HOW is a registered 501(c)3 non-profit organization based in the USA, whose staff consists of all volunteers. Its mission is to provide hope and care to neglected, abandoned, and orphaned children in deprived areas of the world with a specific focus on VietNam.
Kerri Galligan (Helping Orphans Worldwide, HOW Irish board member and HOW's VIP (Volunteer Immersion Program) VOLUNTEER, volunteer manager... HOW has zero paid staff :)
This blog was written by Kerri Galligan, HOW's VIP (Volunteer Immersion Program) VOLUNTEER , Volunteer Manager and HOW Ireland Board Member. Kerri has given up 3 months of her life to manage the VIP program and work hard while in the country. She gave up her job to do this and also all volunteers. Kerri is a volunteer and is not paid for her work. She fundraises for HOW on top of it, and is a joy and delight! HOW is very lucky to have Kerri Galligan on our team. This is Kerri's blog regarding District 4 Education Center and how things are not going as planned and this is why Hillary Brown (me) ha-ha, will be going to Vietnam for 6 months to make sure all programs are on track. Things have a way of unraveling when we don't have one board member there at all times. We are lucky enough to have Free Hugs Vietnam but because of cultural reasons it's more effective to have an elder person in country working along with the Vietnamese Government together to help the children in the best way possible and the most productive way possible. This will continue to be a team effort, each and every program. For more information about HOW please see our page on East villagers and please visit our website: www.helpinghow.com, or visit our causes page on facebook https://www.facebook.com/HelpingHow
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HOW has worked with The Educational Centre for Disabled Children for 4 years now, since our first trip to Vietnam. It has consistently been a highlight of our Volunteer trip and we call it District 4 because it is shorter than giving it its full title! There are about 90 children here with varying disabilities from severe Autism to mild hearing problems and so much in between. They come to the centre Monday to Friday from 7am to 4pm free of charge which means their families can go out to work.
They have class in the morning and vocational training in the afternoon. This is a fantastic idea in theory and HOW loves the concept but as with so many things in Vietnam progress is slow and this year it actually seems to have gone backwards!
I love this country and the people and it has become a second home to me. But just when I think I have a grasp of the cultural differences between us, I am reminded how vast those differences really are. It literally leaves me in tears of frustration and this year District 4 has really tested me.
HOW supports a lot at this centre. We provide nutrition, educational and art supplies and our biggest passion is supporting the vocational training. We see it as so much more. It is occupational therapy and gives the kids a sense of accomplishment and time to hang out together in the afternoons and have fun at the end of the day.
Up to this year, the vocational training has consisted of making beaded key rings in the shape of animals and stars, making wallets from leather and purses from cute material. All of these adorable trinkets have been sold at the centre to make money to contribute to the running costs and have been a big hit with HOW volunteers. They are a great gift for friends at home or as a thank you token for people who have helped with fund raising. I have quite a stock myself!
But this year, when myself and Mr. Dat went to see the director here and discuss the upcoming volunteer programme, I was left pretty confused. The trinkets have been replaced by flowers. The children now make flowers from wire and coloured fabric and then arrange them in vases. They are very popular in Vietnam I am told but to me are pretty tacky and not very attractive. I knew our volunteers would not be buying these and trying to fit them into their suitcases to take home. But much more disappointing than that was that only a handful of the children were now taking part in the vocational training. I tried to find out why and was given a smorgasbord of answers! They included: the children have graduated on from beads, the other children are too naughty to be allowed out of their classrooms anymore, this is what sells now, they make more money this way. Some of this makes sense I'm sure but at the end of the day the reason for HOW supporting vocational training was for the kids.
We wanted to see them have an enjoyable and productive activity. As I walked around the classrooms out the back and saw the other kids sitting in their rooms bored, fighting or just rocking (some with no supervision) I decided to try to reason with the director and offer alternatives. I explained our reasons for supporting the vocational training. We want the kids to be stimulated, to enjoy themselves and to have a sense of accomplishment. But it is hard to try to talk openly and honestly with someone of an older generation here. Respect is very important and I think she took it as me thinking I knew better and so shut down. She insisted this is what works and so not to insult anyone, I decided we would just have the volunteers come and let Hillary talk to her in August when she got here.
Although all HOW and Free Hugs volunteers felt equally frustrated that the kids were not being allowed to meet their full potential, I witnessed some incredible moments in the 3 days we hung out with them.
Amidst my sadness and disappointment, I saw the most tender moments of compassion and mutual adoration between the visiting volunteers and children. They sat with the quiet and ignored kids and had them singing and laughing in minutes. Each and every one of our volunteers were utterly awesome and inspiring. I witnessed them transform otherwise boring days into joyful memories and I am so proud of them for that.
One of the greatest assets HOW has and the reason we continue to make a difference is our volunteers. They are our eyes and ears at each centre we go to and we really appreciate the feed back they give us. At the end of the Volunteer Programme we had long discussions about the centre and where to go from here. I have been given some terrific ideas by all the volunteers and I am now so excited about where we can go from here. We want to make life better not just for the kids but also for the staff here. I believe we can help make their jobs not only easier but also enjoyable and help the kids be more responsive and happy and reach their full potential. We all want the same thing, a brighter future for these amazing children.
For donations for Helping Orphans Worldwide, HOW's EB program please visit: http://www.tfishfund.org/how.html
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