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Lights, camera, lockdown

Caroline Mrowiec, Orphan Voice’s Hope Therapy Center

‘Tis the season for drying shrimp in the road

A lot has changed since my last post. My heart goes out to everyone in the U.S. confronting many difficult circumstances, and a big thank you to the frontline healthcare workers there! Over here, many of the foreigners in Danang have flown back to their home countries. The entire country of Vietnam has gone into lockdown, so our therapy center is temporarily closed. The week before we closed, we had just started what we planned to be an eight-week photography class with seven of our older kids at the center. My best friend in Danang is Kelly, a travel photographer, and she volunteers with a US nonprofit called 100cameras (100cameras.org),* to provide an opportunity for disadvantaged children to tell their stories through photography.

Kelly and Caroline in Ha Giang

At the end of the program, some of the photos the participating children take will be put on the 100cameras website for sale, and all proceeds go directly to the children’s community. For months now, we have been planning and arranging for Kelly to bring her class to our center. The 100cameras organization shipped over the cameras for the class, and it was an exercise in the intricacies of bureaucracy I did not ask for, in order for us to get those cameras. I wrote a story about it. It is called, ‘If You Ship Cameras to Vietnam’ (a parody of, ‘If You Give a Mouse a Cookie’):

If you ship cameras to Vietnam, you had better have a tracking number to go with it.

When the tracking number shows a status of ‘delivered,’ but the cameras have not arrived, you will need to get the address of the local post office.

When you go to the address, and the post office is not there, you will need to find another address of the real post office.

When you go to the real post office, they will send you to each employee there one by one, until you get sent to the building next door to repeat the process.

The last person you are sent to will tell you the cameras are not at this post office at all, but being held in Saigon, and for you to come back some other time.

When the employee tells you to come back some other time, you will need to ask her to call Saigon customs and find out how to get the cameras to Danang.

When the employee calls Saigon customs, they will ask you to provide proof that you are not trying to sell the cameras.

When you get the paperwork together that you are not selling the cameras, you will need to meet a customs employee at a school an hour away, where the employee will not show up to the meeting.

When the employee does not show up, wait until a curious bystander offers to escort you by motorbike to the mail distribution center where the employee works.

When you get to the distribution center, you will need to wait with security while they get you special permission to enter the center.

When you enter the center, you will need to wait an hour until the employee arrives and you will fill out more paperwork.

Waiting in the distribution center, wearing our official visitor badges

When you do the paperwork, they will ask you to pay an import tax on the cameras, so you will need to submit a request for a tax exemption.

After you ask for a tax exemption, a week later you will be able to go to a different office and pick up the cameras!

When you arrive to pick up the cameras, be ready with the original tracking number, because when you ship cameras to Vietnam, you will be asked for a tracking number to go with it.

The End.

Daisy and the box of cameras!

One of the girls who will be participating in the class is a 16-year-old girl with autism named Nguyen. I introduced her in a previous post. While her verbal skills are minimal, she is our most motivated and enthusiastic client at the center. She has never been to school and she has cognitive limitations, but her capacity for learning is excellent and she gets so excited when she learns something new. Nguyen comes to our center twice a week, and her mom says Nguyen cries on the other days she doesn’t come, because she wants to be at the center.

I knew how much she would enjoy participating in the class, so I worked with her for weeks before the first photography class, to build cognitive skills needed to be able to engage in the class. I taught her the most basic functions of the camera and how to take a picture, so that she would be prepared for the class. I wish I had a picture of her taking her first picture by herself. But I won’t forget her expression of pure joy. For footage of our first camera class and more:

I would like to share another video: Orphan Voice just made a thank-you video for a donation we received for Hope Therapy Center. Josh Reyes, the man responsible for building the climbing wall at our therapy center when we first opened, is involved with a US organization called Climbers for Chr*st (https://www.climbersforchrist.org/). The organization recently hosted a climbing event to raise money for our therapy center. An event organizer shared this story of a 15-year-old climber, Dillon, who participated that day:

