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.