Stopping Poverty, one kid at a time…

little hands, big personalities

Today I spent the day with the gorgeous kids from the Green Bamboo Warm Shelter.

Green Bamboo is an organisation that exists in the back alleys of Ho Chi Minh city, where they care for 25 boys every year, giving them a warm bed, three meals a day and send them to school. these kids come from different backgrounds, some are orphans, others are just abandoned by parents that dont want to take care of them any more, and some are victims of poverty and have been sent their by their parents in the hope for a better future. Each boy in the shelter was warm and friendly with a huge smile on his gorgeous little face when I came to visit, and I loved it there so much, I stayed, all afternoon.

colouring in...

The Green Bamboo Shelter takes boys from 8 – 16, giving them access to vital education and safety that they don’t get when they are living on the street in the hope of breaking the cycle of poverty. My heart broke as I heard stories of little boys who cry at night for their mummy, and the shelter staff who can’t help them. Some of the parents of these children are unreachable, some have disappeared, and some just say bluntly, I don’t want to talk to him.

I was expecting a more institutionalised environment than what I was faced with. Although the building was bare and sterile, it was clean and the boys seemed very happy. Given a lot of freedom and responsibility these kids are being taught more than just their lessons at school, they are being taught how to take care of themselves, how to function as a part of a team and as a part of a family. Each with their lists of chores, they clean and cook on a rotating roster.

one of my new friends

The shelter is housed in a five-story high, narrow building tucked into a colourful alley in the back streets of Saigon. Each floor has a few bare rooms, and one floor has bathrooms and showers. The boys sleep and play in the same rooms, bare narrow rooms with a block of lockers at the end. I talked to the staff and asked them why there were no beds. Apparently, there used to be beds, but the boys wouldn’t sleep in them. These boys have all lived on the street at some point or another, some of them for their whole lives, and a bed seems uncomfortably hot to them. They would all prefer to spend their evenings stretched out on a mat on the floor in a room with their friends.

The weekdays are very structured, a condition of being allowed to live at the shelter is going to school and getting an education. And in the middle of the day there is a mandatory rest period for all of the boys. But on the weekends and in the evenings they have a lot of freedom. On weekends they are allowed to go and stay with their parents, go to birthday parties at friends houses from school, have friends over to the shelter or have family visit. After dinner every night, which is served at around 5, the boys have a couple of hours of free time where they can do their homework, watch tv or just hang out on the surrounding streets and alleyways. They aren’t policed heavily and they aren’t locked in. Free to roam around and play with other local kids, the boys aren’t being locked away from the world and the streets that used to be their home, and they are clearly appreciative of the good life they are being given. Lights out is 10pm, but like kids anywhere, there is always chatter every night for an hour or two. Whenever the staff go upstairs, the boys pretend to be asleep… it’s a permanent sleep over with their buddies for these kids, but when they get scared at night, like any other little boy – all they really want is their mum.

That's one way to do it Than...

When I went to the shelter today, there was a large group of university students who were upstairs with the boys. After having an interview with the schools manager I went upstairs to see what all the noise was about. There was two hours of singing, magic tricks and games with the group of university students who come once a month on a sunday to hang out with the kids. After the students left I spent the rest of the afternoon playing ball and teaching the kids how to do a good handstand and how to take pictures with my camera. I had kids on my lap, holding my hand and generally leaping all over me. We talked with the little common language skills, but the beauty of the little boys (8 – 12) is that language comes through play easily.

dinner at the shelter

I was invited to join them in their little mess hall for dinner and to share food with them. I ate noodles and rice and chicken with the boys and laughed more with them, little boys slurping yummy noodles at my elbows. I was amazed at how well-behaved these little guys were. All taking care of themselves and each other, working as a very functional little team with the bigger kids keeping an eye on the little ones, and the little ones well and truly pulling their weight.

My heart smiled so large it broke into a thousands shards at my feet as I shared a meal with kids who used to live on the streets but have given a second chance at life. I held their little hands in mine and compared the length of our fingers and the colour of our skin, I wrestled with them and laughed withthem and made faces with them for the camera. We laughed and we tried to teach each other different games. We had wheel barrow races and played ‘piggy in the middle’ I wanted to take them all home with me…

Unfortunately the shelter can only care for the boys for 2 years each – there are of course exceptions – one little boy came at 5 (younger than they normally take kids) he was abandoned by his parents and the shelter havent been able to contact them since, they once found a grandmother who visited the boy a few times but then never came back – he is now almost 9. He is one of the most gentle, beautiful, loving children I have ever met – and cheeky as all hell. How you could not want your child… I just cannot fathom. After two years the boys are normally re-homed with their parents or another family member, and the shelter continues to pay for their schooling and some of their welfare – on the condition that the parents ensure that the kids go to school.

The shelter is not government-funded and relys solely on the charity of the rest of the world, sponsored by a bank in the UK for the next year the shelter is safe, but they don’t know what will happen to them, the building, the staff or the boys after this year. It costs only $30,000USD to house, feed, school and care for 25 boys and pay the 5 staff a very meagre salary.

How could you say no to that face?

If you are ever in Vietnam, or you are looking for somewhere to give a little money, donate clothes, toys, food or just a couple of hours of your time. The staff and boys are very welcoming to guests, they never ask for a cent, and it is one of the orphanage facilities that I have been to that truly gives you hope for the future of its little tenants.

Break the cycle, give the gift of education.

Barefoot making a little change. One step at a time.

7 Responses to “Stopping Poverty, one kid at a time…”
  1. Dianne Westall says:

    Sash, your heartwarming writing of your experience withthese young children is amazing. Brian and I are going to Vietnam in about June so will definitely see what we can do whilst we are up there.

    • Hi Dianne! Thanks for your comment. there are lots of places throughout Vietnam, not to mention the rest of South East Asia – that would love you to visit and donate whatever you can, even if that is only your time. You will love Vietnam, it is Amazing.

  2. Minh Dang says:

    Hi Sash,

    Thanks for sharing your experiences.

    I hope the children made you feel very special as they did with me.

    I’m not quite sure if you met Andrea a beautiful Austrian lady, but she working on a project especially for the kids.

    I’m back in Australia now and im raising awareness and campaigning for the project.

    Is it ok for me to use your blog to promote the shelter and the project?

    • Hi, how lovely to hear from you. I didn’t meet the woman that you speak of but it’s great to hear that so many people are working so hard to get word out about the program and support it. It’s truly a worthy cause. Of course you are very welcome to use my blog as part of your media package – there will be more about the shelter under ‘little steps’ in the coming weeks – the site is in major overhaul and development at the moment.

      Thanks for stopping by! I hope to see you here again soon! Sash.

    • Stephan says:

      I am planning a trip to Saigon and I must say that after reading your article that breaks my heart I will try to show to the Green Bamboo to give time and some monney instead then going to a luxuriour hotel!! whats the adresse?

  3. Ahana says:

    Hi – do you have the address of the green bamboo shelter?

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  1. […] Stopping Poverty, one kid at a time… April 20105 comments 4 […]

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