Vietnam Workcamp Update I

It is late on our last night in Ho Chi Minh City [Saigon]. Tomorrow we leave early in the morning for the 7 hour bus ride to K’long, a small country town near Dalat. These past few day have been non-stop; we will appreciate the trip and take it as an opportunity to catch our breath, hopefully some sleep, and savour some of the fantastic memories from the past few days since we arrived in this amazing city.

We left on Tuesday, January 3 and had no delays or problems with the flight to Ho Chi Minh City. We had a 1 hour stop-over in Darwin and this provided us an opportunity to eat some dinner as the price of the food on the Jetstar flight was sky-high. Our flight arrived in Ho Chi Minh City at 9:30pm local time and we jumped on a bus to our nearby accommodation.

The accommodation and the hospitality that has been shown to us these few days have been second to none. We have been utterly amazed at the generosity of these poor people who really go out of their way to make sure we have everything we need. We are staying at the house (or rather one of the houses) of Madame Hieu.

Madame Hieu is a co-operator of Opus Dei in Vietnam, and despite the fact that there are not yet centres of the Work in this country, she has an enormous appreciation and understanding of St Josemaria and Opus Dei. We first meet Madame Hieu many years ago when her son, Hoang, was staying in Glenrowan. (Glenrowan is a university residence in Auckland – a little bit like Warrane College, only a lot smaller). Hoang went to university in Auckland before coming back to live in Vietnam. He has also helped us a lot on this trip. Madame Hieu is an incredibly resourceful lady, and besides running several large businesses and being involved in a significant amount of non-profit organisations, she has made the time to really spoil us.

We have spent 4 days helping out at Phu My Orphanage, which was the location of two previous workcamps in 2008 and 2009. As in previous years, this has been an open opening experience for the young men on this workcamp. They have learnt to appreciate some of the most basic things we takes for granted in Australia: our family and our health. Despite our inability to communicate with the orphans in English or Vietnamese we have learnt the language of love, and power of a smile. (Our charades have been pretty impressive too). The example of the nuns and other staff that work at the orphanage has been inspiring, and their cheerfulness and work ethic has been effusive. We have spent only a few days at this wonderful place, yet the memories will live for a lifetime.

Besides feeding and playing with the orphans, folding and changing their nappies, we have also been able to leave a mark on the orphanage in another way. You will find a few photos below of the mural we have painted in one of the rooms of the orphanage. It is no Machiavelli, but considering the artistic talent in our group we were very pleased with the results. We kept to an Australiana theme, and got the thumbs up from both the staff and the kids.

We have been able to meet up with a few Aussies living in Ho Chi Minh City, both of whom are teaching English in various institutions. Joel Gilmore, who came on the 2008 workcamp to Vietnam with Nairana, told us about his experiences living here, and about the other social justice work that he has been involved with while staying here. We also went for dinner with John Canaris, who lives here with his Vietnamese wife. John was also able to organise for four or five of us to visit a local seminary and teach them some English on Saturday morning.

There has also been a little bit of time for some culture and relaxation. Today we visited the Cu Chi tunnels, and yesterday the Vietnamese War Museum. Both were incredibly fascinating both for those fluent with an understanding of the issues associated with the Vietnam War, and those of us who were not. We have also had some time for shopping the [incredibly cheap] local markets, and a few rounds of karaoke. Perhaps the highlight, from the fun perspective, has been the shooting range we were able to visit where we shots some M1, M16 and various other weapons. It looked like they had a few years of practice playing video games.

There are a few photos below, but if you (or someone you know) has facebook then you can see more here.