My name is Sarah but friends call me Duckie. For years I was interested in volunteering. So when I found out my family were having an overseas holiday in Vietnam, I was overjoyed at the opportunity to finally volunteer.

I visited the Can Tho orphanages for only two days. But this experience was incredibly authentic and touching. I wish I could have stayed much longer. I would recommend volunteering with Friends of Vietnam Orphanages to anybody who wishes to directly contribute to a very worthwhile cause. The fact that you can directly see the impact Peter’s work is having on these communities is incredibly humbling. Having seen that every dollar donated goes directly to the children, I plan to do some fundraising of my own for Friends of Vietnam Orphanages in the near future.duckiecollage

For Ducky’s full journal entry, click here.



I just wanted to email to share with you my time at the Shelter. Unfortunately I was only able to do one day due to the Tet holidays and celebrations.  I would like to thank your interpreter Duong for taking me there and introducing me to the people there. I really appreciated that.

Even though it was only one day, it was a quite an experience. Even upon meeting them for the first time the kids were very interested and wanted my attention. Their enthusiasm and smiles were very bright. It was amazing how positive and happy they are despite their situation. It was good to see kids treated so well and so well behaved. They were very respectful. I mainly played with them, going from child to child and to the park with some.

Attached I have a photo of kids braiding my hair. It got braided 10 or so times! And I probably lost a lot of hair but it was worth it. Also I took a photo of the children watching a movie. I didn’t take photos while playing, because I wanted to enjoy the moment.

These kids are amazing and I am so happy to see that they have the support they deserve. Thank you for giving me the information to help make this happen. I look forward to future volunteer opportunities. I will let you know when I go to Vietnam again.

Regards, Mary


Hi, my name is Audrey and I am from Los Angeles, California. This August, my family and I went to Vietnam and we visited several orphanages. We distributed care packages that included school supplies, and we also donated bags of rice. The first we visited was Thien An Orphanage in Can Tho, then Vinh Phuoc An Tu Orphanage in Bac Lieu and Buddhist Temple Orphanage in Bac Lieu…
Read more of Audrey’s story here.
Bought a few street spring rolls and ate in the taxi on the way to visit a girls-home/orphanage that “Friends of Vietnam Orphanages Inc” has committed to support for 3 years in Quan Binh Thanh (    The meeting went very well.  I was able to talk to everyone around. Could only talk to Hieu (the acid burnt victim that has been going through a full face reconstruction) via phone and will try to to see her before I leave Saigon.  I had a good chat to the managing Nun and found more information on her projects and vision. Spent about 3 hours there and listened to everyone’s story and their dreams… The vibe I got there was a loving and happy home for these girls/ladies.  Everyone was in the room and the discussions were open, friendly and lots of laughter. Few of them joked and offered to be my adopted daughters or daughter-in-laws. Will try to help them more… Particularly Hang (the deaf-mute bright young lady that has potentials)… There were interests and I believe there was a need for their development. I offered to buy them a guitar and an electric piano. But the offer was refused by the managing Nun due to some fears of “time-wasting” activities for the residents. Let’s respect her decision fully.
Bought some take-away food on the side of the road on the way back and had dinner in the hotel near mid-night… More busy activities coming up…





On behalf of Tern Group, I wish to thank Friends of Vietnam Orphanages Inc for financially assisting our education work in villages. I am writing to tell you about our group and how you can get involved.

How we started.

In 2011 my friend (Tú) and I (Dương) started volunteering for the Buddhist monastery at Loc Ninh (Bình Phước) to teach the poorest children of a Mekong Delta village. We were running the mid-autumn holiday program activities in October 2012, when we got the idea to start a charity group. We are both uni students.

We named our group “Chim Thiên Di” (Tern Group). The Tern is a seabird that migrates from the South to North Pole without resting during its journey to find a warm place. We picked this name because we want this group’s activities to be a substantial and enduring journey to help and join with the poorest people. We mainly provide assistance to kids. But we also want to experience memorable moments with these kids.


We began fundraising from family and friends. Our main donor is Nhu, a small business owner and Tu’s sister. Other supporters are fellow students who have now graduated with employment and who help in our projects. Since setting up our Facebook page, the group has drawn participation of over 40 people, mostly uni students or recent graduates around HCM City.


Overcoming shyness initially, our group members have quickly integrated and coordinated with each other in regular activities, sharing knowledge and warm human values with children in remote areas through providing school supplies, books, clothes, snacks; running lantern-making and story-telling competitions. A lot of our work is “gift giving” at special times, such as the Lunar New Year Tết festival, is to improve literacy and encourage school study.


Our long-term goal is to encourage poor families to focus on the role of education for their children. This is the way to help them have access to knowledge and step by step improve their lives towards a better future. We have now started to provide tuition and help with school supplies to encourage children in difficult circumstances to return to school. We give gifts to praise good students, to motivate poor families to keep sending their children to school.


So far, we have done work in remote villages (Lộc Khánh village in Bình Phước province and Đại Thành village, Ngã Bảy, Hậu Giang province) and among the urban poor in HCM City.

Completed projects.

“Love Trip” (Sept 2012). Organizing Mid-Autumn festival with gifts, dental care, check-up, haircuts for 300 children of Soc Lon Pagoda, Khanh Loc Commune, Loc Ninh District, Binh Phuoc Province.

“Warm Heart” (Dec 2012). Giving gifts to over 300 homeless who currently survive in HCM City by shining shoes, collecting bottles, selling lottery tickets in Districts 4, 10 and Binh Thanh.

“Green Shoots” (June 2013). Encouraging over 50 children who have difficult situations to keep going to school in Ba Ngan village, Nga Bay, Hau Giang Province.

Village Library (May 2014). Our small library provides good books to enhance kids’ reading habits as well as learning. We pay a retainer to a local woman to run the library from day to day. The village library was implemented at Dai Thanh, Nga Bay Town, Hau Giang. We hope to extend soon to other areas.



