Having left Vietnam as an infant and war orphan 40 years ago, writer Nicole Wick returned for the first time last month to reconnect with her homeland.
While there, her family also had the opportunity to visit their World Vision family and meet their sponsored children!
Read about the family Nicole rediscovered in Vietnam.
I hadn’t been to Vietnam for 40 years. That spring, Americans were pulling out of the war-torn country without looking back. While my generation grew up learning about Vietnam from PBS documentaries, musty textbooks, and the glossy pages of LIFE magazine, I saw it through my mind’s eye, an imagined jungle of humidity that I couldn’t possibly remember but at the same time could never forget.
A few weeks ago, I sat in an airplane on the same tarmac I left Vietnam from 40 years earlier. When I left the country in 1975, I was an infant orphaned by war and circumstance. I left in a blur of heat, chaos, and desperation. Escape. I returned in a blur of exhaustion, anticipation, and nervous expectation. Coming home. The last time, I had been an orphan in search of a family; this time I was with my husband and my daughter, but still in search of family.
Vietnam had an eerie familiarity to me. We spent the first few days traveling as tourists, weaving in and out of markets, tasting foods from street vendors and darting around the millions of motorbikes that zip through Ho Chi Minh City. It felt a little hollow to be a tourist in the place that I had always assumed my heart would call home, but we were strangers, visitors from a faraway land.
On the fourth day of our trip, we were picked up at our hotel by one of the World Vision staff members who work in Ho Chi Minh City. After days of sightseeing, we were driving through neighborhoods that we never would have found in a tour book. We were on our way to the community we have come to love through letters and sponsorship updates and we were finally going to meet the sweet little boys that we sponsor. Their photos hang on our refrigerator and their coloring pages decorate our family scrapbooks, and today we were going to hear their voices and learn their stories.
We couldn’t get there fast enough.
It’s hard to put words around what it was like to meet our boys. The first boy we met was Thuan, a 7-year-old little guy who was full of smiles and nervous energy. We took about a million photos with him, and he’s flashing a dimpled smile and a peace sign in each and every one of them! He lives at home with his mom and his older brother. His mother, who was one of the sweetest women I’ve ever met in my life, supports herself and her two boys through her work as a street sweeper. Her concerns about being able to support Thuan and ensure that he receives a good education spoke to my heart. She participates in World Vision’s parent classes, where she has the opportunity to learn about topics such as parenting lessons, domestic violence education, and job skills. We were able to spend the morning with them exchanging gifts and stories before we all went to participate in some activities at the community club.
When we arrived at the community club, there were roughly 30 students there to greet us. The energy was electric as we played games that taught lessons about the importance of family and how children should have a voice. We stayed playing games and laughing with all of our new friends until our cheeks hurt. Thuan seemed so proud to be at the club with his sponsors and I swear there were times when I thought for sure my heart would burst.
In the afternoon, we met our second sponsored child, a 4-year-old named Toan. He was very, very unsure of what to make of us, but he made friends with my daughter through the universal language of matchbox cars, and they were soon friends. While they played cars I had a chance to spend time with his mother. Toan is the youngest of three children and lives at home with both of his parents. His mom has health issues that make looking after the children difficult and make work impossible. Her husband barely makes enough at his construction job to cover their basic needs.
She told me about how much our letters mean to her and that she has read them over and over again. As we flipped through the photo album that I brought her, she pointed to our family photos that she recognized from emails and letters. I couldn’t believe that she was as familiar with my children’s faces as I was with hers. Before we left, she hugged me and told me that we are both Vietnamese. We are both the same blood and we are each other’s family. In that moment I knew I had found the connection I had been longing for all week. I didn’t feel like a visitor anymore; I had found family.
You can be part of our family, too. The World Vision community development in Ho Chi Minh City is in the early stages and there are still hundreds of children who need sponsors. At the office and in our meetings with the boys and their mothers, we learned that partnering with World Vision means that these children have access to community child clubs, child forums, and literacy-focused playgrounds. It means that the children we sponsor have safe places to play and that their parents have access to important resources that they need to better support their families.
It was amazing to see the impact that these programs have firsthand. Due to government regulations, you won’t find sponsorship opportunities on the World Vision website. If you are interested in sponsoring one of the children in this community please call World Vision at 1-888-511-6548 and request information on sponsorship opportunities in Vietnam. I promise that you’ll be glad that you did!
You can also search for children to sponsor in other countries online here.