they are and pamper them. That morning, I stopped by a small shop and picked up several shades of pink polish and headed to the village. After classes, I would go to each house and take my polish, file and other goodies out of my bag and started painting! The word got out and the girls huddled around me waiting for their turn. That night, I painted the nails for 10 girls. This went on for the rest of the week and I did another 45 or so ! In addition, some of the “house mothers” saw what I was doing and they asked if I would do their nails too! Bring it on! I was grateful to see so many smiles. I also pretended that my chapstick was lipstick and would apply it as their final touch!
I visit Nu several times a week. A former volunteer posted a note for ‘future volunteers’ to (hopefully) read with some helpful advice about her since he had spent a year at the friendship village. This was posted on a small board inside the home she lives in. I am grateful I was drawn to explore the houses from day #1 or I would have never met her. She spends the majority of her day alone, on a bench, around the corner inside the main room, so unless you go in and look around, you wouldn’t see her. She rocks back and forth and at times presses her fingers into her eyes to stimulate her optical nerve so she will see stars as well as hits her head very hard. She can’t see and walk on her own and the only time she gets up is to shower, go for a walk or to bed (all with help). From the very beginning, I wanted to learn more about her and my goal was to spend enough time to get a reaction, to spark something within her and for just a moment, create some joy in her heart. I started to make sounds to see if that would resonate with her. Then, I started singing songs to her and would always rub her back or put my hand on her knee. Once and awhile, I would try to hold her hand, which she kept scrunched up, in hopes that she would respond to some affection, which she clearly lacks. As the previous volunteer suggested, I sang the “Frere Jacques” melody and nothing clicked. Then, I sang a couple songs that came to me at the time. “Marry Me,” a song my friend Skye wrote for her fiancé Ryan, my dear friend as well as Adele’s “Someone Like You.”
In the middle of singing, the most incredible thing happened! Nu shrieked with joy and started to smile and giggle which was a first! The “house mother” came by and smiled. She motioned for me to lift her to take her for a walk. Nu stood and literally fell into me, wrapping her arms around me. I can’t even explain the feeling. No words needed to be spoken and I stood there hugging her for as long as she needed. Soon, I took her outside for a walk and normally, I just put my arm around her shoulder but this time, she reached for my hand and held it tight, a moment I will never forget.
Friday’s are cleaning day in the classrooms and I am amazed at how the kids love to help! They are all very particular and have to repeat things many times. Considering their disabilities, it also makes it hard to work together or to have them pay attention to one thing. I have found it most efficient to split my time with the children now that I have observed them and have figured out how they respond and learn. During the evening we had a movie night for the kids! Mr. Tom, a volunteer who happens to be staying for a year handled all the technology (bless his heart) and even made posters to put around the village. We watched Frozen on a projector and had about 75 kids and 20 veterans attend! The giggles and noises many of them made was priceless.
My final days were bittersweet. As I made my rounds to say goodbye, I met with Ms. Ha who told me that she was happy to have me as I brought lots of smiles to the children and the “house mothers” appreciated my help in the evenings. I hugged my teacher (class #1) and told her that she is wonderful and does an amazing job with the students. I tried to hold back the tears as the kids were hanging off of me like monkeys. I headed to the bus stop and as I walked out the gate, the tears started to coming down. Some people have said, “You really think you can make a difference in 3 weeks?” Absolutely! It’s quality over quantity and the miracles I saw within many of the children were beautiful.
Giving to this campaign gave me an opportunity to give love; something that cannot be bought but simply transferred from heart to heart and only requires time. I feel honored to know such selfless and generous people that were inspired to be my angels, allowing for this project to come to fruition. You all share a similar desire and I know that is why each and every one of you was drawn to be part of this journey.
May the love I spread in the hearts of everyone in this village, may they forever remember. May the seeds of hope I planted spread and grow within. May the children know that everything will be okay. May you know that YOU made a difference and are just as much a part of this as I am. May you smile knowing that you were part of something greater, to make this world a better place. May you find peace in knowing that you are part of something beautiful!
From my heart to yours…THANK YOU!