Sunday, April 15, 2007

5th Birthday Overseas

So here it is - my 5th birthday celebrated outside of the United States. One more and I will have celebrated the majority of my birthdays in my 20s as an expatriate.
Birthday flowers - compliments of my staff.
Oops, sorry guys, I don't intend to start a massive "you forgot my birthday guilt trip" - you actually haven't forgotten - yet! My birthday is April 15th (tax day guys - not an easy day to forget, just a hard day to remember for the RIGHT reasons), but also, according to my Dad's philosophy, I'm not actually allowed to truly celebrate my birthday until the hour I was born, so that means 6:05 PM April 15th - and THAT means not until 6:05 AM April 16th for me in Vietnam! My father used to love to tease me with that when I got overly excited about my birthday as a kid. I used to view waiting all day as the ultimate torture - but now as I move further away in distance and time from that blessed event it's become away to prolong the moment (and I suppose as I get to the age of regretting the annual celebration, a way of evading the inevitable).

One of my college professors gave us some of the best advice I've ever heard, and even more applicable to maintaining mental health when living as an expat: she told about an elderly friend of hers who for every birthday baked a whole bunch of cakes and invited all of her friends and then gave them gifts. She said she herself wasn't very good at remembering birthdays (except her own) but she always felt disappointed when her birthdays passed without much noticed. So she started throwing her own parties - and enjoyed every birthday after that. I think that's the best philosophy I've heard - and if you were here I'd bake cakes for you and give you gifts to thank you for being such great friends to me.

But as you are not here, I simply took that philosophy and combined it with another anticipated birthday of another staff member and the last day of our Japanese intern and the excuse of staving off Friday the 13th jinxes to arrange a semi-surprise post-staff meeting party. There were flowers (left over from a stakeholder forum the day before), fruit (some left from the forum, others fresh-bought), snacks, cakes (yes, there is a fine bakery just across the street from our office specializing in fancy cakes - heads above the quality of Madagascar cake) with candles, and even presents - rather than receiving, I (and Tomoko) gave presents to the staff in honor of the day.

And so the afternoon passed joyfully (I say Tomoko and I did a 90% good job of selecting gifts from the tourist shops in Hanoi for our staff members, and the cakes were loved by all), and all left to celebrate the weekend, leaving me in peace to enjoy my own little bit of downtime.

So today I'll use my birthday (and a half!) to 1) remember my mom and what she had to go through on this day - thank you for giving up your Easter dinner for me! and 2) count all my friends and blessings that I have already been honored with in the first 28 years of my life, and there have been many, and finally 3) look forward to all the adventures yet to come. Thank you all for your support in getting me to where I am. I could never have dreamed it before, but now, I can't imagine anything more right. Yet, the most joyful part is the number 3 - and that I can be thankful that there is still room in my life for me to have had a wish over the candles on my cake. What would the fun of life be if there was no room left for wishing?

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Stories from the field

Hello all,

Things are still well in Cao Bang. I have an overwhelming amount of work to do in these next two week, not the least of which is finishing two proposals for our next phases of our project, so I really don't have much time to write – nor anything very interesting to say, unless you like conversing about logframes, budget narratives, direct and indirect beneficiaries, Gantt Charts, stakeholder forums and management hypotheses.

I didn't think so.

So instead, I'd like to take my weekly space in your life to share a story written by one of our confidential hotline and internet counseling service counselors…the words are in their original translation from Vietnamese and I hope this will give you glimpse into the work that one of our components does on a daily basis. So may I introduce Phuong who will tell you about her daily work:

I am a counselor working Confidential Hotline and Internet Counseling (CHIC) component of Adolescents Choose Health Initiatives project conducted by ADRA in Vietnam. My job in here is delivering counseling via internet and hotline with the service named Tu Van Tuoi Hoa. The counseling topics include knowledge on reproductive health, life skills, bad affect of using stimulant (drug, tobacco, alcohol) providing information, etc. Our focus clients are adolescents. We help them acquire more knowledge and skills, then they can apply this knowledge in their living to lead a healthier life. Up to now, I have been working in here for more than two years. During the time working in here, I have had many memories with different state of emotion, happiness or sadness, after each counseling case. Today, I am sharing you some counseling cases so that you will understand more about what we are working on and aware of Cao Bang adolescents' expectations.

This is a story about an eighteen - years - old girl living in Cao Bang.

