Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Seeing the Meals Served for the First Time...

 Our first day of partner visits with Children of Vietnam started at their office here in Da Nang. We met early in the morning and got to meet their staff and learn a bit about what they do here in Vietnam. The nonprofits reach is amazing! They work in schools, orphanages, hospitals, churches, pagodas, elderly homes, and they also work a lot with disabled children.  After introductions and overview we headed out to our first visit at a home for the elderly and disabled. We started by interviewing the Director of the facility. He seemed to be very passionate about what he does but he also mentioned that he lacks a lot of the funding and specialized staff that he needs.

 The facility was pretty typical of Vietnam and quite sad. We were able to see the kitchen and watch our meals being served to a group of elderly residents. The residents were very sweet and probably a bit overwhelmed with all of us there. After visiting with them for a bit we went to tour the rest of the facility. The rooms were very empty with hard beds and no mattresses - again, pretty typical in Vietnam. The children sat on the hard floor and had no toys or things to play with. It was a very basic facility that needed lots of TLC. I know that they are doing the best they can with what they have…but what a stark contrast to what we have in the States. It broke my heart to see how little they had to work with. No equipment for the handicap children, very few staff that weren’t trained properly to deal with the needs of the children. It was rough, but I know COV is doing what they can to help improve the situation.

After leaving the first facility we went to lunch at a restaurant in town that served Vietnamese food that happened to use New Zealand and Australian beef. Andrew even recognized the brand haha. It was a delicious lunch (I thought) but the servers got a bit frazzled dealing with all of us as well as a full restaurant. Service in Vietnam is quite different from the States. They don’t watch the table for needs and really only come when you wave or yell at them. It’s much more laid back and they don’t feel the need to attend to your every need. I kind of like it. The food was really delicious and it was fun to watch the COV staff haggle with them on the price since they weren't happy with the service.

The next visit was to an amazing special needs school that is run by nuns from the Catholic church. What a contrast from the morning visit! It was beautiful! We interviewed the nuns and got to see their passion and hear about the amazing work they’ve done. They not only work at the school and help the kids through school and vocational training, they go out in to the community and provide support and rehabilitation to people with special needs as well. They have vocational training programs such as sewing, carpentry, baking, gardening, and massage/physical therapy for disabled people. We got to tour all of the training programs and pop our heads in to some of the classes. The kids looked so happy and they had everything they needed. Books, art, toys, medical equipment, clean water, etc. The facility was gorgeous…the model facility. It really shows how much support the Catholic church has and gives to their programs in the area. Beautiful…just beautiful.

That night, after debriefing on all we saw that day, we decided to go over to the expat bar again, Bamboo 2. We had told a few of them that we would be heading back so that we could watch the New Zealand vs South Africa rugby match. Andrew had convinced the Australian owner to play it for us since we weren’t going to be able to catch it Sunday night. Not long after we got there, Rebecca and Nancy joined us and we all ordered some “English” food and had a few Vietnamese beers. It was a good time! Great to get to know the girls better and Andrew got to watch his game – so we were all happy. Unfortunately that night, I woke up at about 11am with some intense pain in my chest…something I’ve never experienced before. It felt like I had swallowed my malaria pill and gotten it stuck or something, even though when I took it, I didn’t have any problems. The pain persisted until I took an anti-acid and just pushed through the pain to go back to sleep. I have no idea what it was but I assume it was heart burn or something because I guess the medicine worked if I didn’t wake up again with any problems. That morning when I woke up, the pain was there again. When I went to eat breakfast it hurt every time I swallowed food or a drink. Pretty miserable stuff.

After my attempt at eating something for breakfast, we headed off to the Quang Nam Province to see some kindergartens. It was such an amazing day!! Probably going to be one of my favorite days of the trip (I know, it's only day two but still).  We started with interviews and then we got to participate in feeding the kids their snack. The kids were so adorable! They loved being with us and eating the meals with us. The impact for me was huge. It just made my heart sing! The area we were in was a particularly poor one, so most of the kids are in the school on scholarship or reduced school fees. They get to eat 2 meals at school and the teachers care a lot about the kids, sending meals home to the children with extremely poor nutrition and families that can’t support them well. The facility was pretty nice too. They even had a water filtration system! I was really impressed!

For lunch we went to a local restaurant that served us so much food! We all ate it family style, picking and choosing as we went. It was hard to eat yet again but I pushed through it and tried all the food that I could. We ate lunch with the Quang Nam Charity Association Directors, who are the ones that get meals from COV and provide them to programs in that district. It was quite a fun lunch. They offered Andrew a beer and he said no, but they were very persistent so eventually he went with it. Big mistake. They proceeded to challenge Andrew to drink his whole glass of beer multiple times…playing with him and testing him haha. He passed the test. They liked him a lot haha. After lunch we went to have coffee near bye. The coffee here is very interesting. It’s Vietnamese coffee and it is made very strong, slow drip, and they add “milk” which is actually sweetened condensed milk. Sounds strange – tastes amazing!

After coffee we went to the second kindergarten. It was another wonderful experience with a school that was very similar to the first one. We got to feed the kids their snack again and the children yet again, stole my heart. This time, I got to sit with the kids and eat with them. One little girl was the cutest thing ever. She kept looking at me and giggling…she was a bowl of laughter! She followed me around a bit, giggling the entire time we were there. I wanted to take her home with me haha. I also had my first experience in a squat pot while I was at this school. I don’t recommend it…haha.

That evening we went to dinner across from our hotel in a little Vietnamese restaurant called Kimdy's. It doesn't look like anything special, but the food was really good! Andrew and I had some pork pho and beef with fried noodles. My chest was still hurting so I didn’t get to eat too much, but my lovely Andrew made sure all the food didn’t go to waste ;) We sat for a few hours at dinner, talking about work and projects and the programs COV has. A great ending to an amazing day.

I still have to remind myself at times that I’m here in Vietnam. It’s been such an awesome experience and though the days feel very long, and we’ve done so much, I know that it will be over before I know it. I’m just trying my best to soak it all in. I have a feeling we’ll have to come back to visit Vietnam again. This place is pretty amazing.

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