Monday, September 20, 2010

Orphanages of Kon Tum

There are 7 orphanages in and around Kon Tum, 2 of which are recognised by the government. They are all run by the Vietnamese Catholic sisters of the Miraculous Medal.

When visiting Mr An at Eva cafe, he drew us a map showing the orphanages in the area, making mention to the ones that are not listed in guides such as the Lonely Planet.

"These ones that are not in the guide need more help" he said.

We spent the best part of our first day visiting a few of the orphanages. First, we visited Vien Son 1, the main orphanage in town. We played with the kids, gave them some candy and talked to the sisters that looked after the orphanage. Alongside the orphanage is a dormitory for young adults, who live to far to study in town but also can't afford to live with their family. I met two amazing 23 year old girls, who lived in the dormitory, and studied tourism in town. Their English was good and they grew up in the same orphanage that joined their dormitory. These very intelligent girls grew up in a very small block of land, calling this humble place home for the best part of their lives. They were so friendly and felt blessed they had a small chance to speak English with a foreigner. They showed us around the orphanage, answering all our questions. After playing with the kids, mainly toddlers in this orphanage, we gave the Sisters in charge a bit of money, and said our goodbyes.
Photo: It's hot in Kontum. Babies at nap time look like they're passed out from heat!

Our next stop was to an orphanage that Mr An said needed help, and was on the outside of town. The orphanage, known as Orphanage number 5 (They can't get a proper name until recognised by the state), was a few kms out of town, over a suspension bridge. We arrived over a bumpy, steep, dirt road that passed houses very much in need of repair. We were passing houses of the Bahnar people, who make up a decent proportion of the areas population.

The kids in that orphanage were older, mainly from 5-12 years old, and seemed very happy. They looked healthy and were playing happily outside, the older ones taking care of the younger ones. That's where we met Theresa.

This is a picture of Theresa, a woman who has 4 children under 6 years old, including a 3 month old baby, and still goes and works in the Orphanage 7 hours a day, as a teacher. This is volunteer work of course. Theresa grew up in the main orphanage in town and is now dedicating the best part of her life to 68 kids (and growing), who have next to nothing, and are not getting any help from the state.

Last month, Theresa found this baby in an ethnic village far off the city. The baby had been left to die, as his mother had died post labour and the father had no means to feed the baby. This used to be current practise for surrounding ethnic villages: without a mum, the baby was left to starve for a few days and then buried with the mother (or even buried alive with the mother). From what we were told it doesn't happen much anymore as the villagers know about the orphanages and bring the newborns there. But this particular village was very far and the villagers didn't know any other way.

Fortunately, Theresa was visiting a friend in the village and she saw the baby lying there, abandoned. She took him back with her and told everyone in the village to call her if another baby was left motherless. We were completely shocked when we heard this story; speechless, listening to this terrible and surreal account. Celine and I glanced at each other in disbelief as we learnt what nearly happened to this one little baby, and what has happened to many others. It was terribly sad and very personal to us because we had spent time, earlier that day, with the little one Theresa saved; rocking the cot and feeding milk through a bottle.

We are determined to help out in some way and have been brainstorming ideas ever since. Please see my latest post


  1. Hi Dan,

    tell me also what can I do from Spain (difficult to come back to Vietnam at short term)

    Best regards

    Juanjo (one of the three spaniards in the mountains)

  2. Gritty heart wreching stuffs you don't get to encounter by staying at the swanky hotels and trudging around with the packaged tours.
    I'd suggest you post the addresses of the orphanages and directions on how to get there, so as any one who's inspired to trek Vietnam the way you and Celine are are doing can offer some much needed helps.

  3. How about writing the experience on a travel site and suggesting tourists might start a collective to support the orphanages - highlighting the work they are doing. Maybe a stint as volunteer teachers before you move out of the country. Lots to think about but even just posting on this blog is a good start.

  4. Thanks for all the suggestions. We are looking into options now. I will keep you posted.

  5. 4 mates and I did a 15 day motorbike trip through Vietnam in Oct 11, we also visited the Vinh Son 1 orphanage and heard the sad accounts of the children buried alive with the mothers, we gave the kids, pencils, coloring books and 2 Aussie Rules footballs also donated a couple of million dong that day. Since arriving back in Australia myself and my wife have started sponsoring 2 children there. We give $250.00 AU for each child per year. We are going back this year in August to spend a few days there and do what we can to help out. Gary

  6. Hi Gary,

    How do you go about sponsoring the children?

  7. Hi Dan,
    I was stationed with the 4th ID in the Pleiku area during 1968/69. I never got to Kontum, but my infantry battalion conducted sweeps east of Dak To. I am the treasurer/registrar of the NY/NJ Chapter of the 4ID Assn. One of our members is a dentist who used to give dental care to the orphans in Kontum. He became very friendly with the Catholic Priest. After he returned to the US, he heard that the priest had been murdered by the Viet Cong. They accused him of supplying information to the Americans. A downright lie.
    At my place of work in CA, one of my coworkers was the son of a missionary couple the worked at Ban Me Tuot during the war. He had found memories of Vietnam.
    4ID veterans and myself would like to support the orphanages monetarily. We had a great respect for the dedication of workers giving their time and sometimes lives for these children.

  8. Found your blog by accident but it is so relevant. I have two friends (teachers) who are currently at the orphanages working. Our school held a music night before they left and raised $2000. I am sure it will go a long way in Kon Tum.
    Keep up your good work.