Client: Ch ơi! I'm very sad. I feel myself worthless/useless. I can't do anything, even I can't wash my face, my body, …by my own without my mother's help. I really want to die. ( Dec. 24, 2004)

Client: Ch ơi! Today, some children who are living in my hamlet ridiculed me as a "crippler". I 'm very sad. I only want to die! (Dec. 27, 2004)

Client: Ch ơi! Why do all family members disregard me. They show no notice/attention to what I say. Is it because I am a disable person, not go to school and I'm their burden? I only want to die. Can you tell me how to die quickly? (Dec. 31, 2004)

Client: Ch ơi! I'm very miserable! There's no one beside me now. Everyone works all day. There's only me with a T.V as a friend. Can you give me a little bit of your time to talk to me? (May 12, 2005)

Client : Ch ơi! Today, I just composed a very beautiful poem. I'll read to you and please give your comments! (July 13, 2006)

Those are some of calls to Tu Van Tuoi Hoa from the girl. Not lucky as other people, she was disable child from birth so it's very difficult for her to move by herself and she can't do anything, even the personal task (like brush tooth, wash face, go to restroom, etc.). She didn't go to school as other children at her age. From very young, she has been living in feeling of inferiority complex about her situation. She really feels miserable when the children at same age as her call her crippler whenever they see her out of her house.

Every day, her mother go to the market (to earn money to afford the family), her brothers and sisters are studying away from home. Her parents were divorced and her father married another woman. So, she stays at home alone and makes friend with a TV. She feels sad because nobody understands her thought and listens to what she says or shares her thoughts, dreams, things she like or dislike, etc. Life in her eyes is so boring, she only want to die to save herself (as she is thinking)

One day, when she was watching TV, she heard about Tu Van Tuoi Hoa in the advertisement. From then on, she keeps calling to Tu Van Tuoi Hoa. At the beginning, she showed herself as a pessimist and always talked about death. Sometimes, she even tried to eat paper, she didn't have meal or she hit her head against the wall, etc. to hurt herself.

With the girl's situation, CHIC staffs are all sympathetic for her. Every time when she called to us we listened what she said, what she felt, showed our sympathy to her situation. After such several of phone calls, we had her trust and persuaded her look into the value of life.

When having someone to talk to, listen to, and show the sympathy with her current situation, she feels like she is still meaningful /valued in this living and her sorrow is eased. From that, she feels happier and gains the belief in life.

After many days, many months, Tu Van Tuoi Hoa become her close friend, we share her knowledge, experience in life. She no longer feels her life is useless and finds out that there are several things needed to discover. Up to now, she is happier. She can compose poems, songs by herself when inspiration appears. We also share her joy and happiness.

She wants to invite Tu Van Tuoi Hoa counselors to come and see her at her house. We visited her house and witnessed her living. Looking at a smile on the face of a small disable girl who moves difficultly when she saw us, we feel very happy. Although, we didn't do any specific thing for her but we did partly help her get out of her hopeless feeling.

Editor's Note: these stories are a bit dated; the girl in the above story continues to be a regular caller and contact of the Tu Van Tuoi Hoa counseling hotline, but as a friendly contact only. She is studying Chinese and our counselors still regularly visit her and take her books and things for her studies.

That is the story about a disable adolescent. The following story is about another adolescent. Even the second girl is not a disable but she also has a miserable/pitiable life.

She was a 15-years-old girl studying in a Middle School in Cao Bang town. When she called us, she was very sad because she was off school for days. The reason why she didn't go to school was her stepmother was upset at her, yelled at her and said that she didn't allow her to study anymore and she would tell the school about that. She thought what her stepmother had said was true, so she didn't go to school for 4 days. When her friends in school talked with her, she knew that her stepmother didn't go to school to tell the school. She really wanted to return to school but she didn't have enough courage to be back.

Her life now is very miserable and unhappy. Her parents were divorced when she was very younger. Her mother got married with another man. She lived with her father. Soon after, her father had a new wife (her current stepmother). However, not longer after her father was serious sick and died. Because her stepmother treat her so cold (didn't show her care at all), so she hurt and she lead a very sullen life. She always sank in sorrow and had a complex feeling among her friends.

When hearing about her situation, I really moved. I wish I were a fairy and had magic like in a fairy tale. So, I would help her dream - having a happy life come true.

We know that we couldn't have magic but we were happy because after receiving our counseling, she had more positive eye for her life and accept her situation. She studied hard to overcome her current situation. She really want to attend the extra-class (out of the school class that teacher provide students to help them consolidate their knowledge or provide them more lesson/exercise) to learn more knowledge but no one asked the teacher for her. She asked help from Tu Van Tuoi Hoa if we could do anything for her to attend the extra-class. And of course, we didn't refuse such a meriting request/demand.

Although our help was very small compared to what she has experienced in her life, but we felt more pleasant when we can bring her a very small but very useful support.