Photos from the day (photos by the sponsor, Ms Kerry)
That is what I wanted to achieve for Tam and Ngoc, the girls we sponsor through CEF, on their visit with me in Hoi An. To give them an experience they would never forget. Hoi An, only an hour away from where they live, was the best location to begin this type of engagement with the girls. Through the wonderful guidance of Linda Burn and the CEF team, we were able to set this up, so that with a CEF employee as our interpreter and guide, we were able to co-ordinate a day and a plan of activities.
The girls were excited, I could tell within minutes of seeing them again. Nervous, but excited. The eldest, Tam, was keen to share a letter and a drawing she had done for Andrew and I. It nearly broke my heart. It was an expression of gratitude and a wish for our family’s well being. Ngoc was reserved but you could see she was paying attention to everything we were saying. What a great start.
The day was designed to be casual and relaxed. Vy, our CEF guide had planned out a series of activities and the girls and I followed her call. Tam and Ngoc soon figured out I knew as little as they did about Hoi An, so that was our instant bond, plus our need to chase the shade away from direct sun, which they don't like as it darkens their skin. To think they want skin like mine. Heaven forbid, I told them!
We visited Hoi An’s historic sites which showed them first hand some of the history of the city; we saw artists perform music from ancient times; checked out different arts and crafts made in the region; ate some delicious local cuisine and laughed a lot. All the while the girls practising English and me Vietnamese, which I have to admit was worse than their English.
I loved every minute. The chance to experience life through a young person’s eyes is so personal and so rewarding. I hope they got as much out of it as I did. I truly hope I can do this again during the course of their academic careers. I think it adds another unique dimension to the sponsorship program. It increases the level of personalisation to what you contribute and goes beyond just writing a cheque. It makes you better appreciate the challenges facing girls in Vietnam. And lastly, where you set out thinking the gift was to them, it becomes your life changing event as well.
When most Australians think about Vietnam, they think about the war we became embroiled in over 50 years ago. I’m no different being married to an Australian soldier. I know only too well the toll on human life and the sacrifices that were made for little gain. Pushing politics aside, I see Vietnam in its new light. Its history indelibly linked with ours, I fell in love very quickly with this country and its people as they struggle to rise above their past.
It started with a promise three years ago, that I would come back and see the girls we sponsor through the CEF program. Tam and Ngoc made a major impression on both Andrew and I and we both agreed after visiting their home last time, and meeting their widowed mother and brother, that we wanted to give these two girls the best we could through the program.