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