Ra đời từ năm 2012 với ý tưởng tổ chức chương trình trung thu cho các em tại Lộc Nin (Bình Phước), tham gia giảng dạy cho các chú tiểu tại chùa Sóc Lớn (Bình Phước), hai bạn trẻ yêu thiện nguyện là Tú và Dương đã tìm thấy được niềm vui và ý nghĩa cuộc sống của chính mình từ việc làm trên.  Từ đó, chúng tôi đã cùng nhau lập nhóm Chim Thiên Di với phương châm: Mang đến cho các em nhỏ kém may mắn những phần quà bổ ích vào các dịp đặc biệt trong năm (Tết trung thu, Lễ Giáng sinh, Tết Nguyên Đán, Nghỉ hè), và cùng các em trải qua khoảnh khắc đáng nhớ ấy.

Nhờ tính chất kết nối và lan tỏa của mạng xã hội (Facebook), tính đến thời điểm này, nhóm Chim Thiên Di đã kêu gọi sự tham gia của hơn 10 thành viên thường trực và 30 thành viên thường trực đến từ nhiều nơi khác nhau trên khắp TPHCM, chủ yếu là  những người trẻ mới ra trường, đang đi làm. Vượt qua sự ngại ngùng ban đầu, các bạn trong nhóm Chim Thiên Di đã nhanh chóng hòa nhập và phối hợp với nhau trong các hoạt động thường kỳ, chia sẻ kiến thức và những giá trị nhân văn ấm áp đến với các em nhỏ ở vùng sâu vùng xa qua các hoạt động: tặng dụng cụ học tập, sách vở, quần áo, quà bánh; văn nghệ, thi làm lồng đèn, thi kể chuyện,…

Mục tiêu lâu dài của Chim Thiên Di là vận động gia đình của những trẻ em nghèo chú trọng đến vai trò của giáo dục đối với các em, coi đây là phương cách giúp các em có cơ hội tiếp cận với tri thức và từng bước cải thiện cuộc sống, hướng tới một tương lai tươi đẹp hơn. Nhóm đã bắt đầu hoạt động theo sứ mệnh này từ tháng 7/2014 với việc hỗ trợ học phí và các dụng cụ học tập cần thiết cho một em nhỏ đã bỏ học vì hoàn cảnh gia đình khó khăn được trở lại trường.  Bên cạnh đó, Nhóm  cũng tổ chức tặng quà cho những em có thành tích học tập tốt nhằm khuyến khích các em tiếp tục cố gắng trong việc học.


Một số chương trình tiêu biểu của nhóm:

Love Trip 29/9/2012 – 30/9/2012

Tổ chức ngày hội Trung thu 2012, tặng quà, thăm khám sức khỏe, chăm sóc răng miệng, cắt tóc cho 300 em chùa Sóc Lớn, xã Lộc Khánh, huyện Lộc Ninh, Bình Phước

Warm Heart 22/12 & 23/12/2013

Tặng quà cho hơn 500 em nhỏ lang thang cơ nhỡ, đang mưu sinh hàng ngày bằng việc đánh giày dạo, lượm ve chai, bán vé số tại khu vực Q3, Bình Thạnh. Q10, Q4 tại khu vực TPHCM

Mầm xanh 29/6 & 30/6/2013

Vận động hơn 50 em có hoàn cảnh khó khăn đến trường, tại Ấp Ba Ngàn, xã Đại Thành, Tx Ngã Bảy, tỉnh Hậu Giang

Vui Tết 2014

Tặng quà khuyến khích các em học sinh khá giỏi, tiếp tục vận động các gia đình có hoàn cảnh đặc biệt khó khăn cho con em đến trường tại Ấp Ba Ngàn, xã Đại Thành, Tx Ngã Bảy, tỉnh Hậu Giang

Đặc biệt, từ 5/5/2014 đến 10/8/2014, nhóm Chim Thiên Di phát động dự án TỦ SÁCH CỘNG ĐỒNG để mang đến cho các em nhiều cuốn sách hay và giá trị, nâng cao thói quen đọc sách và động viên các em không ngừng tìm hiểu kiến thức, tri thức nhân loại thông qua các trang sách.

Dự án đã triển khai tại xã Đại Thành, Thị xã Ngã Bảy, Hậu Giang và sau đó sẽ tiếp tục lan tỏa ra các khu vực khác.

Nhóm Chim Thiên Di



Sometimes the smallest communities “punch well above their weight” and achieve the greatest results.

I am writing to thank the Vietnamese Language School in Canberra for running a food stall for this charity. The stall was held at the Belconnen Community Arts Centre annual winter market.

The school raised a substantial sum of money.

Everywhere I travel, I am inspired by the Vietnamese people of good heart. I find them generous, honest, hard-working and life-loving.

People from the Language School worked till midnight preparing food. Next day they cooked outside in freezing cold weather: winter wind, rain and a temperature of only 5 deg C.

At the stall I met people like Hien (“Gentle”) and Tuan (“Clever”). They embody some qualities of the Language School: gentle and clever.

I can report to the Board of this small charity (Hung, Loan, Tiep and Long) that we can be very proud of the Language School.

This fundraising is a big help to us. Because fundraising is NOT the core activity of this charity. The core activity is to: maximise efficiency; to use every donated dollar to help the Vietnamese poor; and to make every dollar count.

So, over the following 6 months, I will honour this donation by reporting back to Canberra’s Vietnamese Community how every donated dollar has been spent.

Attached are photos. They show how the Language school members can work hard, give generously, and still have a good time!

Talk soon,

Peter Kabaila



Đôi khi các cộng đồng nhỏ “chỉ với tấm lòng đầy nhiệt huyết” đã đạt được kết quả rất đáng khích lệ.

Tôi viết thư này để cảm ơn các bạn tại trường Tiếng Việt Canberra đã làm một gian hàng thực phẩm cho tổ chức từ thiện này. Gian hàng được tổ chức tại trung tâm nghệ thuật cộng đồng Belconnen vào mùa đông hàng năm.

