March 2012 – Prue

I was planning to spend a month in Vietnam working in an orphanage. I had been to Vietnam twice before and I wanted to work somewhere, that wasn’t built to suit tourists, or corrupt. My options were therefore limited. I was drawn to Allambie, because it really was just so different compared to all the other orphanages I had been looking at.

Working at Allambie, was a truly life changing experience. Allambie is not an orphanage as much as it is a home. Suzanne truly is the children’s everything.

Like any mother of 6 kids, she is a busy lady. As well as running the household, managing the timetable of extra math lessons, Kung Fu classes, knowing who will be home for dinner that night, and what time everyone is expected home.

As a volunteer, I felt I truly was making a contribution. Allowing Suzanne a few hours in the day, to email sponsors, balance the accounts, try and raise more funds. While I had the most amazing experience spending time with the kids.

I was at Allambie almost everyday. Most afternoons were spent with Mung and Chuyen reading English books, practicing pronunciation, and playing word games. This time was designated for our “English Lesson” but I was the one being taught.

The Kids are just so beautiful. Willing to let me into there home, share their meals, hang out in their rooms, listen to music together, go out for ice-cream.
Their favorite activity seemed to be the movies followed by ice cream. Or ice cream followed by the movies.

The kids let me take them bowling, to the park, some days they were just happy to hang out and watch T.V and go on the internet…though that may have been because t.v time was limited at home!

Being able to spend time with these children was an incredible experience. One that I hope to be able to return to Allambie during my next trip to Vietnam.

February 2012 Mark Ledwick

I’ve just returned from an excellent time in Vietnam with Suzanne and the Allambie kids. It’s amazing to see what is happening and what a difference some time, attention and a little money can make to young people’s lives.

The kids are fantastic and it was a privilege to be able to get to know them and spend time with them. I wasn’t sure how things would work with the language situation and with half a dozen children of different ages. In fact, it was very easy as, while the levels vary, they all understand and speak English well. They were also very well behaved and good at organizing themselves with guests. I was pleasantly surprised as, after looking after kids and teenagers in the UK, I haven’t always found this to be the case. I was prepared to help out in any way I could whether it be cleaning, paperwork or whatever. Actually, I was mostly engaged in entertaining the kids – or vice-versa. I sampled local delicacies with Sa, Thien and Nhi – although I passed on the duck embryos which apparently popular with the locals. I enjoyed card and board games with Mung, Truc and Chuyen. We also went to the cinema, went for ice cream and enjoyed some home cooked meals.

I heard about Allambie through my sister who volunteered with her husband. Initially I wasn’t sure if I would be able to be helpful as my trip was fairly short but Suzanne was really helpful and welcoming. I found that although it was only a short time, around a week, it was very easy to get involved. I’m sure it was helped by the fact everyone knew my sister. It’s really great to see the kids making excellent progress in school and how confident and fun-loving they all are. Another slight apprehension I had was that it could have been a bit of a sobering experience but, while there is a very serious side to the work that Allambie does, it is a very happy home and a nice place to be.

On my trip around South East Asia I spent time thinking about social problems in the region and the work that NGO’s and charities do. I also looked into various project across the region. It’s a complicated area and sometimes difficult to know whether charities are helping or hurting. I was really happy helping out with Allambie and I feel that the work that has been done so far is clearly making a positive difference to the lives of those it is trying to help.

The selflessness of Suzanne, who is the brainchild and engine of the charity, is nothing short of amazing and her background means she has an understanding of the children’s situations which would be impossible for most people to fully grasp. I wish her the best for the future, and the occasional holiday so she can relax from time to time. And I especially hope the best for the Allambie kids with every success in their studies as well as continued confidence and happiness in the future. Finally, I look forward to being able to visit again in the near future.

Helen Ledwick And Paul Brickles – Jan 2012

Our experience has been wonderful from start to finish! We heard about Allambie through a mutual friend and were keen to meet Suzanne and the children whilst visiting Vietnam. We were a little anxious at first, wondering what we had to offer kids with such a wide age range. We needn’t have worried!

Suzanne met us for coffee before we visited the house, as she does with all the volunteers. She explained how it all came about and how things are going. We told her more about ourselves and before we knew it we were invited over for lunch!

The children were so open and friendly right from the start. Chuyen, the youngest, took a real shine to Paul, playing cards, demonstrating Kung Fu moves and being his delightful, active self! Thiet was ever the gentleman. He showed us his music composition and over the next week or so worked with Paul to make a digital recording of it. The girls were so smiley and friendly and we all giggled a lot during our time together.

