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There is Hope Where There is Compassion...

Faces of Compassion

How do I start? Sometimes one’s experience can be so profound and elicit a lot of mixed feelings that makes it difficult to express exactly what one feels.

On my last day in Saigon, I joined members of the Saigon Dodgeball Team on their visit to a home for the disabled and several orphanages. The trip started at Da Minh Saint Church where volunteers from the Saigon Dodgeball Team and some church members loaded into a bus, several boxes and supplies from collections over the past two or three weeks.

Several members from the Team prepared hand-made Christmas ornaments and sold them at their offices and on the streets of Saigon to generate funds for their charity activities. It was a lot of hard work and sacrifice. Most of them prepared the ornaments themselves and sold them after they got off from work. On the day of the event, they were able to buy enough supplies and gifts for five homes/orphanages.

The trip was an emotional but fulfilling one. The first stop was at Mái ấm Phan Sinh, a Home for the Disabled. Most of the children were physically and mentally handicapped and could not take care of themselves. They were abandoned by their mothers who may have themselves been victims of abuse and violence. There were handicapped adults too. Some in wheelchairs, another one was blind and sitting alone on his bed.

I couldn’t help being emotional and feel a sense of helplessness for these abandoned children. Little Shia (not her real name), a mentally-handicapped 2-year old girl, never stopped smiling and laughing as she was carried around by volunteers. There was a lump in my throat as I wondered if she will ever one day know that the smile and laughter she showed us were expressions of happiness. One of the volunteers who visited last time said Shia had improved a lot. She used to hurt herself. I didn’t ask in what way she did that...I couldn’t bring myself to. What was important was that she now seemed better and looked happy.

There were some others in a small room who were totally helpless and can only mutter incomprehensively. But you could see their smiles or hear their laughter that expressed their happiness. I guess several of us were between happiness and tears...happiness at seeing how our presence brought happiness to these kids, and tears at the plight of these kids.

As we proceeded to the next two orphanages (Mái ấm Thái Bình and Mái ấm Lộ Đức), the feelings were less emotionally intense and more playful. Kids playing soccer with the guys, singing, dancing and sharing lunch together. One can see how eager the kids were for affection. There was a 7 or 8-year old girl in the group of dancers that performed for us standing next to a volunteer. She put her arm on the little girl and found out that the girl was feverishly hot. The little girl looked at her and said "Please don’t tell ‘aunts’ (the helpers at the orphanage). When you guys leave I will rest. I don’t want to miss any second of this because I don’t know when you guys will come back.” Who wouldn’t be so touched with those words from an 8-year old? And at the Mái ấm Lộ Đức orphanage, the nun told us that all the kids were dressed up since morning and eagerly waiting for us to arrive.

The Saigon Dodgeball Charity trip ended at the same Church where everyone met about 10 hours earlier. We couldn’t finish all 5 orphanages and just had to send the supplies to Mái ấm bé thơ Đồng Nai through the Church. The experience left everyone with emotions of happiness and sadness. We shared some of our time and blessings with these children to somehow make it a special day for them...and it was all worth it.

On December 10, 2011, the SLGHS79 and SLBHS79 (St. Louis Girls/Boys High School) groups will also hold a joint "Christmas Handog sa Bethesda" (A Christmas Gift for Bethesda) in Baguio City, to help make a difference in the lives of 130 battered and abandoned children of the Bethesda Home Shelter (http://www.bethesdacareinternational.org/history.htm). The Shelter was started by Elva Leta Vanderbout in 1947, a lady missionary from California, U.S.A. who took in street children abandoned or orphaned after the war. The first orphans she took in were twins, and one is now a priest and also involved in missionary work.

The SLGHS/SLBHS groups have been holding their charity work two or three times a year for the Shelter to give food, clothes and supplies.

Who would have thought that what one woman started as a visit to an orphanage in Saigon with a small group of 5 to 8 people as an act of compassion can spread to their peer Dodgeballers? Or a group of female schoolmates who wanted to make a difference in the lives of the less fortunate children can encourage their other schoolmates to bring smiles and happiness and really make a difference?

It is the compassion of people like the Saigon Dodgeball Teams and SLGHS79/SLBHS79 that give these orphaned children and disabled people hope for a better life. There are many like them who silently share their blessings with the less fortunate.

Though some of these children may never be able to understand or change their situation because of their physical or mental disabilities, they will nevertheless experience the joy of being held by loving arms and share a special moment with them, if only for a short while.

These children dserve a chance to have a good education and a better life as much as any other child with a family. To quote a famous athlete, "We cannot turn a blind eye." And as long as genuine compassion exists amongst us, there will always be hope for these orphans and disabled...hope to overcome the trauma of being abandoned and deprived of a relative’s love, hope for a better condition at the home or orphanage, hope for an education...and hope for a good future one day.

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