“With just over an hour left in the allotted time for the fundraiser I asked him [Dillon] if he had any energy left. He said he was absolutely exhausted (we had both been climbing for about 6 hours at that point). I said I was going to go on one last blitz and climb everything I possibly could for the last hour and asked him if he would join me (everyone else had pretty much stopped climbing by then). I told him you and the team at Orphan Voice would squeeze every penny out of each dollar we raised and that it was worth pushing through the pain. His eyes lit up and he said, “Let’s do it!” Without hesitating we got after it and completed over 40 additional climbs between us! That raised over $100 extra!! As we were blasting through that power hour he said several times that when he wanted to quit because of the fatigue, he just thought of the kids that would benefit from his efforts; that gave him the strength to push through until we had to stop because of the time deadline. I am SO PROUD of him for pushing himself for me, for Orphan Voice, and most of all for Jesus Chr*st! I just wanted you to know that Dillon was the only one that pushed through to the end with me and I wanted to recognize him for it.”

Thanks to Dillon and Climbers for Chr*st!

*100cameras just launched a new photography project open to any youth participants as an outlet for sharing stories about life during the pandemic.  To sign up, follow the link: https://www.100cameras.org/wya

I’m so glaaaad we had this tiiiiime together

Caroline Mrowiec, Orphan Voice’s Hope Therapy Center

It has been a while since I last posted, but this time I have an excuse.  I have been conscientiously social-distancing myself in the wake of COVID-19.  There, my second sentence in and I already mentioned the coronavirus; it was the elephant in the room.  (A room with 10 people or less in it, that goes without saying.)  This pandemic has made me feel connected to the US, even though I am on the other side of the world.  For the same unifying reason, we have the same icebreaker for every conversation, are giving the same dirty look if someone coughs, and are exhausting the supply of products that make us feel more secure in these uncertain times (face masks in Vietnam, toilet paper in the US).  We taught the kids at Orphan Voice’s group home a dance for learning hand washing.

To Vietnam’s credit, the measures taken have been effective in preventing any major outbreaks here, even though cases pop up around the country from time-to-time.  Our therapy center has been allowed to remain open, but the schools here have been shut down for two months, face masks are mandatory in public places, and tourism has all but ground to a halt.  All travelers on tourist and business visas are being denied entry into Vietnam currently, so if I leave the country, I will not be allowed back in at this time.  My visa expires next week, but I am being allowed to extend my visa for three months without leaving the country, and hopefully I will be able to remain in Vietnam this way.  This conveniently segues me into my next topic, overstaying my time here in Vietnam.

All the flights being canceled into the Danang airport

Can you believe I have already been in Vietnam for two years??  Of course you can believe it, I just felt like it was the obligatory comment to make when acknowledging my fulfilled commitment of two years of service with Orphan Voice.  I had planned on moving home in February, at the end of my two-year commitment here, but last fall, I realized that there was a good chance we would not find a replacement therapist to take over for me in time, before my planned departure.  I do not think I am necessary for God to continue His work here with this ministry, but last September, I became convicted that He was prompting me to turn my deadline of leaving Vietnam over to Him.  I tried to ignore this conviction, asked God to give me a sign if He meant it, and got online to book a flight home for February.  But wouldn’t you know, the ticket price on the date I picked to fly home was double the price of any other date in February.

The incident helped me decide to do what I already knew I should, so I am still in Vietnam for the present.  I know I am free to leave when I choose, but I know sometimes the best decisions are not about choosing the easiest option- something I am always hoping my patients understand about therapy.  I try to push my patients each session to do tasks that challenge their abilities, in order for them to gain skills to reach their goals.  I try to motivate my patients as best as I can, but even the smallest child has free will.  Exercising this free will means that sometimes progress in therapy is slowed down or even impeded, when the child is unwilling to attempt challenging tasks or follow the rules.  The thing is, the challenges and rules are there for the good of that child, and they know I am there to help them succeed in each task.  For me, I don’t want to slow down my own progress by refusing the challenges that God has selected for my growth.

