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Making long-lasting friendships in Vietnam

During my three years working at ChildFund Vietnam, I have had many opportunities to visit Bac Kan province, one of ChildFund’s project areas located in the north of Vietnam. But one of the most memorable trips was just recently in November 2013 when I accompanied Aussie sponsors, Greg and Judy Odgen, to meet their sponsored child, Dao, in Bach Thong, one of the poorest districts in Bac Kan.

We picked up Greg and Judy Odgen on an autumn day in Hanoi. Greg and Judy greeted us warmly and were very friendly and eager to start their trip.

This was the second time Judy and Greg had visited Bac Kan. They shared with us stories from their first unforgettable trip eight years ago when they met their first sponsored child, Su. It has now been more than a decade since the Ogdens first sponsored a child in Vietnam through ChildFund.

After driving for four hours, passing through large streets in Hanoi then narrow, rocky roads with bumpy streams in Bac Kan, we arrived at the local commune centre in Bach Thong.  This was the first time Judy and Greg have had the chance to meet 16-year-old Dao after seven years of exchanging letters.

“I was told about my sponsor’s visit three months ago. I was very excited to hear that. And now, I feel very happy and honoured to see them actually here,” says Dao.

It often takes time for Dao’s letters to reach her sponsors. Her letters are collected by the Sponsor Relations Volunteer by hand before being delivered to ChildFund`s Hanoi office to be translated into English.

Dao often shares with her sponsors about the weather in Vietnam, her study and her family. In turn, she also receives lots of notes from her sponsors with information about their family, their holiday and their work. Whenever she receives letters from overseas, she feels so excited because she can learn more about Judy, Greg, Gerard and Phillip (their two sons). She calls Gerard and Phillip “brothers” and has kept all their letters, cards and presents.

Although Dao knows much about Greg and Judy, she was still a little shy when she met them face-to-face for the first time. “They look quite different from what I thought but they are very friendly and caring, like the way they write to me,” says Dao.

 

Dao, her family, Judy and Greg had a great time together. Judy showed Dao and her mother a family photo album with photos of their two sons and their daily life. She was also eager to tell everyone about her home town, Wagga Wagga and Greg enjoyed the mandarin oranges Dao’s family prepared, very different to the other mandarins he had tasted before!

When it was time to say good bye everyone knew that it would be a long time until they saw each other again. It was an emotional moment for all of us.

“Thank you so much for visiting me! I hope you will have a safe trip and I will study hard to live up to your expectations!” said Dao to Judy.

After saying goodbye to Dao, Judy and Greg had the chance to visit some ChildFund projects in the community. They saw a livelihoods project in action and had tea with staff at the local community health centre but it was a visit to a preschool that was the highlight for the Ogdens.

While they were playing “cat and mouse”, everyone was very impressed with a little boy who acted as a cat and chased Greg. He was very crafty and pretended to be tired before having a big burst of energy and catching Greg, the giant mouse.

“We have had an adventure coming here! We love to learn about different cultures and different people in different countries,” says Greg. And we love to see everything here, to see what ChildFund has been doing to create changes for local people.”

“It is important for me, as a sponsor, to see what we have been supporting for the past seven years. It is something very real and valuable. We hope that ChildFund can continue their development work to bring changes and improvements for people living in rural Vietnam.”

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