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.
This blog was written by Helping Orphans Worldwide, HOW (VIP) Volunteer Immersion Program VOLUNTEER manager. Kerri Galligan has heart and soul, she is giving, loving and caring. Kerri dedicated 3 months out of the summer to work on our programs with the volunteers and to make sure that all details were taken care of with great attention to detail. She has supported our volunteers, organized each trip and made sure to continue a wonderful working program with each of our partners. Please meet Kerri and read her beautiful description of HOW's progress with the help of so many wonderful volunteers, donors, friends, and so much love!
It has been an arduous undertaking getting HOW to where we are today. It has been a road of hardship, heartache and more red tape than you can imagine! But looking back over this summer from the comfort of home gives me a great sense of achievement. While pouring over photos of the past few months, I find myself thinking back to how we have gotten here and what we have been through in the last 4 years.
When we started we were supporting a lot of orphanages bringing medical and food supplies as well as humanitarian aid with our volunteers. We came across a lot of children in dire circumstances: children that didn’t get any one to one attention, were never held or touched gently, children that didn’t even receive eye contact. To sit and connect with a child like that can have a profound impact on not only the child but also the volunteer. And yes for a few beautiful moments that child was seen and felt loved but as a charity we wanted to do more. We wanted to put long-term plans in place and not walk away from an institution wondering if we had actually made a difference.
We witnessed a lot of places like this in the beginning. It was an emotional roller coaster. To see a child with no light behind their eyes is heart breaking and something that never leaves you. It crawls into your deepest subconscious and comes back without warning as a haunting memory even years later. I still find myself sitting in social situations surrounded by friends when suddenly tears are stinging at the back of my eyes while I am trying to keep my composure. I know this could easily become a flood of tears and I don’t want to embarrass myself or anyone else. It is nearly impossible to explain to people what Vietnam is like, what an experience like this does to you. Unless you’ve been there, I’m not sure one could ever understand.
When people ask me about HOW or how the summer trip was, I always start by telling them about The Lotus Shelter. I am so proud of what we have achieved here since we started supporting it 4 long years ago. The Lotus Shelter is home to 26 beautiful girls between 4 and 17 years of age. They have come from a variety of distressing backgrounds. Some were street sellers, some were sexually, physically and/or mentally abused and some were simply abandoned here by mothers that could no longer afford to feed or shelter their own daughter. The main difference between this shelter and other institutions that we have had to walk away from is one basic human right – HOPE! To see children that have lost hope is horrific it is terrifying actually. But the women of WOCA that run this shelter have allowed us to come in and put a long-term plan in place, a plan that will hopefully give the girls a bright future.
Each year we bring volunteers here to spend time with the girls. We take them out to a water park, do yoga classes and we are passionate about Art therapy. This gives the girls a chance to process and express their emotions. We have watched as their confidence has soared as they get to hang out with international volunteers. The girls and the ladies that take care of them know that their greatest hope is education. HOW has been supporting their education for years. Each term we provide their schoolbooks, stationary, uniforms, bags, stationary and have even been able to give them enough bikes for all the girls to get to school instead of walking the 9km distance. Our biggest joy so far though came late last year when we were awarded a grant by Electric Aid/ESB Ireland. With the grant we were able to buy laptops, a printer and software for the shelter. We purchased ‘Mavis Beacon’ software to teach the girls typing skills and ‘Tell Me More’ software to teach them English. We have been helped by some amazing Free Hugs Vietnam/HOW volunteers that have been going out to the shelter every weekend and tutoring the girls one on one. It has been an amazing success and the girls are still studying all through their summer holidays.
We are also lucky enough to have found the beautiful Mai Hua (a Vietnamese uni student studying fashion design in America) who has been out to visit the girls a lot this summer and has become a role model for them. She has spoken to the girls about the importance of education for their futures and has ignited a passion for English in them. She has helped them believe that they can be anything they want to be! In this group of girls I see future doctors, nurses, social workers, politicians and even stars!!! We are so lucky to have so many amazing people on Team HOW and I am beyond proud to be part of a change for the better. I hope that everyone that supports us (whether financially, emotionally or as a volunteer) realizes what a huge impact they are having on the future of these girls. To take a phrase from my good friend Kim of Vietnam Volunteer Network “Together we CAN make a difference”. So ”THANK YOU” from all of us at HOW and from the girls of The Lotus Shelter to every one of you that has helped or supported us in any way big or small.
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