Trường đã lạc quyên được một số tiền đáng kể

Ở khắp mọi nơi tôi đi, người Việt Nam đã cho tôi nhiều cảm hứng bởi tấm lòng nhân hậu. Tôi thấy họ hào phóng, trung thực, chăm chỉ làm việc và rất lạc quan.

Mọi người ở Trường Ngôn ngữ làm việc đến nửa đêm để chuẩn bị thức ăn. Ngày hôm sau họ phải nấu bên ngoài trong thời tiết mùa đông giá lạnh với gió, mưa và nhiệt độ chỉ 5 deg C.

Tại gian hàng tôi đã gặp những người như Hiền (“nhẹ nhàng”) và Tuấn (“Thông minh”). Họ thể hiện một số phẩm chất của Trường Ngôn ngữ: nhẹ nhàng và thông minh.

Tôi sẽ báo cáo với Hội đồng quản trị của tổ chức từ thiện nhỏ này (Hưng, Loan, Tiệp và Long) mà mọi người có thể sẽ rất tự hào về trường ngôn ngữ này.

Cuộc gây quỹ này là một trợ giúp lớn cho chúng tôi. Bởi vì các hoạt động cốt lõi của tổ chức từ thiện là không vụ lợi,mà là: tối đa hóa hiệu quả sử dụng của mỗi đồng đô la quyên góp để giúp đỡ người nghèo ở Việt Nam; và mỗi một đồng đô la.sẽ được sử dụng hợp lý nhất.

Vì vậy, trong 6 tháng tiếp theo, tôi sẽ tôn trọng bằng cách báo cáo lại cho cộng đồng người Việt ở Canberra về cách sử dụng số tiền này

Đính kèm là hình ảnh,cho thấy các thành viên ở trường ngôn ngữ làm việc cực nhọc, thật hào phóng mà vẫn rất vui vẻ.

Hẹn gặp lại
Peter Kabaila



My name is Megan Porzio and I live in Perth, Western Australia. I’m 19 years old. At the end of January I returned from a volunteer trip where I worked 3 weeks in Bo De Pagoda orphanage in Hanoi which contains 150 children. This orphanage does not currently have a relationship with Friends of Vietnam Orphanages. I want help to improve the orphanage. I am concerned about children in the disabled room and untrained carers. I saw money brought by visitors and volunteers to the orphanage which did not seem to stay at the orphanage, but was re-directed to building the pagoda next door.

Cerebral palsy children

There are four kids with cerebral palsy. They receive no medical attention. Two have severe cerebral palsy and lie on their backs all day if volunteers are not visiting. One cerebral palsy girl is very difficult to feed. The house mother lays her on her back and pours milk into her mouth whilst she is crying and choking. She won’t even get half of the bottle down. If she does not swallow, she gets hit in the face until she does.

The other severely affected cerebral palsy child is a boy. He does suckle on his bottle and gets a decent amount of milk each feed. Both of them are around 6 years old, but have a pure milk diet. They are malnourished and wasting away. When they need to be changed the house mother is extremely reckless with them. Their arms and legs are extremely stiff and unless you massage them to loosen them they will only become stiffer. She pulls at their limbs forcing them straight causing a large amount of pain for the child whilst she is putting new clothes on and as she is doing this she is yelling at them. She is often very careless and smacks their heads against the metal cots when taking them out or putting them in. This happens even when she is changing them.

The other little girl with cerebral palsy functions a lot better. She doesn’t get as much food as the other kids because she struggles to chew and swallow. She cannot walk on her own but can sit up. She has seizures. When I saw these seizures she was sitting on the bed with a metal frame and a grass mat, no mattress. She suddenly fell to the side and hit her head on the bed very hard. This happened twice within an hour. As a result she had two large bumps on her forehead. She should have received medical treatment.

The fourth child with cerebral palsy is the only baby in the room. He’s about 1 year old but hasn’t even got teeth yet. He is also only on a milk diet which he is forced to drink laying on his back as well, with the bottle wedged up with a blanket causing him to choke and take in a lot of air. None of the babies in the orphanage get burped after being fed.

Girls with walking disability

There are two girls in the disabled room that are functioning very normally apart from their legs. One girl has a shorter right leg and the other girl is thought to be a victim of Agent Orange. She is missing the bottom half of her right leg. Both girls are intelligent but receive no education because of their disability.

Down syndrome girls

There are another two girls aged 7 and 8 years old who have Down syndrome. They are very high functioning and are also receiving no education. ‘Daisy’ is an 8-year old. She became very strange in the last week that we were there. Every time she needed to go to the toilet she would curl up in a ball start crying and pushing on her stomach. It was extremely difficult to get her to go to the toilet as she refused to walk. Once she was on the toilet she went fine and was happy after that. I suggested to one of the coordinators of another volunteer agency that she may be constipated or have a urinary tract infection. She then informed me that she is concerned about sexual abuse, as they have had previous concerns regarding this. This is extremely alarming especially because homeless people live directly above these orphans. The doors to the orphans’ bedrooms don’t have locks or even handles. These children are not in a secure and safe environment and are left being extremely vulnerable, as they cannot speak up for themselves.

Happy girl

The last child in the disabled room that I will write to you about is known as ‘Happy girl’. She is blind and often sits by herself or spins around in her own little world. I witnessed one of the mothers be very cruel towards this little girl one morning that I was there. I was unsure about what she did wrong as I could not understand the mother. She was yelling and hitting this little girl in the head extremely hard, making her cower in the corner, crying and screaming. The mother had boxed her in. She sat on the bed continuing to yell and then hit the girl in the head. As she is blind she couldn’t anticipate whether she was going to get hit so she was trying to cover her face with her hands. The louder she screamed, the more she got hit. The mothers have instilled fear amongst these kids to the point where they will do anything that they are told because they are that scared. As soon as that particular house mother starts yelling, every child freezes and the male with severe cerebral palsy begins to cry.

House mothers

House mothers are untrained in the work of disability care. They are mostly given shelter from the street. They are former prostitutes or drug addicts who are given food and a bed in exchange for living in the orphanage and looking after the children.

House mothers expose the children in the disabled room to fear and hardship. Disabled children are seen as a burden.

