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.
It 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.
• 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.
• 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.
As 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!