“I was found by a local policeman. He carried me to an orphanage in Saigon called Hoi Duc-Anh where I was given the name Thi Hien and my birth date of 26th March 1969. My journey had begun.
Vietnam was in turmoil; the Vietnam War had been raging since 1965 and had become worldwide news. Initially, the French were heavily involved, and then the Americans joined in as well. There were many causalities. Many had lost their lives, others limbs and others would never be the same mentality again; however, there were other causalities, the children who were placed in orphanages or found wandering in the street.
Vietnam was a dusty, dirty and poor country but for those of us placed in the orphanage, this was our only hope of survival. The orphanages were of course over crowded, food was in short supply and resources were hard to find. The nurses were under staffed and in constant fear of being bombed – which did not help.
Most of the nurses in the orphanages were Vietnamese who, of course, had families and their own opinions of the war. Many of the nurses did not agree with the American intervention. Unfortunately, some of the orphans were the product of these Americans and were easy to spot. They were of mixed race and more often than not, were the last to receive treatment and food. I was one of those children; my mum was Vietnamese and my dad a black American.
As the war raged on with no sign of letting up, in England a group of Christians in Leamington Spa had formed an association called Project Vietnam Orphans (PVO). They had recruited nurses who were willing to fly out to Vietnam to offer help and support to the Vietnamese nurses in the orphanages. Amongst those nurses were Rosemary Taylor, Margaret Routh, Sue Spencer, Wendy Goodship, Anne McCrudden and Judy Swerad. These women were to become my saviours.
When the nurses arrived, they were shocked to see the condition of the children and the orphanage. They soon realised that the mixed race children, in particular, were very under nourished. Word was soon sent back to England about the orphanage and about the amount of children that needed homes. Many couples responded by coming forward to help and many offered homes. Those of us who were adopted where then moved to a safe house and looked after on a more one to one base this house was called Allambie. I was one of those lucky children and flew to England in 1972. I had bowed legs and a big tummy due to malnutrition.
35 years later, in 2007 I went back to Saigon (my legs had straightened, still got a bit of tummy but that’s because I like my food!) to teach English to orphaned children. The fact that I’m severely dyslexic and I had to do a TELF course first (in Saigon) was a small detail. The year I spent in Saigon 2007 was one the best years of my life.
I got to know the children in the orphanage very well and we had a special connection, as they had never met another Vietnamese orphan who had returned to Saigon. I would take the children swimming every weekend to the local pool and bought them all brand new swimming costumes. When I first took them some of the children were scared of the water but a year later I couldn’t get them out of the pool. I also got them to write letters to Santa clauses and they each asked for a present and I went and bought every single present wrapped them up and we had a big Christmas party which was magical. We also all went to the beach and had great time eating, swimming and playing games. I made some wonderfully friends and had some amazing experiences. Some good some bad, I had my up and downs. There times when I was really homesick, tired and ill but I kept going and it was worth it.
Before I went to live in Saigon I never really talked about my past unless asked and then I would rush through it, I never used my Vietnamese name and to honest was never comfortable saying I was Vietnamese. But by the end of 2007 all that changed and I for the first time in my life I started to use my Vietnamese name and was proud to say I was Vietnamese.
When I arrived back in England at the end of 2007, I found it hard to settle back down. The kids were never far from my mind and I would go back each year and visit them. I got to know one girl called Sa, she wasn’t going to school and had dream to one day be a Tour Guide, but she was sad and wanted to kill herself, she thought her life wasn’t worth living, because she wasn’t getting an education and that her dream would never happen.
In 2010 I finally decided to follow my heart and I wanted to help Sa make her dream come true and so I decided to open up that orphanage and to make Sa’s dream become a reality.
In 2010 I sold my house to fund the orphanage and committed the rest of my life to this project.
I am a qualified chef by trade and worked my up from trainee to Head Chef. I worked as a chef for 13 years and then decided to go back to school and did a business degree. I then spent 2 years in recruitment as a recruitment consultant in the financial sector which I enjoyed but I gave it up to nurse my adopted mother who died of breast cancer.
I then went and re-trained again but in the beauty industry and opened up my nail business, which I ran for 8 years.
In 2010 I arrived in Vietnam with just a suitcase and vision in my head. The first year of setting up Allambie by myself was hard, stressful and challenging. My work is voluntary and I do not take a wage.
Allambie Orphanage is a home were the children are loved, helped, encouraged and cared for in a strong family environment.
“The long term project is to educate the children to such a level that we can then get them into apprenticeships with company’s in different industries and get them jobs and roof over their head where they will then be able to become independent. Also if their grades are good enough get them into College or university.
There are still many children that need help in Vietnam and if Allambie can look after 8-10 children well and give them the skills to live there own lives later then all the hard work, sweat and tears will be worth it.
Registered Charity Number: 1137521