I mentioned before that we were a little worried about the difference in ages but they are such a close knit group and work together brilliantly well so it was really never an issue. They would vote on what they wanted to do that day and the decision was readily accepted by all! We had great fun taking them to the cinema, bowling and the zoo. We organised an British-style Sport’s Day in the park, with 3-legged races, egg and spoon races, wheelbarrow races and more.

Mung and Truc introduced us to the Vietnamese boy band, V Music, and made us smile by jumping up and screaming at the television whenever they came on. We were also treated to a memorable evening with the older kids, who took us to eat the best of Saigon’s street food. Sa, Nhi and Thiet took turns pedaling us around the city with our eyes closed as we dodged in and out of the motorbike madness. Paul did try to pedal Sa, but she couldn’t cope with his terrible steering and banished him to the back. The poor girl was exhausted by the end of the night!

We feel privileged to have met the Allambie family and are completely in awe of Suzanne and the work she is doing. It was such a pleasure to get to know the kids over the course of 10 days or so and we were sorry to say goodbye. We would have gladly set to work with whatever needed doing – housework, errands, but nothing was asked of us other than to hang out with the kids and that was no effort at all. Thank you! We wish you all the very best! Our personal blog is here: http://www.brickwicks.co.uk/?p=984

Ashleigh – September 2011

When I first arrived in Vietnam I had no idea what to expect from the experience. I was excited but apprehensive at the same time as I was unsure of what kind of challenges might lay ahead, but I wanted to really give it my best shot.

I am lucky enough to know Suzanne personally, having worked with her a few years ago. It was during this time that she made the decision to open up an orphanage. I don’t remember being particularly shocked by the news, although if it had been anyone else I probably would have been! But I knew that if Suzanne had decided to go and do this, then this is exactly what she would do!

When I got first to the house I was introduced to everyone and was immediately impressed by the warm and friendly reception I received from all of the children, each of whom greeted me and politely shook my hand.

After I’d settled into my new surroundings, I spent most of my time with the children painting, going to the park and taking them out for ice cream. My favourite activity was to sit in the afternoons and help the younger two children, Mung and Chuyen, with their English reading. Listening to them individually trying so hard to understand and pronounce the words was truly amazing and made me feel so privileged just to be sat with these amazing children. Their capacity to learn and the development they showed in just two weeks was inspiring. All the children were so welcoming and easy to get on with, and despite the language barrier their different personalities really shone through. Their spirit and fearlessness was so humbling and they had a great sense of humour; we laughed together a lot! By the end of my stay they really made me feel I was part of their family, and I found it extremely hard to say goodbye.

One of the most touching things for me was watching the children at dinner time, as they all sat together each night and openly shared their food with one another. Whilst it was a small gesture, it just seemed to reflect some unspoken understanding between them of the difficulties they have each experienced and was a testament to Suzanne and her amazing new family she has created. They stick together and function like any strong family would, taking care of each other in which ever way they can.

The whole experience was amazing for me, and really opened my eyes to a lot of things about myself and about others and if the children gained even half as much from the experience as I did, I would be so happy. I wish everyone could go and volunteer at some point in their lives, and I strongly believe if the opportunity is there you have to give it a go.

Una – 2nd July 2011 – 2 weeks volunteering at Allambie

I first heard of Allambie as I lay in bed watching the ITV news, I was about to turn off the TV and go to sleep when Suzanne’s story came on, as I sat there listening to her interview I knew I would be on my way to Vietnam to see them.

My plan was to do some volunteering in South East Asia but I had not decided to go to Vietnam until I saw and felt inspired by Suzanne’s story, the following day I emailed Suzanne and asked her if it would be possible to come and help out for a couple of weeks. To my delight she replied to my email and we took it from there.

Once I heard back from Suzanne and I had arranged my other details I was off. I first when to India, Nepal and Thailand and although they were all different projects I really enjoyed. I always knew this one was going to be the hardest.

When I first arrived in Saigon, I was not very well and so did not want to pass anything onto Suzanne for the children so Suzanne advised me to take a few days off and we arranged to met for coffee and chat a few days later.

When I first meet Suzanne I was amazed at the approach she took as I had not seen this before, I felt I was doing an interview, which in effect I was really. As we chatted she updated me on the orphanage and the children and gave me a run down on each. On reflection after our meeting I felt this was an excellent approach to take with volunteers as you can never be too careful. Good on you Suzanne

Suzanne invited me to lunch to meet the children the following day and we took it from there. I was a little nervous meeting the children for the first time but that all vanished when I meet them.

