Orphanages, Old Quarters, and Other Outings

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As life in Hanoi becomes more and more routine, I find it harder and harder to update my blog. However, my ‘normal’ may still be of interest to my friends and family. So here it goes…

(Delivering 4 tons of Rice)

A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of joining my friend Carl and another one of his friend’s to visit an orphanage approximately two hours outside of Hanoi. Granted, this was no ordinary visit. Carl, who happens to be the marketing manager of the Sofitel Metropole – the most luxurious hotel in all of Hanoi – was delivering 50 million Vietnamese Dong (~$2500 USD) to this particular government-run facility, specifically to purchase four tons of rice (enough food to feed the 300 children and adults with disabilities within the center for approximately 2.5 months).

(Teenage Quarters)

(Teenage bunkmates)

(Physical Handicap)

This donation was done without any fanfare – no reporters or special gimmicks – just a way for staff to feel good about donating towards a worthy cause.


(Toddler Section)


I felt honored to witness the exchange of cash for a truckload of rice! After the formalities were finalized, we had a tour of the facility. Yet, walking around the center was both heart-warming and heart rending.


(Cleft Lip)

As with most government-run institutions that are under-funded and under-staffed, this facility proved to be no exception. My heart ached when I tried to fathom the daily existence of individuals within the facility. So many thoughts and questions raced through my mind. What kinds of qualifications are required of staff? What training is offered to provide adequate care for children and adults with disabilities? What kinds of stigma and discrimination do disabled people experience? Are supplemental foods with more nutritional value served with rice?

(Playing outside)

What proportion of children are actually adopted vs. spend their entire lives within the institution? What is the legal definition of an orphan? One parent or both parents dead? What are the roles of extended relatives? What percentage of children are abandoned? And under what circumstances? Are they HIV-related? Teen pregnancy? Or simply unwanted after discovering the baby’s abnormality?

(Scenes from Old Quarter)

(Carrying a heavy load on bicycle)

The M&E person inside of me wanted more data…more information…and more answers!

(Pomelo Anyone?)


At one stage, I drifted away from the group and wandered into a section for teenage girls. They were ecstatic to see a new face, and approached me with warm, friendly smiles. What struck me was the dichotomy between one girl who was severely mentally retarded (what term is politically correct these days?!?), rocking back and forth in her bed, and her bunkmate, another who simply had no arm, but mentally sound.


(Typical Scene)

Although certainly not unique to Vietnam, I was distressed to learn that there is no distinction between physical and mental handicaps. As such, the two kinds of disabilities are intricately intertwined!

(Fishing in the rain)

(Sunset in Danang)

Again with my endless thoughts… I marveled how long these two had been living there? What did they discuss at night? What did they dream about? Did they have any interests or hobbies? And whether or not they were even aware of an entire world beyond the confines of the compound.



As I interacted with this beautiful teenage girl, I wondered whether or not she was born with a missing limb. Was she a victim of a land mine? Or did she experience something tragic in her short lifetime that would lead to an amputation?

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(Pagoda in Danang)



As I continued to think about these girls, I meandered over to the section for toddlers. OMG! Tragic!


These beautiful children were stacked two to three in a crib, lying on their backs, staring blankly up at the ceiling. The backs of their heads were completely flat from the hard surface, bedsores covered their bodies, none of them were able to speak, and the environment was devoid of any stimulus.

(Fishing Line)

(Fisherman in Danang)

(Another fisherman)

Now don’t get me wrong. The staff was kind, dedicated to their job, and devoted to the children. Yet the staff to child ratio was far too limited to give the necessary attention and affection that each of these children craves and desires.

(Sunshine in Phu Lang)

(Pottery Village)

My heart went out to every single infant, toddler and teenager within that facility…. I wanted to hold every child, to share the abundance of love and joy that I have for others, and to let them know that they mattered!

(Harvesting Rice)

I put forth a valiant effort and held many children that day! With each token of affection, the children’s eyes lit up; beaming smiles appeared on their face; and their arms rose up into the air, gesturing that they wanted to be picked up.

(Pottery Village)

Poor Carl had a hard time dragging me away from the orphanage that day. If it were physically located closer to Hanoi, I’d volunteer there on the weekends.

(Making terra-cotta coffins)


And poor David had to put up with me when I got home…I immediately broke down and sobbed uncontrollably as soon as I walked in the door. My little heart can’t bear to see so much pain…so I began to research adoption policies in Vietnam. Unfortunately, the United States and Vietnam are still in the process of re-negotiating adoption laws, making it impossible to begin adoption procedures in country. But they are close to a resolution…so who knows what the future may hold.

(Marjie teaching the kids how to use a camera)

(So adorable)

(Looks like fun)

Aside from outings at orphanages, I’ve been keeping busy with work, photography club, and exploring Vietnam.




I’m quite proud of the photography club, something I launched almost one year ago! Ultimately, we meet once a month for a potluck dinner followed by a slide show pertaining to that month’s theme.


(Chilling out at the pagoda)


This month’s theme was ‘alphabet’…so several of us organized our own outing to Old Quarter. Everywhere I look I now see hidden letters…a ‘S’ in the railing, a ‘Y’ in the trees, an ‘O’ in the sliced watermelon, etc.

(Ceramic Tiles)

Work remains busy. I just returned from Danang where we held a week-long Data for Decision-Making Workshop.

(RIce harvest)


And I’m continuing to take advantage of life in Vietnam and exploring as much as I can on the weekends. Yesterday’s excursion included a trip to Phu Lang, on old pottery village famous for making terra-cotta coffins.

(The letter ‘U’)


Phu Lang, which sits at the foot of Son Mountain on the banks of the Cau River, is the last of an old pottery village triangle (Bat Trang has been sucked into the suburbs of Hanoi and Tho Ha has bent under the pressures of development). Granted, location has contributed to Phu Lang’s traditional status, with easy access to water, firewood and clay. Plus, its the village farthest away from Hanoi.



I loved walking around the village, meandering up and down alleyways, and peeking into people’s courtyards to see if they were making pottery!


I feel so fortunate to live in a country where each day is an adventure!

I hope all is well in each of your lives…sending much love!


2 comments to Orphanages, Old Quarters, and Other Outings

  • Nomads By Nature

    You are incredibly gifted, as a photographer and as a story teller. Your words and your photos are so powerful, especially in the way that you strung them together in this post. I completely relate to your responses to the orphanage and hope that if adoption is the right path for you, that all obstacles are made passable.

  • Hi Amy! I’m very touched by your post. Any chance for the baby with cleft lip to have a surgery one day? How to help this orphanage?

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