“So what am I gonna do?  I’ll tell your what I’m gonna do.  I’m gonna do a little bit of this, a little bit of that.  I’m gonna… stay up all day.  I’m gonna sleep up all night.  I’m gonna give it a hoooo!  Heyyyy!  Hoooo!  And I’m going to stop worrying about calories.  -Michael Scott” -Caroline Mrowiec.*  Like my visa situation, I am taking things a few months at a time.  At Orphan Voice, we are exploring other options for what coverage of my position might look like.  I may move home this August, depending on what I believe God is calling me to do.  I have more than enough funds to keep going here, without any additional fundraising needed.

Now that my old deadline has come and gone, I am so thankful it is not time yet for me to say goodbye to my life here in Danang.  For one thing, I have a consistent routine here, and I have gotten to be so precise in how late I run for work, that I always spot the same man each morning, in the five seconds it takes him to walk by my apartment building as I am leaving.  I noticed him from the first, because he is always wearing a neck pillow around his neck.  Of course, I never have time to say hello, because of the nature of the situation, but I am sure he will miss the controlled chaos of watching me drive off each day, when it is finally time for me to move home.

Hanging out at Hope Therapy Center

*Only TRUE Office fans will get this reference.

Orphan Voice’s Anti-Trafficking Program in Nepal

Trafficking prevention seminars protecting Nepalese children

“Updates from the Outback” with Tim Daniell, OV International Programs Director

One of the most amazing experiences of my life was trekking through the Himalayas of Nepal, to the base camp of the world’s highest mountain, Everest. Breathtaking!

I never dreamt at that time that I would be back with Orphan Voice just nine months later doing something else I love, helping to build strong families and see vulnerable children protected and thriving.

During this visit to Nepal in May 2019, I was able to help facilitate a training with our project partner to prepare for a new project Orphan Voice will begin to support to build strong families for orphaned and vulnerable children. One of my other priorities was to see firsthand a project Orphan Voice is already supporting, which is building greater awareness with vulnerable children to prevent trafficking and abuse.

Tragically and ironically, in a land of such exquisite beauty, child abuse and trafficking are destroying many precious young lives. A UNICEF report from 2017 states that around 12,000 female children and women are trafficked out of Nepal every year! Possibly many more go undetected, and some never return. That is a tragedy hard for many of us to comprehend.

Orphan Voice’s mission is to “be conduits whereby God’s love holistically transforms families and communities in conformity with His justice.” That is what we are in Nepal to do. We want to see the exploitation of children and women come to an end and His justice prevail. In a country like Nepal where many children are not aware of their rights and the dangers they face, or where to go to get help and speak out, Orphan Voice aims to give them a voice and build greater awareness.

In April 2019, Orphan Voice began an exciting new project and partnership with a wonderful local Christian organization, to broadcast child safety awareness campaigns on national television across Nepal. We are also supporting awareness raising trainings at schools, churches and clubs. In total, we are aiming to reach 120,000 children and youth with this vital message in just one year.

In May, I was able to attend one of these awareness trainings that Orphan Voice is supporting and was so impressed. Children learned about “Good Touch and Bad Touch” from a big fluffy dog mascot named Khush. They also learned about their rights to safety and memorized the national help-line number to call if they feel unsafe and need assistance. The children watched an excellent child-trafficking video locally produced by our project partner with support from Orphan Voice. And to top it all off, the children had a lot of fun singing action songs about God’s amazing love for them and received nutritional snacks before they returned home. I felt so blessed that Orphan Voice can be a part of this ongoing initiative and grateful to our project partner and many faithful donor partners who help to make this all possible.

After attending the awareness raising event, 17 year old Devina had memorized the help-line number and shared with me some of what she had learned. She said, “Today, I learned that if anybody touches our body and it makes us feel uncomfortable or unsafe, that is not right and is a crime. It is important for us to be safe and if we don’t feel safe, we need to tell someone who we trust and get help. I need to share this message about child safety with my friends and in my community.”