We did lots of things during my time at Allambie, I took the children painting a few times, which is their favourite past time, I went to the park with Mung and Chuyen and we played tennis and lost the ball so then went for some ice cream and drinks before we came home, I took the girls for dinner and some clothes shopping and we all had a great evening shopping till we dropped. I then took Thiet (Chuyen came with us too) on a separate night for dinner and some clothes shopping but as it rained it was not as successful but left that in Suzanne’s hands. And of course we did not forget Chuyen either, well let’s just say he is now the most handsome boy in Saigon (not that he wasn’t before) and Mung, Truc and I went to their first ever V Music concert (just in case no one knows who V Music are, they are a boy band), the girls and I really enjoyed it and we meet the band after the concert and took lots of pictures. I think even they were surprised to see a westerner there as was the other Vietnamese teenagers. We watched some DVD’s and had lots of chats about life.

As Thiet had his college and university entry exams I also did some English lessons with him to try and prepare him for the exams.

On my second last day Sa and Nhi took me on a sightseeing tour of the temples in Saigon and we had a great afternoon (once the rain stopped) and as I wanted to buy some DVD’s, the girls took me to the shop were they get theirs, so I wouldn’t be ripped off and then we went for some coffee and cake before we came home.

My two weeks when by very fast and all of a sudden it was time to say goodbye but not for long as I would be back in Saigon very soon to do some more painting.

My new family gave me a great sent off and memories I will always treasure including Chuyen’s pictures is has given me. I know in my heart that they will always be safe in Suzanne’s hands and will continue to grow as any child should in today’s world. I have to say without a shadow of a doubt; Suzanne is doing a great job. It is not an easy task and one that not everyone could or would take on. These children have been through so much in all their short lives but with Suzanne’s courage and strength they now have a bright future and she is very much both their mother and friend. I will be back to see them all when I can and I look forward to watching them grow.

For anyone wanting to volunteer at Allambie, all I will say is, what are you waiting for. Vietnam is a beautiful country so enjoy it.

Linda, Phil, Luca & bump (!) from Dublin, Ireland, volunteers in June 2011:

We heard about Suzanne and Allambie, as a result of a purely chance meeting with a friend of Suzanne’s, just as we set out to travel for 6 months through South East Asia. We were so inspired and moved by their incredible story that we contacted Suzanne in the hope that we could volunteer and were delighted when Suzanne asked us to come to Saigon to do so in June 2011.

Despite not having the profile of your “average” or “typical” volunteer(s), if there is such a thing, we (a family of 3; husband, wife & our 3 year old son, Luca, with another little family member by then on the way) soon tuned in to Allambie’s warm home life. The two Mums, Suzanne and I, had a chat on our first meeting to work out a “plan” for our respective families time together but in the course of following three weeks a mutual rhythm and harmony just naturally worked itself out.

Initially I gave English lessons to the two younger children, Chuyen and Mung, while Phil focused on helping out with IT issues. But with two active boys around, who had hit it off instantly, we soon realised that my time would be better spent bringing Chuyen and Luca out on fun activities to expend their (limitless) energies. The two of them truly did become very special pals who transcended language barriers by communicating in the universal language of play (and, being boys, horseplay of course). It was thus that we came to know Chuyen the most of all of the Allambie children.

At eight years of age he’s the youngest. During our chat on that first day Suzanne told me about how he had arrived to her only 6 months before we met him him, from an overrun orphanage, with his 3 siblings, half starved, ridden with scabies and head lice and not even toilet trained. When food was put in front of him he wolfed it down lest it disappeared. We, however, met a very happy-go-lucky, clean, outgoing, polite and toilet trained boy who, thanks to Suzanne, now feels safe and secure, loved and wanted and enjoyed his meals heartily at his leisure.

We got to know the other children better, in particular the oldest girls Nhi and Sa, who we found to be very mature and responsible as well as fun loving, through a little project we all got involved in to create a garden space on Allambie’s rooftop terrace; we all had great fun squelching around in mud and water whilst potting and planting.

On the afternoon of our last day, after a lovely farewell lunch, as we said “Goodbye” to all at Allambie the skies darkened over as if to reflect our mood. A monsoon downpour ensued. But I vowed then that for the rest of our time in Vietnam I wouldn’t be bothered by the rain as I’d simply think of how all of the plants up on that roof terrace were getting great nourishment. As are all of the children who are housed by Suzanne at Allambie; emotionally as well as physically. Everyone in life needs and deserves at least one person to love them and look out for them and that’s exactly what Thiet, Sa, Nhi, Chuyen, Truc and Mung have now in their “Mummy”. We look forward to keeping in touch and to following all of their adventures.

We truly admire Suzanne and what she has had the courage to do and achieve at Allambie.

Timka – Jan/ Feb 2011

I have just finished 2months volunteering at Allambie and I have to say, it’s been fantastic!

