Let me take a moment to explain the structure of the program. Prior to arrival, volunteers are given the choice to be placed either as an english teacher or as a helper in orphanages- I chose to volunteer in the orphanages. The teachers go to a number of schools over the week, depending on the schedule, and generally teach an hour long class. There are many Vietnamese university students who also volunteer, and the ones who speak good English go to the classes with the native english speaking volunteers to be translators. Many of the Vietnamese volunteers come back to the Peace House (the name of the office/lounge/kitchen/dorms) to hang out or for a meal. They also give us Vietnamese lessons one- on- one once a week for an hour.
There are three orphanages that we go to on a regular basis. The first is a government run orphanage, the second is associated with a monastery, and the third is an orphanage for street kids. The children at the first two are completely disabled, mostly bed ridden, and unable to speak. Many have cerebral palsy or down syndrome. Every day there are two periods of volunteering: the first from 8-11, the second from 2-4. We go back to the office/dorms (named the Peace House) for lunch, and dinner is served at 5. I've been told that the cook makes the same dishes for every meal, and thus far that has proved true.
This morning we went to the government run orphanage, Thi Nghe, and it was a very difficult experience. The building that it is housed in is a large, 2 story, c-shaped concrete mostrocity. Two sections of the c are a school for normal children, the third is for disabled children. I think that they are devided into 4 groups; babies and toddlers, 6-10 year olds, 10- 13, and 13- 17. We were in the room with the 6-10 year olds. It was really two rooms with a doorway in between, and consisted of about 35 or 40 cribs. About a dozen of the kids had tubes going into them, 10 or so were sleeping, or maybe just unable to open there eyes or move. We took 6 or 7 of the somewhat mobile kids outside to a rug that was on the balcony and let them lay in the sun for about an hour. We then had to feed all of the kids for the following hour and a half. This was the hardest part for me; the women who worked there would force the kids mouths open and stuff spoonfuls of the rice porridge down their throats. Nikolene and I were unable to do this, and we took much longer to feed each child than they did.
I felt very ackward at first. I didn't quite know how to handle myself because I had no way of knowing if the kids liked us to touch them. Only 1 or 2 of the kids were able to actually play, the rest just laid there. After a while it got easier, but going into it I never expected to feel so unsure of myself.
This afternoon I went to the orphanage in the monastery. Most of the children there were active and wanted to play and roughouse. They varied in age from infants to 22 years old, although no child looked over 12. The monastery was beautiful, although the orphanage was in back and much more rundown. After my experiences in the morning, however, it was somewhat refreshing to be around kids that were responsive.
I didn't feel comfortable taking pictures in the orphanages today, but I will ask if it is ok and hopefully will be able to show you what they are all like.
Tonight it seems that people are being pretty mellow because they were all out so late, so I think I will go to bed a little early and tomorrow explore the rest of the city.