It had never been my intention when I went to Vietnam to start an NPO. One of my best friends and I had been dreaming for years of travelling through Southeast Asia, and so when the opportunity presented itself for us to travel and take an extended holiday to explore northern Vietnam, we jumped at it. We did the usual touristy things – explored Hanoi city, went for a cruise on Halong bay, and even went for a bicycle ride through a traditional village west of Hanoi. After about a week of sightseeing, we jumped on a bus to the northern most province of Vietnam – Ha Giang. My friend and I had decided we wanted to do something meaningful on our holidays, so we found an opportunity to volunteer part-time in an English center run by a local Vietnamese teacher in Ha Giang city. This was perfect because it gave us ample time to explore and do sightseeing while we volunteered.
A month into volunteering (and merely by chance), we volunteers were introduced to a local orphanage located on the outskirts of town. The orphanage housed about 60 ethnic minority children who had been orphaned through slavery and human trafficking across the border to China. The buildings were old soviet style concrete buildings that were dilapidated and covered in mold. The children had steel framed beds to sleep on but lacked adequate mattresses, blankets or pillows. The children’s clothes were threadbare and worn. They lacked educational supplies for schools, toys to play with, and the small farm they had next to their dormitories was not enough to adequately support their needs for food.
And that’s when the Ha Giang Project was born. We started a gofundme page, I created a website and a social media presence to get the word out for our cause, and soon enough we had donations pouring in and we volunteers were spending our free time buying supplies, cleaning and renovating the orphanage, and teaching English and holding other extra-curricular classes for the children. It was an amazing experience, and for what was really not that much effort made a huge difference in the lives of the children at the orphanage.
Fast-forward 7 years and The Ha Giang Project is still going strong. As a lot of the original children have now grown up and have left the orphanage, our mission has now changed from solely trying to improve the orphanage to creating a support network and safety net for those orphans who are trying to make their way in the world without the usual traditional support that other children would receive from their parents. The work is challenging. The problems are more complex. And the financial need has also grown to match. But currently The Ha Giang Project’s mission has morphed into ensuring that this generation do not fall into the same pitfalls as their parents did that lead them to being trafficked across the border to China, and to break the cycle of poverty so that this group of orphans can pave the way and help the other orphans still at the orphanage when it is their time to leave - the majority of which are their younger siblings or relatives.
We are trying all we can to get donation for the orphanage and to provide the children with pur emotiona support, practical advice and pragmatic help and money. We strongly hope that this article also resonates in you and you support and maybe even participate in our journey.
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Your Douglas Johnston