Monday, August 18, 2008

I'm A Little Teapot

On Sunday, the girls from the office, the Open House, and I volunteered at a local orphanage. Volunteered = played with 150 kids.

The place itself looks like hell - the facilities are bare bones, old and open to the air, the place is generally decrepit, and supplies - including food - are meager. This is the part where I am supposed to turn and say "but the orphans have such warm hearts, and are so well treated it was an uplifting day." Sorry, it was an exhausting day, and we all came home filthy. When kids outnumber adults at a ratio of 30-1, they get starved for attention and affection in even the best institution. But its a credit to the institution that despite a lack of resources, the kids are clean, helathy, good at sharing, treat adults with respect...and few of them are orphans.

Vietnam is definitely an emerging economy. Even in the countryside, you can see tremendous real estate and consumer spending growth, increased access to banking (now 3 atms in Long Xuyen!), and general business investment. But there is also extreme inflation on the most basic staples (~30% for rice and gas this year), and increased isolation of rural communities in who cant take part in the manufacturing and export economy. Thus, there is a wide strata between the economic participants and the destitute. The kids in the orphanage? They come from the destitute.

One girl had her first day at the Orphanage on Sunday (she spent the weekend with us getting spoiled and kitted out. One must not enter 5th grade without an art book and a change purse shaped like a pig). For her, the orphanage is a big step up. Her parents are both unemployed. Her sister was trafficked into the sex trade in Malaysia, was rescued, and is now back and working two jobs in a sewing factory. One of her brothers was indentured to the family's debtors, and no one knows where he is. And the little girl had been harvesting snails in a swamp so full of pesticides, that her hands and fore-arms are covered in sores and scabs. Even worse, shes been approached by trafficking brokers. When her father dropped her off, he was distinctly relieved.

She was psyched to get to the orphanage, and immediately fell in with the gleeful troops, who turned into a mob of hysterical monkeys upon our arrival. She is excited for uninterrupted school, especially art class. It wont all be roses for her - one of the little boys was teased while we were there, for wearing a pearl bracelet - he has four older sisters, and no parents, so the only clothes he has are girls clothes, and the only thing he has from home is a bracelet. The kids make fun of him.

But we had a fun day - there was lots of drawing, practicing English, horseplay, and clinging to volunteers. Then we all sang our favorite songs - there was a complicated disco performance by some tweens (see above), a love song by some appropriately forlorn teenage girls, various renditions of jingle bells. At the end, Linda and I gave an audience-silencing rendition of "I'm A Little Teapot." Linda is a good singer, but apparently, I am not a convincing little teapot.

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