Volunteers and visitors often donate items such as toys and baby wipes. House mothers sometimes steal these items to resell them for profit at the market.

The number of house mothers in each room should be increased. House mothers are overloaded with work. It is impossible for them to provide specific care to each child. These mothers also need to be educated about the children with disabilities and for the other children, the mothers need to be educated about the dangers of feeding babies as young as 5 days old on their backs, etc. House mothers were previously homeless or victims of prostitution. So giving them a job and a roof over their heads is a great intervention. But if they don’t have the passion to look after these children, is this so great? Some of these mothers resent the children. Something needs to change and it needs to change soon.

General state of the children

Kids in the disabled room have no mattresses or pillows, only a blanket. They basically sleep on metal frames. There are two house mothers in the room. One of them has two layers of mattresses on her bed.

There have been sightings of rats running around in the toddler room. This increases my concern about hygiene in the orphanage.

The kid’s teeth, especially in the disabled room, have not been looked after and they are all rotting. Their nails never get cut so they are constantly scratching their scabies and making it a lot worse.

Children have nothing to keep them occupied. They only have concrete to play on, no sand and no grass. The playground that is put in place is used as a washing line and often the kids get yelled at if they leave their room. The orphanage and the rooms are extremely small.

These children need better facilities and hygiene standards. Toddlers go into the kindergarten on a day-to-day basis. But education needs to be more readily available for children in the disabled room who are capable of learning.

In the disabled room and other rooms a few of the kids had lice or scabies. A boy from the toddler room was receiving treatment, but children in the disabled room were not receiving treatment. A lot of the kids also had very bad colds or lung infections.

The future of these kids is extremely bleak at the moment. Without education and a good health care system they will be stuck in that orphanage for the rest of their lives, as adoption is extremely difficult. There are currently approximately 150 children in the orphanage and that number is only going to increase. When these kids reach 18 years old what is going to happen to them? Are they just going to become homeless as well? You can’t send them to school because they have no basic education. It is a poverty cycle.

The orphanage as a business

The orphanage is run on a business model. Government does not fund it. But next to the orphanage is a huge temple under construction. This is an extremely expensive project. I cannot understand why the orphanage is a concrete box needing immense improvement, but there is a lot of money is going into the temple, paying for hand-crafted wood and gold Buddhas. I find this hypocritical.

How we can improve the orphanage: What volunteers and donors can do to help.

People with experience of caring for cerebral palsy children would be very useful. With the help of an interpreter they could instruct the house mothers how to care for the disabled. People with nursing experience could instruct on safe feeding techniques. Volunteers with teaching experience could use an interpreter to provide literacy training and sex education. Volunteers with building knowledge could help devise and pay for a functioning security system to reduce access by unauthorised people. Any volunteers working though interpreters could design an assistance project and then fund it through friends or charities.

  • Brush teeth (toothbursh provided by volunteers themselves). Best to do this outside as the mothers don’t like mess.
  • Teach English.
  • Sing nursery rhymes.
  • Promote hygiene e.g (washing hands after toilet).
  • Give regular sips of water using spoon and cup to all orphans in room, some can drink out the cup others need it to be spooned in their mouths.
  • Bring healthy foods (fruit & yogurt) rather than unhealthy foods as they get a lot of this.
  • Change nappies.
  • Wipe faces.
  • Change dirty or wet clothes.
  • Clip nails (nail clipper provided by volunteers themselves.)
  • Take them outside on the playground or into kindergarten.
  • Moisturise the kids with dry skin (moisturiser provided by volunteers themselves). Best to use fragrance/chemical free moisturiser to avoid skin allergies.
  • Help with sweeping and mopping of floors.
  • Balloons, bubbles, puzzles, drawing, beading, play dough and dance/sing with the kids.
  • If you have any concerns about any of the kids there is a western doctor that visits in the afternoon that you can go and see.
  • If the child has cerebral palsy massage their muscles and sit them up as much as you can. Also move their joints.
  • The ones that can walk but need assistance, do this as much as possible to build up their muscle. Also practice sitting down and standing up with them.
  • Help feed  the children and when you do, sit them up and then burp them to show the mothers that this should be how they do it as well.
  • If the children have scabies feel free to go to the chemist and buy scabies cream (need translator), it is very cheap and works well. I have seen only one mother treat one girl who had scabies with Betadine. I am not sure how well this works but if you do see that some are being treated then don’t mix the treatments with the scabies cream as well.

Are you up to the challenge?

– Megan, volunteer



Just wanted to let you know that we are back from the orphanage. Such an eye opening experience for both staff and students. We were so well received by the sisters and the children and deeply touched by all of them and their stories.

Our students saw that there was a need for those children who spent all day lying on their backs on pallets in one of the rooms near the kitchen/dining room area. If we had more time, we would have loved to paint the room. Instead, my girls went to work and scrubbed the walls down in that room, then they went to the market and shopped for stickers/toys to put around the room.

In the end, the girls made 3 mobiles with toys hanging at the bottom of them and they were able to hang them from the roof. They also bought many stickers/posters and stuck them around the room to brighten up the place. The room ended up being the main attraction. The children and staff loved it. We bought mattresses for the pallets and put the children in the room and already you could see them try to touch, feel and raise their heads as they looked around their new room and toys.

We also bought a toy each for all the children at the orphanage. We bought a bike as requested by the nuns for the students who go to school, hygiene products for each child at the orphanage such as toothbrushes, hairbrushes, hair ties etc…as requested by the nuns as well  and a few mattresses for those who didn’t have mattresses to sleep on during summer time.

We also gave a cash donation to the orphanage, which they appreciated. They said they needed money for things such as floor cleaner, dish washing liquid, shampoo and other necessities that we weren’t able to get. But the donation would cover some of these things for the next few months…

We had a great time overall and can’t wait to go back next year with our school group again. Here is my diary of the trip in detail:

On the 17th of July 2013, Our school Principal, School Chaplain and I ventured off to Vietnam with a group of Year 10 students from Mildura, Victoria. It is the second year of introducing overseas service camps in our school and it was our first time to Vietnam. The aim of our trip was to immerse our students into a whole new experience, getting them out of their comfort zones and explore their skills and talents through service at an orphanage. After weeks of preparation, we finally made it to the Orphanage on the 18th of July.

