Don ThomsonI kept my promise: garden skills to give independence in Vietnam

It was almost a month later when I arrived back in Melbourne, and well into September although the icy fingers of winter still hung on. Only 24 hours earlier I was travelling to DaNang airport in Vietnam with a tropical storm brewing in the South China Sea. A fierce wind bent over trees along the roadside and a warm rain slammed horizontally against the taxi windscreen. My flight was delayed a few hours while the storm past to the east.



That 9 hour flight back to Melbourne it allowed plenty of time to reflect on the deeds of the past month. Almost 4 weeks ago to the day I re-connected with Dang Van Quoc Viet, the man responsible for organising volunteers from all over the world to help at the DaNang orphanage.

The DaNang orphanage is government run but it is grossly under-resourced and relies heavily on the support of volunteers to feed, exercise, educate and entertain the 220 residents under its care. The residents are a mix of very young, handicapped and old folk that are no longer able to take care of themselves for financial and/or health reasons.

I had met Viet several years earlier when I had helped out at the orphanage for a couple of days whilst holidaying in HoiAn. It was at the conclusion of this time that we sat down together and discussed the idea of training some of the orphans in resort style gardening. The idea was to give these people a skill and then find them a gardening job in the many hotel resorts flanking the South China Sea. In this way the orphans could live independently, building self-esteem and a sense of purpose, as well as taking some financial pressure off the orphanage. It was an exciting idea that I supported in principle but the timing was not quite right for me as my children were yet to complete their schooling back home.

At DaNangIt has taken 5 years for me to return to the DaNang orphanage and honour my promise to Viet but I am pleased to say the work has started in earnest. After reacquainting myself with Viet and the orphanage I set about my work which had 3 main parts to it:

• Conduct an inventory of plants, soils, horticultural practises in and around some of the finest resorts along the South China Sea as a precursor to writing a relevant training program.

South China Sea tourist resort

South China Sea tourist resort

• Introduce myself to the Human Resources manager at several resorts along the South China Sea and inform them about the training program starting at the DaNang orphanage and how this could benefit them. There are literally hundreds of new resorts being built along the South China Sea and they all have substantial gardens that need care and attention.

Local tourist resort

Local tourist resort

• Spend quality time with the volunteers and orphans to gain a better understanding of these remarkable people and their touching human stories. These are the stories that will inspire people back home and hopefully this may translate to pledges of much needed support.

In DaNangAs I looked out the window after 8 hours of air travel, the cool green pastures of country Victoria come into view. I feel encouraged by the start of this project and I am aware of a life time of work ahead of me. I plan to have a draft Training Program written and sent to Vietnam by Cup day. This will be translated into Vietnamese by Nang Quynh a gorgeous young local volunteer who was assigned to me as my translator as my Vietnamese is definitely in its infancy.

I will return to DaNang in March next year where I plan to start teaching and roll out the training program. My aim is to get a couple of clever local gardeners up to speed and they will then carry on the training in my absence. So much to do but I feel very energised and so pleased to have finally started!

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Don Thomson

About Don Thomson

Don Thomson is the Principle of Gardenridge, Landscape Company based in Melbourne. Don has tertiary qualifications in Forest Science, Urban Planning and Landscape Architecture. He also has been involved with Landscaping Victoria, as treasurer for 3 years, and with the Landscape Industry of Australia as treasurer for 3 years. Over the years Don has been a regular guest speaker on radio 3AW Gardening program and he has written for the Melbourne weekly publication.

9 thoughts on “I kept my promise: garden skills to give independence in Vietnam

  1. So many others might have regretted that promise and not followed through. Hats off to you Don, for your generosity and also for coming up with such a well-thought through scheme that will benefit so many. Let’s hope more landscape professionals follow your example.

    • Thanks Catherine …. I really appreciate this being published on your blog as a way to get this project in front of our community. Awareness is a necessary precursor to future support.

  2. Absolutely brilliant Don! You are an inspiration to all of us. I hope they provide you with an award!
    I thought your story might be about them growing some of their own food – or creating some form of garden, like Global Gardens for Peace. But yours is a terrific initiative!

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