Rows upon rows of bicycles - only the best way to get around!
We parted with the girls (but not for the last time!) to venture south of Saigon to Can Tho. Can Tho is the fifth largest city in Vietnam, and the largest city in the Mekong Delta. It is noted for its floating market, rice-paper-making-village, and picturesque rural canals (yes, I quoted Wikipedia). Of course, Wikipedia failed to mention mucky, desolate, down-and-out rural villages of Can Tho. Our shuttle bus barely traversed the bridges in fear of their collapse!
D. and C.L. approaching the beach for the first time
Well, life isn't always so. But today, the girls experienced a life so beautiful and grand. Generously sponsored by one of OBV's partners, we took the girls to a private beach resort from January 11-12. Many of them have never seen an ocean before! Others have never been in a hotel. None have experienced such fun and luxury. It was a joy for us to see the girls so happy and carefree. They were able to be and act like real children. The sparkle in their eyes shone so bright that I had forgotten their past.
The purpose of this mission trip was to SEE, HEAR, LEARN about our surroundings, from rural villages to urban hotspots, in order for us to understand the situation in Southeast Asia, particularly Vietnam and Cambodia. Not only did we dig deeper into the human sex trafficking issue, but through conversations with local were we able to understand other important problems like extreme poverty, human rights violations, and social marginalization and discrimination of Vietnamese people.
I met the girls for the first time yesterday. But before I get into that, I have to share with you a heartfelt story. I woke up in the hotel yesterday morning and logged into Facebook as part of my addictive daily routine. I see a post by Father Martino announcing that he just rescued a young girl who was trafficked to Singapore. I thought to myself, "Wow, what an incredible story to kick start my mission with OBV". I went downstairs to have breakfast with the group and sitting across from me was the same girl that Father Martino mentioned in his post. My heart dropped into my gut. She's beautiful. Her hair is long but tattered. Her skin is soft. Her face is gentle. She's quiet.
Father Tuan - taking care of the mental illness - with OBV volunteers
This was the second time I stayed in Can Tho after the first time here for work related reason five years ago. Can Tho city is flourishing with the famous Ninh Kieu port because it is the commercial center for all Mekong Delta areas. However, under the flowery cover, this city carries with it many sad secrets which threaten human capacity of toleration.
21h30 Jan 12th, 2013. Led by Father Martino Nguyen Ba Thong, a group including OBV staff and volunteers from USA started the trip to Can Tho. After 3 hours of travelling, the mission group arrived at Can Tho at 1:00 am Jan 13th 2013.
Not sure if the air in Lao Cai was getting warmer or is it that I have in some sense gotten used to this place. Today, I no longer felt the coldness as much as the previous days. It is the last day, therefore everything is much lighter and more relaxed. We are allowed to sleep in until 8 a.m. at latest because we have an appointment at half past 8 a.m.
Before this trip, Hanoi was the farthest North destination that I’ve been to. Many people said: “A trip to Lao Cai – Sa pa this season? Are you crazy? Want to die?” I’d never known how frost of the North really was so I wanted to have experience there - a place where my father was born.
This is the first time John has been in Vietnam
All my life Viet Nam has always been a spectra or a dream to me. With all my close family members in the USA, there's little emotional attachment or incentive for me to travel back. This dream of returning, however, reluctantly became a reality for me this week.
A jail cell with 20 sets of arms reaching out yearning
I've heard things and seen things on TV but nothing will compare to seeing things live from my own eyes. Words cannot describe the feeling I felt when I saw a jail cell with 20 sets of arms reaching out yearning for a hand shake and/or someone to talk to...the only thing is that they're not criminals. I stand to watch and comprehend what was going on and slowly noticing I'm holding out my breath to a funky odor not sure where it was coming from.
Father Martino and Angela with OBV children
The past week has been a whirlwind of emotions. As the mission is nearly coming to an end, I feel that I have already experienced a lifetime of lessons and wisdom. I go to bed every night with my heart racing and my mind pacing while reminiscing about events from the previous day. From meeting the OBV children to visiting with the homeless, mentally ill, and physically disabled orphans of Can Tho, I have realized they all share a commonality of sufferance. The suffer physically, mentally, and spiritually. Every face lacks colour and every pair of eyes lack sparkle. I see a sadness in the eyes of the OBV children through their playful exterior. They are young, SMALL, and look half their age. They are underdeveloped and malnourished. Their subtle reactions and non-verbal cues reveal the betrayal they have experienced and still relive every day. In one moment, one of the children would laugh and play, while in a another second she would withdraw from the group with a waterfall of tears without notice. It remains unbelievable to me that there are thousands of children like them still being sexually, physically, and emotionally abused every day by men and women who are supposed to love them, support them, and guide them.
John with OBV children
What should I say about my first trip to Viet Nam? I love the fact that I'm visiting the land of my ancestors. There's so much to see and learn.
On this trip with Fr Martino and One Body Village, I've learned a very important lesson. The world is as beautiful as it is ugly.
Is my love desolate?
As usual, in January every year, Father Nguyen Ba Thong has a month for "resting in busy" in Vietnam. It is called "rest" as he can rest from his mission of serving God's in the U.S. It is called "busy" as he spends this little time coming and sharing with many people who need his "one voice, one hand" in Vietnam.