DAY 1 17/07/13:

We arrived into Ho Chi Minh City to a blast of humidity, rain and steamy heat as we walked out of the doors of the airport into our transfer. We had arrived at about 4:30pm, settled into our hotel and immediately went off to explore the streets of Saigon. For most of our group, it was their first time flying and being in another country – so there was a lot of “oohing” and “aahing” and “wow’s” as we walked along. Bright lights, overcrowded areas, busy roads, haggling were all things we witnessed on our first night. By 11pm that evening, we were in bed ready to catch our next flight out to Dong Hoi in Central Vietnam and onwards to the orphanage.

DAY 2 18/07/13:

We checked out of our hotel at 4:30am and made our way to the Domestic Airport as we were flying out to Dong Hoi. Dong Hoi is about an hour away from the Orphanage. After a little delay, we were finally up and running to our destination. We arrived at the orphanage at about 11:30am, to warm and welcoming smiles of children of all ages and the sisters who worked there. After being shown our accommodation and facilities, we were called to a lovely meal of rice, soup and salad for lunch. After lunch, we found that it was ‘nap time’ for everyone, which gave the perfect opportunity for our group to plan for the next few days.

Later that afternoon, we heard the children playing outside and we thought as a great icebreaker, we would go out with our giant bubbles and start blowing them for the children. Immediately, we caught their attention, which sparked the start of many friendships, interactions and Kodak moments between our students and the children. After a couple of hours of play and getting to know each other, it was feeding time. This was a humbling experience as we witnessed the able assist those who were unable to feed themselves. Our students learned their first lesson being selfless, kindness and being helpful during this period of time.

DAY 3 19/07/13:

We awoke early on Friday morning; showered, worship and went downstairs for breakfast. After breakfast, we worked with the nuns to organize activity day. We gathered all the children in one room and divided them into 3 groups, each group did a different activity with our students including: face painting, mask making and paper origami. After about 40mins or so, they rotated groups until they had a turn at each activity. Later that afternoon, we brought out the bubbles again and did ballooning show for them too, where our students made different things using balloons.

DAY 4:

On this day, we gathered the children and played circle games with them until lunchtime. We played games such as: Tag, Numbers, Soccer, Red Rover – watching all the children running around, enjoying themselves was such a pleasure to witness. After lunch, we all gathered by the steps and our students taught them songs such as: “If you’re happy and you know it”, “Running over”, “Head and Shoulders”. They enjoyed learning any song requiring actions.

Our students also took the time to look around and explore the orphanage and came back to our room later that evening to discuss things they wanted to do for the children. Our students saw a need for those children with cerebral palsy that spent most days lying on their backs staring at a plain wall. In the end, we asked the sisters where the need was and once we knew, we met after worship that night with our group and planned.

DAY 5:

After breakfast, we spent the morning assisting the sisters cleaning and washing up in the kitchen. We then got ready and went to the local market to buy supplies. We had little time and a strict budget based on what we raised back home in Australia (we spent half on things we could purchase straight away and the other half was given as donation), so we divided ourselves into 3 groups and divided the things on our list to purchase for the orphanage. Group 1’s task was to buy hygiene products that were desperately needed at that time: hairbrushes, hair ties, scrunchies, toothbrushes etc…Group 2 were to purchase a toy for each and every child at the orphanage – about 50 toys or so…? And our last group was making purchases to decorate the room where the cerebral palsy children lived in. Our students wanted to do something nice for the cerebral palsy children, so they decided to make mobiles and hang them from the ceiling to stimulate the children as they were lying on their backs all day. If we had more time, we would have loved to paint the room with bright colours. So off we went to make our purchases. We bought the following things:

– Toothbrushes

– Hairbrushes

– Hair Ties

– Nappies

– School Bags

– Toys for each child

– Mattresses for those who had none

– Farewell Cakes

– Bicycle

– Various things to set up the room for the Cerbral Palsy children

Things we donated:

– Face paint

– Pencils

– Paper

– Textas

– Books

– Nail Polish

That afternoon, we took action and began planning for our last evening with the children. The girls in our group spent the afternoon making the mobiles, hanging long ribbon and small toys long enough for the cerebral children to touch and something enjoyable for them to look at while they are lying in that room. After the mobiles were made, the girls went to the room and started scrubbing the walls down before putting up colorful pictures of cars, fruit and cartoons around the room to make it more visually appealing for the children.

Meanwhile, the rest of our group had gathered the rest of the other children for more songs and games. We bought 3 cakes as a farewell saying “Thank you, God bless, love Henderson College 2013”. After the room was done, our students did a drama for worship and gave out toys/gifts to each orphan and to the sisters for their hard work before cutting the cake and saying our farewells before leaving early the next morning.

We had an incredible experience while we were at the Orphanage. Words can’t express how humbling this experience was not only for our students, but also for us as the staff members that attended. The hospitality shown to us was more than enough and the love we witnessed through the sisters and the work they do was and is inspiring. Our students walked away from this experience, more aware, more thoughtful, more mindful and more inspired. We will continue to pray for the sisters and the orphanage and hope to visit again soon.

– Anne Tonga, Deputy Principal, Henderson College



A young woman who needs to help others; volunteering at an orphanage in Saigon

In June, Maddy, a young Australian woman, wanted to volunteer during a trip to Vietnam. I asked her to visit a refuge in Saigon. This orphanage is run by an elderly nun who shelters around 15 girls and women in a three room house. In particular, I asked her to visit H Quen, an indigenous woman with a disability who wishes to complete her medical course at technical college. Madeline’s mission was to obtain information about how Australian sponsors might assist, particularly with education. Here is an extract from her travel diary:

Jul 6

Going to Sister Lich’s orphanage house tomorrow!

Wow the days have gone so quickly.

Hope everything goes okay.

