Returning to My Orphanage

By Remi L.

My name, given to me by adopted parents, is Remi Tai L.  I was born somewhere in Hanoi, Vietnam and was left in front of a social security building soon after. That was 1994. Seventeen months later, my parents arrived to pick me up. I was to go to the U.S with them where I’d start my new life, full of opportunity.

Eighteen, almost nineteen, years later, I returned to Vietnam: alone, uncertain, and full of excitement. I had just finished a Post-Grad year of high school and planned on attending HamiltonCollege this fall.  My life had turned out brilliantly and I couldn’t have asked for more. I was going to Vietnam to reconnect with my home and my place of birth.  I was returning to see what my life might have been.

I went to Vietnam with an organization called Projects Abroad, where they helped my immersion into Vietnamese culture.  I was assigned to an orphanage run by monks where I worked with kindergartners. In the five weeks I was in Vietnam, I decided to reach out to New Beginnings. They put me in contact with Hoang, a man who worked with the agency during my adoption.  Then, he would have been a man of 20.  He was probably much as I would have been if fate would have different.  Now he is nineteen years older, married with children, working at a different job and far removed from my adoption.  Yet, when we met for lunch the first time, he instantly remembered my family out of the hundreds of families he’s helped.  We arranged for me to go back to the orphanage, though it had changed locations.

This next section is what I emailed to my parents hours after I returned from my visit to the orphanage:

I went to the orphanage today and it was really something. I can’t quite put into words what these kids did for me, meant to me. I can’t quite understand how I feel, but I felt connected and cared for. The head caretaker was so happy to see another of her children return healthy and happy. I did the least I could and went into the market and bought all the kids toys and candy after I first met them. They were so happy and thankful. Even though the orphanage wasn’t the same location where I came from, I feel these kids were most similar to me. At Bo De (the orphanage I was volunteering at) the kids have the monks and some nannies to take care of them. At Friendship Village (another placement I volunteered in) they have a lot of mentally and physically disabled children. At my orphanage, the kids had the government taking care of them in one way or another, but they really take care of each other.

They are in the suburbs, so they don’t have volunteers teaching a kindergarten class. They spend all of their time, except for school, in the orphanage and aren’t allowed to leave. They have little to almost nothing, and yet they are sweet and intuitive and I fell in love with them immediately. They are not wild for attention like at Bo De either. I saw some sort of community between them. They are orphans in every sense of the word. Their parents are too poor to raise them. No one in the world knows about them. They aren’t spoiled by what they see around them. There are only 30 of them as well. They work hard, help clean, cook, etc. The few women hired by the government to take care of them are caring and teach them what is right and what is wrong.

I am so glad I visited and I would definitely want to go again. I love you mom and dad more than you could ever imagine and miss you with all my heart. Thank you for everything you have given me, because I truly understand how much that is. These kids, these kids who are just the same as me, have become worlds apart, yet I still feel and know that I was one of them. And I hope they too can feel the same impact of a loving family to adopt them, because every one of them is so incredibly charming, amazing and caring.

This is the story of my return to my orphanage and I am so grateful for the unique experience.  I saw in those children reflections of myself.  The direction my life had taken has separated me from this childhood, but I know that we are not so different.  After returning to Vietnam, I better understand my story and where I have come from.  I am thankful that I have had the opportunity to find myself in this place that was once home.  I look forward to returning again next summer.