Saturday, March 31, 2012

Community Service; The last one

Week Eleven
Community Service Journal

    This Monday was our last visit to the Loving House.  I felt the paradox of holding both joy and sadness during our time there.  The ladies were still sleeping when we arrived so we went and picked mulberries for about half an hour.   I was focusing on being present in the moment which made the task of picking berries a delight.  We also took a few pictures.  When our friends began to wake up they came out wearing sweaters and scarves.  Some of the nuns were helping to get the scarves just right so everybody would be warm.  Since we had our cameras some of the ladies wanted their pictures taken.  Since you can see the end result right away, they were fascinated with all the pictures we had in our cameras, particularly the ones of themselves.  Picking berries, sharing pictures, and bringing a little happiness into the lives of our friends at the Loving House.  I will miss them.

     Tuesday at the Agent Orange group home was construction equipment day.  We had coloring pages of bulldozers, cement trucks, backhoes, and the like.  We were hardly in the door when the kids started grabbing for the pages.  The cement trucks were very popular.  This seemed to be a theme that every kid there understood and loved.  The energy felt closer to what we usually see there.  Toward the end two of the boys were hitting each other and we had to break them up.  We still are not sure what it was about but they were not happy with each other.  Victor brought some sheets of stickers along and after an hour of coloring we handed those out.  We soon realized that the pages and the stickers were not enough.  I resorted back to handing out pieces of colored paper which were used for various things.  We colored, stuck stickers on, unstuck and re-glued stickers and had fun folding or coloring on colored paper, a typical day at the AO group home.

     Ryan accompanied us on our Agent Orange home visits this week.  Ryan is on the faculty at the University of Las Vegas and is looking at sending students to SUNY Brockport’s Viet Nam program.  Our first visit was to the family of a nine month old boy in need of surgery for a lung problem he has had since birth.  The doctors are waiting until he gains more weight so the surgery will be safer.  They are also advising the family to go to Ho Chi Minh City for the surgery because of more up to date facilities.  My hope is that all goes well for him and his family.  Our second visit was to the home of a nine year old boy and his family.  The boy appears to be autistic; he also has an awesome smile.  He is the youngest in the family and the other children are fine.  The family is farmers and they seem to be just getting by.  They live way out in the Hoa Vang District where the country is beautiful.

     In Tuesday’s English class our topic question was, “What did you do as a young girl/boy that was the most fun.”  Wow!  They recounted stories from when they were five years old all the way to their favorite high school teacher.  What these young people revealed to me, and each other, really speaks to me about how we are alike despite our cultural differences.  Every story I heard reminded me of something from my own life.  This also reminds me that people everywhere like to talk childhood memories.  It was a successful topic because they did most of the talking.
     On Thursday we had a small turn out in both classes.  We remembered that it is Da Nang’s Liberation Day so we combined classes.  When we asked how they celebrate this special occasion they looked at us like we were crazy.  So we made scenarios for them to stand up in teams of three and act out in English.  They seemed to enjoy it after they got going.

     When I think about summarizing these three months of community service the first thing that comes up for me is that all of these people shared a small piece of their lives with us.   At the Loving House the energy was always calm, grounded, and…loving.  My feeling is joy and sadness; joy because we were honored to provide a little bit of human touch, sadness because I will miss these grand elder women and their funny quirky ways.  The paradox of the Agent Orange group home is that we were doing the same thing in a different way.  The energy was different and yet our service was the same, touching lives.  These kids are not shy about touching, hugging, or pulling on clothes when they want attention.  Our job was to simply show up and be totally present in the moment.  We focused on coloring and craft activities and they took whatever we brought, had fun, and made connections with us.  The home visits we did provided crystal clarity about all of the “things” we Americans have.  The message I choose to take from this is that I can give what, in America is considered a small amount of money that could make a difference whether or not someone in Viet Nam eats.  Making a difference is a good thing.  The English classes at the Friendship union; many evenings I asked myself the question, “who is teaching who?”  I would show up with discussion topics the specific purpose of which was to get them talking.  With the things they said, they reveled to me, themselves, their family, their village, and their country.  I have been referring to Viet Nam as “paradox in paradise” and the English class showed me the paradox of being a student while being a teacher.  The reality is that every aspect of community service brings out the contrast of paradox.  When I ask myself the question, “what do I do with all of this?”  The answer I get is that maybe I need to just “be” with it and let it take me where it will. 
     If you want to help this program in a huge way; pull out your passport and sign up to study abroad in Viet Nam!  Hey if I did it you can do it.  There are even scholarships for study abroad programs.  Email the director  he will make sure you get here!  Okay okay so if you want to be of help and cannot come to Viet Nam you can contribute to the fund we are direct aid volunteers for...    When I think of spending $60 or $70 on one fancy dinner with Bernie I can also send that amount here and feed many people for a month.  Things that make ya say hmmmmm.
Viet Nam, where inconceivable paradox is an every day way of life.
Tiep theo ky nghi tham dep Viet Nam.
Next vacation visit beautiful Viet Nam.
Hen gap lai


  1. Jim, you will definitely not come back the same person as you left. I hope I can be among those that WELCOME HOME this American Service Man.

  2. What a journey you have had. I know this trip will have a lasting effect on your life and what you do with it from now on. It's good to know you, my friend.