On a hot, steamy day in August of 2008, my husband and I stepped off of an airplane in Saigon, Vietnam. Mere moments after touching down in this faraway land, we found ourselves standing outside of an orphanage in the sweltering summer heat, waiting to meet someone we had only seen in pictures.
And that’s when it happened; my life changed in two very important ways. An eleven-month old child was placed into my arms, and in an instant I was simultaneously transformed into a first-time mother as well as an advocate for the voiceless children of the world.
Looking back, it is hard to believe that such a profound change in how I defined myself could have happened in a single, solitary moment. Months later I would realize how that one moment would end up overthrowing and redirecting the entire trajectory of my life.
After returning home, I started thinking about all the children we had seen in Vietnam, especially the ones residing in the orphanage. Once you see their faces, you cannot forget them. Those of us in the international adoption community know this truth all too well: life in an orphanage is hard, and it can be devastating physically, emotionally and mentally.
As I witnessed my son struggle through his own post-institutional trauma, it seemed that I carried the images of his orphanage mates with me constantly. I would stare at my son and be overtaken with a sense of responsibility to help take care of those we left behind. I had no idea where to start. I began researching about the plight of children, families and orphans in Vietnam.We had fallen in love with not only the people of Vietnam, but the culture and breathtaking landscape of the countryside. We felt that we had been given a rare chance to have a second home half way across the world, even if we were only outsiders looking in. We wanted to do something to give back to the country that had given us so much. UNICEF estimates that there are 1.5 million orphans in Vietnam. About 23,000 of these children are classified as “street children” with an estimated 20% being HIV positive. Once children age-out of an institution, the outlook is grim. It is estimated that most end up on the streets and fall victim to sex trafficking, drugs and a life of crime. Placing children for adoption, within Vietnam and abroad, remains difficult due to many factors. In fact, adoptions between the US and Vietnam are currently halted while Vietnam focuses on strengthening the integrity of its adoption law to ensure corruption and trafficking can be prevented. To add to all of this, the effects of war can still be felt even today among some children of Vietnam.
Decades later, children are being born with severe birth defects due to the Agent Orange that persists in the soil and water in several areas of the country. The Red Cross estimates that 150,000 children have been affected. Many of these children are growing up in orphanages without much hope of a future.
So in 2009, I decided that I could stay inactive no longer. I partnered with two other adoptive mothers, and we started a campaign to bring awareness and fundraising efforts to organizations serving the children of Vietnam. We were able to raise funds for life-saving surgeries, mobile medical clinics and orphanage aid. Through that experience I was able to come in contact with many wonderful organizations doing amazing work in Vietnam. I encourage you to visit these sites and become inspired by their efforts and accomplishments:
- The Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation (http://www.streetkidsinvietnam.com/)
- Children of Vietnam (http://www.childrenofvietnam.org/)
- The Catalyst Foundation (http://www.catalystfoundation.org/)
- Humanitarian Services for Children of Vietnam (http://www.hscv.org/)
- Friends of Hue (http://www.friendsofhue.org/)
- Giving It Back to Kids (http://givingitbacktokids.com/)
Obviously a piece of my heart resides in Vietnam, and my desire to help the children of this country stems from the adoption of my son. However, there are places all over the world in which children without a voice are in need of aid. As staggering as the statistics for Vietnam may seem, the orphan crisis is a global problem.
As a mother, I feel that I can’t rest until I do my best to help those who do not have the safety of a family on which to rely. All children—in my country, in Vietnam and in all nations—deserve access not only to basic necessities but to the gift of love and the feeling that their life matters.
What are some ways that your children have inspired you to reach out to others in need?
This is an original post to the World Moms Blog Human Rights column by Lauren from Tennessee, USA. Lauren is a lover of nature and a mother to two boys adopted from across the globe. She blogs about her adventures in adoption, autism and the great outdoors at http://hikebloglove.com.
Photo credit to the author.
Lauren, what a touching story!!!! Thank you so much for your first post on WMB! I hope we get some conversation going about international adoptions and autism, two important topics that need to be talked about.
Also, I forgot to add that your work for helping these children without a voice is truly inspiring!
Thank you Nicole! I look forward to the chance to share more about autism and adoption.
Great Lauren! I just reblogged your post to my site to try to gain more readership/new readers. I would love to hear more about autism as well.
As a wife and mother (first) and a pediatrician (sometimes!) working with orphans and foster children in China I also echo the plight of those not fortunate enough to get adopted. Which is approximately 99.9% of orphaned and abandoned and homeless children in the world. I believe it is so important to partner with local people in country and be a part of inspiring them to catch the vision for what could be, giving them motivation to break cultural norms by rolling up their sleeves and getting involved in compassion work with these kids. Good to see you involved with these humanitarian groups!! Great post!
Reblogged this on thirdeyemom and commented:
Hello Readers! I want to share with you all an excellent post from a fellow blogger Lauren of Hike. Blog. Love that was posted today under the Human Rights Section (which I edit, write and recruit new writers) for World Mom’s Blog. I have been enjoying Lauren’s posts for awhile now and knew that she would be an excellent fit with World Moms Blog.
As a mother and person who believes in the power and necessity to give back, I am truly inspired by her story and her work to help give orphaned children a voice. There are millions of children throughout the world living in dire circumstances and it is truly up to us to help stop it by supporting NGOs who try to end child trafficking, child prostitution, child slave labor, and aim to support education and community/rural development. I know that these issues are prevalent in many countries throughout the world. A child should not have to live like this. I believe that it is time to stand up and support some of the NGOs out there that help give children a voice and an opportunity to become a productive citizen. They are our future, right? Let’s give them a chance!
Thank you for sharing your story with World Moms Blog! It has really stuck with me since I’ve read it. So many kids need our help!!
I’m inspired by what you do!
Thank you, Jennifer! I am so grateful for the chance to share with others.
Lauren, I truly admire you for actually doing something to help! I think that every child we help is an investment in the future of the world.
In South Africa we have a huge problem with orphans who are also HIV positive. It is also extremely difficult to get approval to adopt a child of a different race. This effectively means that although there are people willing and able to provide good homes for these orphans, beaurocracy and small-mindedness often prevent them from being able to.
I strongly feel that we should stop looking at the colour of someone’s skin and give everyone the chance at a loving family!
What a touching post. I love that you’ve not just thought about how you can help, but have made real steps forward in doing so.
Lauren, thanks for sharing the story of your journey and encouraging others to set out on their own. If everyone helped out just a little, our world would be a much better place!
Children of Vietnam is truly blessed to have your support Lauren. I too am an adoptive mom and have a similar story. My life was changed over 17 years ago. Thanks again and keep up the good work on behalf of the world’s children. – Nancy
Hi Lauren, so nice to see you here! What a great post! Now that I have children of my own, I am definitely more drawn to mother and child issues than before in my humanitarian aid work. Before now I have been open to working on a wide range of humanitarian issues but I find myself really wanting to get involved in issues related to prenatal health, child malnutrition, and child literacy and education. I hope to work with organizations in Laos on these issues and to involve my children as well.
Hi Lauren. Such a beautiful story to which I can relate because my son and his wife adopted two children here in South Africa, their home country. They are now 6 and 3 and have brought so much joy into our lives and all those who meet them. I often wonder where they would have been today if they hadn’t been adopted. I admire all parents who choose that route, especially if they cannot have children of their own. I love my grandchildren and can only say they are the luckiest children I know. They now live in England and are positively thriving.
Thank you everyone for all the kind comments! I feel truly blessed to have been placed on this journey. Thank you all for reading and commenting!