Jul 6

I made a draft of a questionnaire just to ask our client H Quen Nay.


Do you enjoy your lifestyle at the orphanage?

What are things you would like to improve your lifestyle?

Do you have an email, mobile phone number/ what are they?

For your studies, what do you need to improve your education? (e.g. laptop, stethoscope, textbooks). What is your next semesters study fee?

Where is your college?

Do you enjoy your studies so far?

Do you feel accepted in your college?

What would you like to do in your future?

How will this course help your life in the future?

Are you happy to be doing it?

What is your favourite part of your course?

What do you find difficult in your course?

What do you find easy?

In the orphanage where you live is there anyways that we can help?

Do you need anything special at your orphanage/ are you lacking in any items?

What is your favourite thing to do in your free time?

Do you know any English?

What else in life would you like to learn?

What is your dream for life?

Who inspires you, and helps you the most?

Is there anything else I should ask? I want to help as much as I can.

I’m so nervous.

I don’t want to let you down!

Jul 7

Hello peter!

This morning I went to visit Sister Lich and the girls, as Sister will not be here this week.

I had an amazing time. The girls are all really beautiful and easy and fun to get along with. H Quen was totally beautiful and I am really happy to be working with her. And of course the rest of the girls.

Sister Lich had told me that H Quen will defiantly need a laptop, mobile, textbooks and pens and pencils. She asked me to ask you how in the future they will buy further textbooks etc for H Quen. The orphanage was made only for girls from 13- 30 getting an education. And once they have completed their course the nuns help them find a job but they must leave. There are 15 girls, but five are not meant to be there.

Not all the children are orphaned or disabled. Some have disabled parents, or live there because their parents won’t look after them. But there are also a few orphans. Including a family of five (two young boys and trhee older girls). Their parents were killed from falling rocks in a storm.

There is also a girl, (who is just wonderfully happy) who is there because when she was young her father murdered her mother with acid. The girl also became chronically burnt.

Sister Lich told me about the difficulties of paying for the rent and finding a good home for the girls. For many years they had no space or house. And struggled for food.

They are in big debt in the house and she stresses of the girls because she cannot help afford the rent and their education fees.

She is in a big hunt to find other sponsors for other girls and to help in there orphanage. I was so surprised about how happy the girls were and we had a total blast together. Knowing what they have been through and still seeing them smiling was just amazing.

Thank you so much for this experience. Tomorrow I start my “proper” work for you. Today was just fun and games. I’ll be emailing you soon.

Many thanks


Jul 8

Morning Peter.

My interpreter is a young woman who volunteered to help me when I wrote on a forum looking where to find English interpreters. She is very nice and we get along well. I have a laptop and have already started to take pictures. I can do my best getting stories of each person at the orphanage.

And I totally understand about the whole need-for-money situation. I can see that a lot over here.

I will try and determine a list of items for you and I think it would be really interesting (even just for my benefit) to get all the girls’ stories, so I’ll try definitely. Going back tonight once the girls finish there schooling.

I’ll talk to you soon.

Many regards


Jul 9

I have had a very hard day yesterday. Still ended up at the orphanage, though:

“Okay so I thought first of all I was unlucky to get my phone pick pocketed a few days ago. Luckily it was only a cheapy and I wasn’t too phased just a little pissed off.

Though today I had a horrific run in with some guys on a motor bike. I was walking down one of the main roads just out of district one. With my camera strapped around my waist as a belt.

Two men on a motor cycle came up onto the path way grabbed me by my camera (which was locked around my waist) and dragged me 200m down the main road and left me in the middle of traffic laying on the tar bruised and bloody.

And sadly no one stopped to help me. (And I mean a seriously busy road) with broken shoes I had to walk my way home. Now sadly I could have been more of a victim as I am an alone travelling girl. But I am in a lot of shock and extremely horrified that people can do this.”

This was a post I made on a forum. The down low. Ha-ha going out to lunch with the girls at the orphanage.

Jul 9

Hey Peter I’m not too badly damaged…. well I’m taking care of it. I cannot walk well. But I’m surviving. I am adventurous still to go on! Even though I may be crippled. If something gets worse I will go to the doctor. It’s a little infected but I don’t think its anything to worry about.

Here are my notes so far:

About H Quen. She feels safe and as if An Bin orphanage is like a family to her. She is very grateful of the help from Sister Lich.

Her books change every semester and has no knowledge of the books she needs for the rest of her studies as it changes. Her study fees add to 10 million dong per year.

She goes to college by bus and says she feels accepted there.

Her dream is to have a pharmacy degree and go to her home town to teach and help her elders in choosing right medicines. Her village speaks a native language and the indigenous people there don not have knowledge of pharmacies.

She enjoys practical testing in her school, learning the differences of medicines and their uses. Though at her school there isn’t enough funding to have many practicals. She finds it difficult to remember the Latin names of the medicines.

She needs to pass an English test to complete her course. And is keen to learn English. She wants to volunteer helping children when she is older.

Her grandmother inspired her to pursue her dreams because when she was younger her village was very driven by discrimination. Her parents did not want her and were going to abandon her. H Quen’s grandmother fought for her life. And she is very grateful.

She needs a laptop, books, pens/pencils and mobile phone.

The orphanage is a very small house of three rooms. One kitchen, one sitting room and one large bedroom.  The orphanage is situated in a small alley on the side of a very busy road in HCM city.

At the orphanage there are 15 residents (13 girls/women and two young boys).

The problems of these people range from deafness, blindness, amputees, orphans, poor girls from the highlands, acid burn victims, abuse victims and the list goes on.  The girls age from 12 to 35. All attendees of the orphanage are there to pursue dreams in education and occupation. Sister Lich has an average of keeping the girls safe from 2/5 years until their course is completed. There is not enough money for the girls to stay after the education is done. And they must find a job and a new home.

Many girls do sewing, as well as, accounting, pharmacy; nursing, hairdressing, and finishing their schooling, with major and minor problems running in between the ages.

Sister Lich and her orphanage are not a recognised as a community service or organization. So she finds it very difficult to find sponsors and donations for the girls.

