It’s not every day that one gets to state that they have been a resident at a Military Guest House! Don’t worry; I wasn’t arrested by the Military because of my outspoken behaviour or stubbornness ;O)
In fact mum & I were invited to Long Hai beach, courtesy of Go Vap orphanage & we resided at the Military Guest House. Not that I’d have any idea what the British Military Guest Houses look like, or even if they have any; but wow, do the Military over in Vietnam have it so good!
Back in London, I am so used to waking up at 07.30 am or 08.00 am, to (try) & be at work for 09.00 am. As you can tell from those times, I am not a morning person, as I like my bed so much. However over here in Vietnam, the city never seems to sleep & the children are used to getting up at the crack of dawn. I had to wake up at 04.30 to meet the children at 06.00, so we could head off to Long Hai beach. You can tell from the pictures how sleepy I looked (although my mum hides it well)! However, the children’s energy & excitement managed to wake me up pretty fast!
On this particular trip, only the ‘best’ students from each ward were treated to two days at the beach. It was so lovely to see that the disabled children as well as the down syndromes children were also included. It must have been a difficult task to select the children; in my eyes they are all wonderful & deserving!
The day started off with a very hearty breakfast at a traditional restaurant, & I am still amazed at how the kids can eat Pho or noodle soup first thing in the morning, as I could just about manage my omelette! Once we got back on the coach I handed out some sweets (courtesy of my colleagues’ donations from Danone). The event guide got the children singing Vietnamese songs & Nhi, who is one of the brightest 7 year olds I’ve ever met sang a song to me in English. I was so honoured & extremely proud of her, that I was close to tears!
During the trip I sat next to Hung who is the cutest little boy ever, & certainly knows how to charm you with his smile. Hung is so polite & every time you help him into his wheelchair or help him unwrap something (not that he needs much help as he’s very independent), he says the sweetest “thank you”, which is like music to your ears. Not many kids of his 11 years that I’ve met in London have such gracious manners. Needless to say, Hung is another one of my favourites & I love it when I hear him & the kids shout “Miss Kim” or “Co Kim” (aunty, elder) whenever they want my attention or affection.
We finally arrived at Long Hai at 11.00, and had a snack at the seafood restaurant before we checked into the Military Guest House. At around 14.00 we went to the beach & had fun before the sand storm & mini monsoon swept in; then it was back to eating more seafood at 15.00. Wow, do those kids have an appetite! The nursemaids, always makes sure that the children eat first, and then serve themselves afterwards. I cannot remember the names of all the dishes, but they were delicious! I really felt like a true member of the ‘family’. Dinner time came too soon & I literally had to force myself to eat at 18.00!
Once the sun had gone down, it was time to present the best students with their gifts. The smiles & appreciation on each of the children’s faces will be forever in my heart.
The hot & sunny weather the next day lasted much longer & it was great seeing the children splash around in the sea. My heart is drawn to all of the children, but always has a special place for the sick & disabled kids. As I was in the company of children, I made sure that I covered my swim suit with my kaftan beachwear. It is not often that you see a Vietnamese lady in a bikini, the majority of women prefer to cover up & they do everything not to get a tan, plus they are extremely modest. It is certainly different to the culture I am accustomed to as I love to lay in the sun. However on this occasion, I was enjoying my time in the sea with the kids too much to worry about working on my tan.
All too soon it was time for lunch & to pack up & head back to the hustle & bustle of Saigon. And although the children had a great time, I couldn’t help but notice a hint of sadness in some of their eyes that they were returning to the city & back to the confines of an orphanage. This special day at the beach had also given them something that we in the West take for granted; the normality of a family…& freedom.
Next year I do hope that Operation Reunite plans a day out to the beach with the kids from the orphanage, as it truly is a memorable & wonderful experience for all.
Love & light,