A Small Gesture: Eyewitness Voluntourism in Vietnam - Page 2

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Agent Orange Painting
A young Vietnamese girl residing at the home renders a view from Danang’s coast. This painting, and others, will be auctioned to raise money for the group home in the near future  (Courtesy, Michael Sieburg.)

Our plan was to visit a group home that cares for children thought to be affected by Agent Orange living in and around Danang, the host of a former a U.S. airbase and the third largest city in Vietnam. While at the home, with the approval of the administrator, we would organize a painting class with the children, and then arrange to have these paintings shipped to the United States, where they would be auctioned at a fundraiser; all of the proceeds would go to the group home. (The fundraiser is currently in the planning process and details are available at www.helpinghands-vn.org.)

On the morning after arriving in Danang, we met with Dr. Herrmann's study abroad students who had spent the semester volunteering at the group home. We then traveled along the coast, passing the famous China Beach, and out to the group home where we met the children. We spent the day with the enthusiastic crowd as they attended class and played in the schoolyard. We took photos and they took photos. Ever the aspiring models, they posed with big smiles. One girl got the idea to hold up a globe and make a peace sign, a touching gesture especially given the country's embattled history.

With art supplies bought at a local school supply store, the kids painted excitedly. Some chose to paint the landscapes of Vietnam while others painted abstract images using a myriad of colors. One girl painted two hands shaking: one hand emerging from a sleeve with the image of Vietnam's flag and the other hand from a sleeve with an American flag. I was moved by the insight and sincerity encapsulated in the image—more than 30 years after the war had separated our two countries, reconciliation is bringing us together.

Sorrow met inspiration that day, and the memories will follow me throughout my life. Seeing their joy at a goal scored or witnessing their talents with a paintbrush, I was given a necessary reminder that these children are much more than statistics. Throughout my many travels in Southeast Asia I had never interacted with local residents in such a personal matter and I truly believe integrating volunteer work into your travels makes for a much richer experience abroad.

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