These difficulties range from debt from the housing, food supplies, and education tools etc.

The girls live off basic needs. But one thing that amazed me was the smiling faces and the kindness all of the girls had within their heart, even though they have been through very hard lives. Including attempts of murder from own parents, parental abuse, being poorest of the poor. Many girls grew up very sick, living with no clothes and starved etc. Parents recently dying, or parents being were victims of Agent Orange with cancers and discrimination.

The orphanage is low on food supplies and utensils, furniture. As well as education tools, reading books, note books, computers, English learning books, educational games, and many others.

Sister Lich and the girls are in need and always looking for sponsors to help one more girl, or help the orphanage in a whole.

An amazing orphanage with amazing students. All the girls at the house are hard working and extremely grateful of Sister Lich’s help.

Even though they live off the minimum, many girls are happy knowing that they will go somewhere in their lives and they are completing something that means a lot to them.

All the girls work very hard to chase their dreams. To reach the goal of education and jobs and independence.

Some of the girls there will never leave, or will be in a home for the rest of there lives because of their circumstances. But once again I am so surprised by their hope and love in their hearts.

Beautiful women. Beautiful orphanage.

Jul 9

Hey Peter…

I’m fine, cannot walk very well but I had a good day’s rest.

My injury left me a bit infected on my hips and knees. But if it gets worse don’t worry, I will attend to it.

Have you got any other suggestions I can do at the orphanage? I’m not sure what else you want or need. What else would you like? I can create small stories of the women at the orphanage.
But I feel a little stuck. Let me know

regards Madeline  x

Maddy with residents.



Peta is a paediatric nurse and Sue is a teacher

Our time at the orphanage was a very rewarding experience and left us with many impressions that we will never forget in the week that we were there. The children are much loved and well cared for by the nuns and we were fortunate to establish a rapport with them.

Our week consisted of playing games in the playground, helping to feed the children at meals times and doing musical activities involving balloons and action songs in the recreational room. The children loved the music, games and stickers. We also provided bubbles every day which created lots of smiles and laughter. In the evenings we taught English to some of the nuns, a deaf lady and some of the children who attended school. We really enjoyed these sessions and finished our class each night with a fun game of fish!

Throughout the week the power was turned off in the village for repairs. They were told it was only going to be one day however that was extended to nearly 10 days. The orphanage had to rely on a generator which was only used during certain times of the day. Our last night we experienced a storm like no other. We have never heard thunder or seen lightening like it. The rain was bucketing down and the storm went for 5 hours. The generator cut out therefore there was no power which meant no fans in extremely hot conditions. Many of the children were scared and crying. But the next morning the rice paddy fields were full of water and the farmers were out fishing.

We were fortunate to see the local village, harvesting of the rice and the world heritage caves. We were also very privileged to be able to attend a special feast day religious service, followed by a big community lunch for 200 supporters and friends from the local community. After visiting the orphanage we have seen the difference the Friends of Vietnam Orphanages charity has made through their projects and contributions to the whole community.

Peta and Sue

Sue running an English lesson

Sue showing a dance

Peta with orphanage children


Thuy at home

Thuy lives near Huong Phuong orphanage. Her father died when she was young and she grew up with her mother, older sister and brother. Her Mum had to work hard to support the three children. Because their family was so poor, Thuy had to stop school very early.

When Thuy turned 18 she married Hoai, a man from her village. When they had their first baby, it was found to have a serious heart defect that needed a medical operation. The operation would cost about 70 million VND ($3,500A). This was a huge amount of money for the poor family. If they sold all they had, including their small house, it may not have covered the cost of the operation.

The hospital agreed to cover half the cost of the operation. To pay the remainder, Thuy and her husband had to sell everything in the house. They also had to borrow on interest from the bank and from many other people. After the operation, the boy escaped death, but still relies on daily medication. Thuy’s husband drives a truck to North Vietnam. He is away from home much of the time, to support the family and repay debts.

In Central Vietnam after giving birth, women in winter use a charcoal fire in a pot to warm the baby and mother and prepare them for the hard physical work in the rice fields and jungle.

Two days after Thuy gave birth to a second son, she loaded charcoal into the pot and sat down beside it, screened by a bamboo mat. Thuy’s mother went to the kitchen to cook and look after two grandchildren. After a while, she asked the older boy to check on his mother. The toddler called out but she did not answer him. Curious, he came closer and saw through the bamboo mat that his mother was burning in the flames from the charcoal pot. Terrified, he called his grandmother.

The grandmother was so frightened the sight of her daughter on fire that she could hardly believe her eyes. In shock, she called the neighbours, who immediately drove Thuy to the large hospital in Hanoi, 450kms away.

Thuy had suffered a heart attack while heating herself behind the bamboo screen. Unconscious, she fell into the pot of burning charcoal. Her stomach, breast, right arm and right leg were burnt black and the bone could be seen in some spots.

When Thuy’s husband Hoai heard the horrible news, he went immediately to the hospital. Luckily he was driving near Hanoi at that time. At the hospital, Thuy had three operations with skin and muscle grafts taken from her left leg to repair the burns. She was sent home after two weeks in hospital. There were no spare hospital beds and the cost of staying there was too high.

Since Thuy returned home, her mother has looked after her and the two children. It is hard work for the grandmother because Thuy has difficulty moving and needs someone to feed, wash and clothe her.

We arrived at Thuy’s house one evening in winter. It was fairly dark and the power had been cut. The house was in poor condition, possibly the poorest home in the village. We called out, “Is there anyone in the house?” and heard Thuy’s faint voice coming from the bed. Her mother then came from the kitchen. Thuy’s older son was playing with a cousin in the corner of the house and the baby was being sung to sleep in a hammock by his eight year female cousin. The uneven earth floor of the house had a lot of holes. It was furnished with an old table, some second hand chairs and a traditional family altar.