The statistics relating to child trafficking in Nepal and around the world are heart-breaking. However, I am encouraged to see what Orphan Voice and our project partner in Nepal is doing to help prevent the abuse and trafficking of children like Devina.

Through your prayers and support, you are helping us reach our goal of sharing this important child safety and anti-trafficking message with 120,000 Nepali children this year, and hopefully many more in the years to come. On behalf of Devina and thousands of children like her, thank you for making Nepal a safer place for them to live.

Hi, internet neighbor, I’m glad we’re together again!

Caroline Mrowiec, Orphan Voice’s Hope Therapy Center

Tan and his mom

Every session starts with Tan running to me for a hug, yelling, “Co Ly! Co Ly!” (Aunt Ly- my Vietnamese name).

This is my little buddy, Tan. He has been coming to the center for almost a year now. Tan has ADHD (attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder) and behavioral issues. If only we could find a way to harness his activeness, we could solve the energy crisis. The first time I met Tan and his mother, Tan was running wild through the house and his mother cried and begged us to accept Tan to the therapy center. Tan’s father passed away a few years ago, and I believe some of Tan’s issues stem from this. One session, his mom told us that during the previous night, Tan had woken her up and asked her, “Did my father really die? Please don’t leave me.”

Tan used to have good and bad days, emphasis on the bad. Now it is the opposite. A recent achievement for Tan is that he has consistently been brushing his teeth in the morning instead of having a temper tantrum like he used to. He also used to use any place in his home as a toilet, but we have finally transitioned him out of this free-spirited lifestyle.

Tan has been enjoying the new toys at the center which my Aunt Kimi donated.

My aunt and cousin came to visit me in April and they spent a day of their vacation helping me at the center, as well as giving us some new toys and equipment for the kids.

One game they brought- Hungry Hippos- has topped the center’s popular toy chart and is the number one requested item at the center. It is especially a favorite with our children with behavioral issues, and more than one game I have played with them has ended in a fist fight. I am trying to tone down my competitiveness though and I keep telling myself that the only real loser is a bad sport. Keep in mind that I did grow up with a brother (who shall remain nameless), who used to flip the game board at strategic moments when a loss was inevitable for him.

Speaking of Miles, he has developed a communication app for me to use with my nonverbal clients. I bullied him into doing this for his senior project at college. It has been a lot of hard work (for Miles) but with no regrets (I don’t have any). In the US, children who cannot verbally communicate often use some sort of augmentative communication device. This can be in various forms, depending on the child’s abilities, but often times, it is an ipad with a downloaded communication app, allowing the child to select pictures, phrases, or words to let others know what they are thinking.

Many of our families have a smartphone, which means they could download an app to use with their child at home. However, I was unable to find a communication app in Vietnamese, so that is where Miles stepped in (rather willingly, as if he had an option to do otherwise).

We have been trialing the app with an 8-year-old boy at the center named Phu.

Look at this angel face- you would never know that he is capable of doing anything wrong, but he does dabble a bit in bad behaviors. Phu understands Vietnamese, but he is unable to speak because of his physical disabilities. He can yell though, and he used to yell until he got what he wanted. The volume of his yelling was only rivaled by its frequency. We have been able to phase out this behavior for the most part though, by replacing it with sign language and the communication app. There has also been a downturn in his behaviors of spitting and hitting others.

Tai, pictured below, also looks angelic but in his case, looks are not deceiving; he is a super sweet 18-year-old boy with cerebral palsy.

When I first met him, Tai showed me how he can use an ipad with his foot and pick up items with his toes. We have been working on the skills needed to pull his pants up and down. He can now manage his clothing during toileting, and does not need his mom to help him go to the bathroom anymore.

Thank you for your continued prayers and support! Go Cubs!

Romance of Redemption

Message by Cindy Brewer

06/02/2019