Saturday, May 31, 2008

The Young and the Elderly


Our plan for the day was to team up with a couple of members from a charitable organization based in Saigon to distribute food items to an elderly home and an orphanage.

A few people stayed behind from our group because they were ill.

Before we headed to the elderly home, we stopped by a huge hospital in Saigon to pick up heaps upon heaps of boxes of ramen noodles. We were able to shove most of the boxes onto the bus, using every little nook and cranny available. The bus was literally overflowing with boxes of ramen. In the end, not all the boxes would fit, so they hailed a taxi to carry some of the noodles.

We continued on our way to the elderly home, which was in District 8 of Saigon.

The elderly home was located in the back of a Buddhist temple on a tiny street where no cars could access. The bus dropped us off at the side of the road, and we unloaded all of the food we brought. It was all loaded onto a small motorcar to deliver to the temple, which went ahead of us as we followed.

The streets were a maze. They were so narrow and they winded this way and that. To get to the temple, we had to get through an outdoor marketplace, and there were people on both sides of the street selling produce, meat, you name it. What an experience!

We finally made it to the Buddhist temple. The building was a faded yellow color from years of wear and tear. It definitely didn't look like the temple we had seen the other day with such vibrant colors that it resembled a Christmas ornament. There was a gigantic Buddha figure presiding out in the courtyard, right behind the entrance gate.

All the food we'd brought had been carried in already by some of the adults in the charity and people who worked at the temple. When we got inside, we began packaging all of the food into bags to be distributed to each elderly person: a box of ramen, two cans of milk, sugar, crackers, and some other food.

After we prepared some one hundred or so bags, we began distributing them in the rooms. The director gave us an introduction of the place. There were three large rooms, and each room accommodated about thirty senior citizens.

As we walked into the first room, we realized how incredibly crowded it is. Tiny beds were all squished next to each other, and there was barely any room for us to walk in. We learned from one of the charity members that these elderly folk had no family - many of them had been found on the streets. Here, although care was minimal, they had a place to sleep, had food to sleep, and the opportunity to enjoy others' company.

Some of them were there because they did not have another place to stay, but others also had mental problems associated with old age and living out on the streets. One of our guides pointed to a lady who apparently lost her sanity when her children abandoned her. Most of the elderly folk were women, but there were a few men. One of the old men we saw had lost an entire half of his skull, but was still alive, which was really amazing.

We gave a bag to each person and said "Hi" to them in Vietnamese. Even those of us who couldn't speak the language gave it our best.

After distributing all of the bags, we took a picture next to the Buddha and then left the temple to head to our next destination.

We arrived at the orphanage in Cu Chi early in the afternoon. The place wasn't as well kept as the other orphanages we'd been to, so we assumed they were probably even poorer.

There was the most adorable little boy who was seven supposedly, but actually looked more like he was two years old. He was so malnourished that he looked 5 years younger than his actual age!

The children assembled at a few wooden tables, and we handed out all of the goody bags. There were kids of all age ranges and even some older ones who were our age. Then we played some games with them like the version of simon says we had played with the other orphanage as well.

The people there were amazing. The kids might have had some disabilities, but that sure didn't stop them! They were a really lively bunch, and they loved to play! They had so much enthusiasm for life!

After that, we toured the orphanage for a bit. They showed us to a room where there were girls on sewing machines making cute baby clothes like socks. That was one of the ways they could make money to keep the orphanage going.

Then we headed to the backyard where there were little kids washing dishes. They were so adorable, and they really seemed like a family. It was really touching to watch them go about their daily lives like that. They were so lively, happy, and carefree - and it's amazing how they can be like this when they don't have that much. That's such a huge contrast from the US where people have so much more, and yet we're still dissatisfied with everything. I guess we never learn to appreciate what we have, and that's such a shame.

They had a guitar in the back, and Christian played a song for us!

Well, all good things must come to an end. We left the orphanage late in the afternoon, and headed to get some food. We hadn't eaten since the morning, so we were starving. A boy from the orphanage led us out of the maze of streets on his motorcycle to a street-side restaurant.

We each got up from our seats to get our meals. The different dishes were displayed in a glass case, and you had to point to which ones you wanted to get, and the lady would scoop some onto your plate for you.

It started raining as we were eating and it was so refreshing!

We got back pretty early, so some people went to get massages, while others rested back at the hotel.

We met with Lisa to have a discussion, and after that we relaxed and had fun.

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