by Keira Louis
Before we left Brisbane, it was agreed that one of the things we’d like to do while overseas is to volunteer at an Orphanage in either Vietnam or Cambodia. On Tuesday, 17th February, at 8:30am we arrived at an orphanage for disabled children in Ho Chi Minh City to run some music and dance workshops with the children, which had been set up for us by Adam’s mum’s friend, Lindy McAllistar. It was a really special experience.
The orphanage was home to approximately 500 physically and mentally disabled children who were very well cared for by approximately 250 staff. Unfortunately, because of the nature and severity of some of the children’s disabilities, they would often be restrained to beds or wheelchairs everyday, all day. As a result, these children were not stimulated on a regular basis so the orphanage Doctor, Physio and Nurses were more than happy for us to work with some of them for a few hours. With Lindy’s advice, we agreed on 2 workshops of half an hour duration, with 6 children in each workshop. The reason – we would be exhausted by the end of it. And we were!
We were given the use of one of the sensory rooms, the floor of which was covered in soft colourful mats. Two small exercise trampolines were also stationed toward the back of the room, which the children loved to jump around on. A hand rail extended from these trampolines for the children to hold onto while jumping so it was possible for them to do it independently.
All 12 children who came to us were physically disabled. The first group of 6 were unable to stand unassisted, requiring a lot of one-on-one attention from Adam and I, in terms of lifting and supporting, and simply lots of affection. We decided that the best thing to do was to simply play our CD – “Hokey Pokey and Other Great Dances for Kids” (courtesy of Brigette Holland – thanks Brig!) – and let them have fun. Whether it were on trampolines, in our laps, or holding our hands, I can safely say that fun was definitely had by all.
The favourite songs of the day were definitely The Chicken Dance and the Hokey Pokey. Most of these songs were performed sitting down, with the children in our laps and us helping them move their arms along with the actions. And they loved it. It was so rewarding to see them smiling and laughing, and so special to be able to interact with these children, despite language and other barriers.
Our second group of 6 were a lot more mobile. Standing and moving unassisted was generally not a problem for this group and they really loved to dance. Consequently, we brought out the Macarena, the Time Warp and the conga line. It was so much fun! We did notice, though, that our high energy levels had to be maintained throughout in order to keep the children interested the whole time – and it really was exhausting!
At the end of the session, we were asked by both a nurse and the doctor if we were going to come back. It was obvious how little stimulation these children received so we are considering a return visit before we leave. Unfortunately, we would require a lot more time to give all 500 children the same experience, but I hope this 12 can share what they did with others.
It was definitely an eye-opening experience for us, and one that will be a long-lasting memory.