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.