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