Wednesday, January 9, 2002

Day 6: School Visits

We boarded our bus at 8:00 a.m., and were on our way to Vi Thanh. We had to stop by the hospital to drop off Dr Lien-Huong and give a list of the people who would travel to Rach Gia with us tomorrow. I also wanted to pick up my last box of Tootsie Pops. Alas, the hospital couldn’t find the key to our supply room. I hate to travel without my Tootsie Pops!

On our way back to the bus, a man approached Ben and I.  He had heard that our mission was in Can Tho and traveled from Rach Gia with his son seeking our help. The boy was lying on the ground just outside the hospital gate. The doctors have a full schedule and there are still 21 patients to examine. It almost broke my heart to have to tell this father that we just couldn’t help him this year.

The word is out about us all over the Mekong Delta. Everywhere we go people approach us seeking help for their children. I think I would rather be beaten to within an inch of my life and dragged behind wild horses before facing another loving parent desperately seeking help for their broken child. GOD, I wish we could help them all!

Finally, we are on the road to Vi Thanh. Our comfortable, air-conditioned bus plowed through the verdant countryside like a good ship on a calm sea. Thatch-walled, tin-roofed shanties line the road. If not for the occasional new cement and tile homes, one would think it was 30 years ago. Not much has changed in the countryside since I was here as a solider during the war. No one is shooting at us…LOL. Bright-colored clothes have replaced black pajamas and the olive drab that all used to wear. It's much better now than then. Annamarie and Christophe were interested in hearing what Viet Nam was like during the war. We spent some time talking about my experiences in Viet Nam during the war.

Our first stop was a Buddhist Temple, where the sisters are working on programs to serve the poor. They want to start a shelter program for aged men, and an after-school study program for poor students. They are women of great faith in Buddha. They are patiently waiting for donations from heaven to fund their projects. We politely suggested they might need to take some action to help Buddha provide for them. We suggested they start a restaurant to feed the poor and use the profits to fund their other projects. They seemed to agree with the idea…we will see what happens. We had a very nice visit and left a donation for the Temple. Christophe took some very nice pictures of the Sisters.

Now, off to the Hoa Mai Orphanage. We pulled up to the orphanage and the place looked deserted. There were a couple of kids in the front yard and one of the employees greeted us. A couple of minutes later the kids and the director showed up and before long the crowd gathered. The kids sang a couple of songs for us and I got a chance to speak to the gathering. Surprisingly, they understood my Vietnamese pretty well.

At one point, before the assembly, I looked out the window and saw quite a commotion in the courtyard. Annamarie was passing out goodies to the kids. They were swarming around her like a pack of hungry sharks in a feeding frenzy. I thought we were going to have to send a rescue party to save her. She made it out alive.
After the singing and official greetings were done, we assembled the children for a group picture. Then the free-for-all began.  The kids swarmed us. There were many hugs and kisses. We took lots of pictures of them and I let some of the kids use my digital camera. One of them took the picture of the two girls wearing their white ao dias. My beard fascinated the kids; I thought the were going to rub it off. They all called me "Papa." I guess they are all my kids now, COOL!

Annamarie left a large bag of school supplies for the kids and I left a cash donation. Like the Hoa Mai Orphanage in Can Tho, the children here are extremely well cared for. They are very happy children. Another big THANKS to Annamarie’s Boy and Girl Scouts for supplying all of the school supplies and gifts for the children. Your gifts are a big hit wherever we go.

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