Thursday, February 9, 2012

Community service, week five

     I had the sense that Monday’s visit to the Loving House nursing home was special for the residents.  While the women were being assembled, Victor and I talked with a young man who lives and works at Loving House and goes to a vocational technical school in Da Nang.   He is one of the Ba Na people from Gia Lai in the central highlands.  His family are farmers and he plans to be an auto mechanic.  This young man speaks three languages, his native Ba Na, tieng Viet, and fair English.  I wish I could speak tieng Viet as well as he does English.
     When the residents were ready, Victor and I were called to join them.  We handed out envelopes of lucky money in the tradition of Tet and the women sang us a song.  I like the way this place feels and Loving House describes it very well.  A few of the women were very eager for us to get to work.  Our task was trimming and painting fingernails and toenails.  The women thoroughly enjoy this service and I have to say, so do I.  Our “clients” are funny as they tell us how we should be trimming their nails or picking out the proper color for fingernails versus toenails.  They compare what Victor and I are doing by saying “Oh her nails are more beautiful than mine.”  All of this of course is in Vietnamese with Victor understanding some and me just getting the body language and tones of voice.  It breaks up the day for these ladies and I am glad to be a source of amusement and entertainment for them.  There is something about going to this place and being of service in this way that is humbling and gratifying.
     Although still being of service, the Agent Orange group home is a very different energy.  In future visits we have the task of designing crafts and activities for the children there.  On Tuesday we relied on the available materials and spent the time coloring with the whole group.  While this sounds simple, the reality is there are about 25 kids and just Victor and I.  Needless to say our attention is called for in many directions. 
     Since I started getting tattoos at age 50 I never imagined the stir they might cause.  When the kids discovered I could draw, several wanted me to draw a copy of my tattoos for them to color.  Some wanted me to reproduce the tattoo on their skin.  The artists who inked me did a much better job than I did.  The kids however did not seem to care as long as it was a close representation.  They are great kids, have a lot of energy and are always happy to see us and Nga.  The men’s trainings I have staffed have taught me a very useful lesson here that plays over and over in my head; this is not about me, it is about them.
     On Thursday our Agent Orange home visits included a young man of 17 who has cerebral palsy (CP) and the family of a boy five years old who was born with his eyes completely covered by skin.  We visited the young man with CP at the clinic.  He has to go there often and fortunately for the family his mother works there.  He got physical therapy when he was younger and has now told his parents he does not want it.  We left some drink boxes of milk and a donation for the family.
     Our second visit was with the five year old boy.  He has had some surgery and now has the use of one eye.  He is a typical child in that with strangers in the house he stayed right with mom.  He will have more surgery and will be able to wear glasses when he is 18.  He was also born with no rectal opening and has had surgery there as well.  He has already asked his mom why he is different.  He does not like people to look at him.
     I feel helpless when I see the situation of life for these people.  Once again I am grateful for this program, the Quang Nam fund, and the Friendship Union for the guidance they provide in helping families like these.   
     English class on Tuesday was very interesting from my prospective.  Last week a student suggested the topic of “Comparing Cultures around the World.”  Once the class momentum took hold the things they really wanted to discuss became clear.  They wanted to talk about differences between eastern and western cultures.  I took the other tactic which was how both cultures are alike.  It was a very satisfying evening for me and I think they enjoyed it as well.
The main thing is always bringing up things to get them talking in English.  I am amazed by their talent and my hearing issues have become a tool for how to get them to say something using different words.  The stop for ice cream afterwards was great fun especially when they start asking about ASL (American Sign Language) signs for words.
     Thursday’s English class was a discussion about hobbies.  We went around the room and each person shared with the class about what they like to do in their free time.  All of these things were listed on the board so people could see the variety and similarity of interests.  Then since there was a lot of private chatter I had them share more detail in groups of four.  It was a lively discussion and everyone wanted to know what my interests were as well.  On Tuesday we will discuss Valentine’s Day so tune in next week for what will be a fun topic.  For the men remember; she wants flowers and chocolate!  
     The above entry is my journal for week five of our stay here.  As I enter my community service journal here I will continue to include the website of the Da Nang Quang Nam Fund.  This is a NGO (Non Government Organization) which works in conjunction with the Brockport Viet Nam Program and the Da Nang Union of Friendship Orgaizations.  Together these organizations provide direct aid to families in need/victims of Agent Orange.  I know, I have handed the donations to the mothers myself as well as contributing to the fund.  Twenty-five dollars goes a long ways in Viet Nam.  If you choose to help contact   Bernie will be arriving next week, you could also send a donation with her which will go into the fund in your name.  Thank you for listening and remember this is paradox in paradise soooooo next vacation visit beautiful Viet Nam.
Xin Chao

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