Thuy could not sit up. Although it was a cold winter, she was not able to wear many clothes. Some of her wounds were painful, oozing liquid and infected. Her grandmother asked us to come and have a look at some of the wounds on her daughter’s body. These brought tears to my eyes. Because the doctor did major surgery on the left leg, we saw a big hole with some bone protruding. The right leg could not move. The right arm was badly burnt. Three fingers had been so severely burned that they had to be removed.

Thuy has difficulty sleeping at nights. She told me that she always felt severe pain, especially at night time. She was so tired that she had could not move to right or left. But the pain, she said, is nothing compared to when she hears her baby cry from hunger and cold. She said at night the baby could not sleep as it was cold and because he was hungry. Thuy normally cried when she heard the boy cry at night. She was tearful while she was telling us about it.

Thuy then told us that her desire was to recover quickly and look after her baby and feed him. That was all she wanted. She just wanted to hold her child on her arms when he cries but could not. It was difficult for us to hold back our tears at that point.

Thuy showed herself to be a very courageous young woman. She said that God was good to keep her alive. She said, “I still have two fingers on the right hand. Hopefully, in the future I can use these two fingers to hold a spoon when I have a meal.” Neighbours feel sorry for Thuy and for the baby. They have brought meals and canned milk for the baby but they are also poor. They do not have much money and life is still hard for them. We gave Thuy some gifts and said goodbye. On the way home, I could not shake off the image of this suffering and brave woman.

Thuy expects to recover and be able to stand and walk. Thuy’s family need financial and social support.  Their village village community would welcome development projects.

Thanh Tam and Peter Kabaila



Thank you for bringing two Sisters out from Vietnam and arranging for them to spend time at St Lucy’s School for the Disabled. We loved having them. They told us they had gained a lot from watching teachers working with the children. When we spoke to them on their last day about what help we could give, they said they most need training for their Sisters in some of the methods that we use. I offered to have a couple of staff come to the Orphanage in their holidays and demonstrate to the Sisters. They seemed very keen for this to happen.

With thanks,

Jo Karaolis, Principal



Cathy and Marlene went to the orphanage to volunteer for a few weeks in April 2012:

We arrived in Huong Phuong to volunteer at the orphanage which then had 70 residents, ranging in age from young to quiet elderly, and with varying degrees of disabilities.  The Sisters, some of whom have studied early childhood teaching and nursing, were marvellous and the orphanage ran like clockwork – washing up swiftly completed after each meal, clothes washed, everyone showered twice a day.

Meal times were humbling.  Imagine watching a small child, often with a disability, sitting alongside an old man, body twisted from illness and rocking back and forth, while the child feeds him a bowl of food, occasionally wiping his mouth gently with a cloth. The bowl, mostly rice and small pieces of chopped vegetables or meat, was always emptied.

Orphanage children help at meal times

In the cooler hours of early morning and late evening we played games.  Jump rope, ball games, making long trains of children and singing ‘wheels on the bus’ as we messily moved around the courtyard.  Those in wheelchairs (a plastic chair attached to an old wheelchair frame) would watch happily.  By 9am, we took shelter indoors, drawing and reading stories.

A handful of children were able to go to the local school, so each evening Marlene conducted English classes for these eager young minds.  They were always so enthusiastic and often stayed on after a late evening class to ask more questions.  Some of the Sisters who worked at the orphanage were also keen to develop their English, so we would chat over meals and during the day.  We vowed to learn a few Vietnamese phrases each day and soon felt empathy with how difficult it is to learn a second language.

The Sisters use every opportunity to raise funds for the orphanage.  They run a sewing room, where young adult residents are taught to sew uniforms, religious habits and costumes that are hired out.  They also sell distilled bottled water and run a small motel.

So appreciative were the Sisters of our efforts they insisted on a day outing and Sr Nga, already an extremely busy lady in charge of the orphanage, treated us to a visit to the Phong Nha caves, a UNESCO world heritage site.



Great! Directly funded is the way to go.

I LOVE what you do.

I’m delighted to see such relationships with Vietnam.  It’s a really worthwhile project.  After the devastation Australia and allies wrought during the Vietnam War it is so heartening to see this.

As the daughter of a soldier, I’ve often wondered about orphans and our legacy there. Thank you for being part of a karmic bridge.

Really melts my heart. I’ll let everyone know. I’m actually a single mum to two special needs kids (full time job) but that’s not going to stop me rounding some people up!!

Will spread the word!

Jane Salmon

Lindfield, NSW

The orphanage includes severely disabled babies and children



Events, or accounts of events, often drive my focus. I’ve always said context is important. With it you can better understand the human values at play in a given circumstance. When I heard about an orphanage for disabled kids in central Vietnam and the story behind it the thought “Must help…!” was evoked. Not that we don’t have people living with disability here in Australia.

Visitors here and friends know that I’ve spent a some time attempting to support local community here in Australia. Focusing on Canberra was driven by the idea of ‘get your own house in order first’. With homeless and poor, those in need, in significant numbers in my home city the direction of my civic duty is clear enough. Spending the time that I have in the community service sector has taught me a few things about spotting projects that have hope and those that, while well intentioned, are likely not to make it. Some people have a conscious or sub-conscious drive, focus, that can be clear to see. It’s less about commitment and more simply about being configured in a certain way. Sometimes, rarely it seems, a particular configuration of idiosyncrasies of an individual  match with a collective need and social ability is created. Financial, political and social structures, so intertwined, can be massaged at the same time and in a certain way to produce a progressive outcome. In this case the status quo is being challenged by a small group of dedicated people in Australia. The view is to improve the living conditions for a group of orphans living with cerebral palsy, deafness, blindness and psychiatric problems in Vietnam. At the same time they will provide scholarships for education to the women that provide the care to the orphans. A remote association driven by immediate and local needs isn’t a new way of operating and in the past impressive outcomes have been the result. The ideas from this group seem clear enough to me, the level of detail and research that has gone into forming the project is sensible and at many levels impressive. Most importantly the goals are achievable!

That’s why I am proud to announce the launch of Friends of Huong Phuong Orphanage Inc’s website.


Aranda, ACT

Disabled children brought out to the orphanage verandah