I’ve been lucky enough to be the first volunteer to Allambie and have definately had some unforgettable experiences i.e my 25th birthday and Tet (Vietnamese New Year) in the countryside with a Vietnamese family. This was my first time to Vietnam and I was excited, nervous, scared and had no idea what to expect but was welcomed with literally, open arms and a great big smile!

I wanted to celebrate my 25th birthday differently from other years and what better way to do it than to give something back to others and volunteering? The kids are amazing and Suzanne is a truly inspirational person.

I really hope you will seriously consider volunteering at this orphanage and not only will you see the difference you’re making to these children’s lives, you will make friends for life. If you have any questions about accomodation and general costs, please feel free to contact me directly via email
(Suzanne has this) and I can give you an idea on how much to budget for.

Thank you Suzanne, Thiet, Sa, Truc, Mung and Chuyen for allowing me into your home. You will definately have a place in my heart forever and I promise to come back and see you all soon!

Lots of love, Timka x

Sam – May 2011

My time at Allambie has been such a satisfying and humbling experience. Although I only spent two weeks of my trip working with the children I felt such a connection to all of them, and Suzanne, by the end of my stay.

Having had only minimal experience working with children in the past (running a Green Group at my secondary school which encouraged the younger pupils to get involved in environmental awareness activities, and being part of a ‘Buddy Counselling’ scheme for the youngest members of the school community) I was a little apprehensive and unsure about what I could bring to the Allambie dynamic that would be of use. Thankfully, Suzanne was very accommodating and did her utmost to make me feel comfortable from the start.

We went for coffee before meeting the kids to discuss each of our backgrounds and get to know each other a little better, which I feel was important for Suzanne as she had to ensure the kids’ safety and that I would be a suitable volunteer to work with them. Suzanne has a huge heart and a warm spirit, and you see this most when she is interacting with her children. I was invited to dinner on my first visit and felt immediately like I was part of the furniture.

Over dinner we discussed what sort of activities the children wanted to do while I was with them. In my mind I had thought it would be things like taking the children to the swimming pool and simply having fun with them, which we did on my first full day there. I had such a laugh being a ‘big kid’ with them all, and you could see (and hear!) that they were all having a great time. These simple pleasures can mean so much to children who have spent most of their young lives in places that treated them more like statistics than an actual human beings.

Chuyen is a live wire and has so much energy (looking back I think I did too when I was his age). He warmed to me very quickly, wanting to hold my arm in the street when we went out and play fighting with me whenever he got chance (he loves Power Rangers, so I had to sharpen my skills and try my best to not lose). He also loves playing cards, which he is a dab hand at. Just for the record I have to note that, despite being abysmal at the beginning of my stay and losing to Chuyen every time, by the end of the two weeks I managed to win three times in a row! He was not happy!

One of the most interesting lessons I have learnt from Allambie is that you don’t have to be a ‘crazy’ or ‘wild’ person with boundless energy and enthusiasm to bring something positive and beneficial to these children, or any others in similar situations. What they need the most is love – someone gentle who can make them feel comfortable enough to be themselves while showing them kindness and attention. Making fun of myself in front of the children proved a good way to break the ice and allowed them to open up to me more freely. But in the quieter moments – especially with Truc and Thiet who are naturally more reserved and shy – it was a case of developing trust, letting them know that they didn’t have to be involved in anything they didn’t want to and respecting their emotional boundaries.

These children have had so much to deal with in the past it is understandable that they may sometimes be wary of strangers, especially foreigners. I was so grateful that they all allowed me into their lives inch by inch, day by day, so that I could see them in a more honest light. Each one of them has a pure heart and the potential to become successful, well-rounded individuals. With the tender love and support of their ‘Mum’, Suzanne, they are in safe hands and, I believe, in the best possible place to learn and grow. I will not forget Allambie, and would love to return at some point to catch up with the kids and Suzanne once again. I wish them all the love, health and happiness in the world.

Sam Bradwell

Cora – May-June 2011

When we hear the word ‘orphanage’ a lot of images come to mind, many of them not too pleasant, but as I walked through the gates of Allambie for the first time, I knew this way outside of those pre- conceived notions. Everyone was at the table with loads of great-smelling nutritious food, kids of all ages chatting, eating, joking around, and Suzanne at the head, gently managing what for many would be unmanageable. After the meal, clean-up was quick, efficient and thorough. Everyone has a place and role here. I worked with Nhi on her English lessons on Saturdays and I was impressed every time I came to Allambie by the way Suzanne encourages the children there to be their best, to learn about love and family not by talking about it, but by doing it. It seems like a little miracle that this place came together by sheer force of love, and I hope that it can get stronger and bigger so that more kids can have the chance to thrive as a part of the big Allambie family!

Cora Higgins, Boston, USA