Kate with members of a World Vision supported savings group in Vietnam. Photo by Lucy Aulich, World Vision
It seems like it’s been years since I flew to Vietnam as a youth ambassador. The names and faces of the people I met are starting to get mixed up in my head, I can’t remember how to say ‘thank you’ in Vietnamese any more and my ability to eat rice with chopsticks has returned to an abysmal level. But the worst thing is losing that sense of connection that I had at first.
See, when I first got back I couldn’t help but compare everything I did to the situation of poverty I had just seen. We flew home in the evening and I didn’t sleep all night. I’m sure jet lag played a role but I spent the time tossing and turning, so uncomfortable because of what I’d seen.
I gave up on sleep at about 4am and drove to a place called Clarke’s Point. I sat and watched the sun rise over the city of Sydney. It’s a beautiful city but I couldn’t shake the feeling I had – that of relief that I was back.
It really surprised me because on our final day over there I definitely didn’t want to leave. Vietnam is phenomenal, it’s unbelievably beautiful and being there was an incredibly eye-opening experience.
Yet, there it was, that immense feeling of relief that I was home – far away from the confronting situations that I didn’t really know how to process. Situations I still don’t know how to process.
We met a family living in northern Vietnam. They’d been working with World Vision but their journey out of poverty had only just begun. This family had a lot of children. The littlest one was a 2-year-old boy but he wasn’t a typical 2 year old full of energy and tantrums. Instead he was sick, unable to support his own body weight or control his limbs.
Knowing something was wrong his parents had taken him to a local medical centre last year but his condition was too serious to be treated there. His family knew he urgently needed a trip to the hospital but they simply couldn’t take him. It’s just too expensive and too far away. And so as I remembered this mother and how she had to wipe an endless stream of drool from his chin and hold his body upright I couldn’t help but think back to my medical ’emergency’.
One day when I was a kid my mum had to rush me to the hospital. I had intense stomach pain and she was worried I had burst my appendix. After heaps of tests and scans I spent the night there but as it turns out there was nothing wrong with me. I ended up having a pretty good time because I got to have jelly for breakfast.
It was ages ago but I can still picture the look of worry on my mum’s face as she drove to the hospital – desperate to get me the help we thought I needed. So how heartbreaking it must be for this mother to know there is help available for her son but that she just can’t afford it.
So as I sat on a bench as the sun crept over the horizon, worlds away from that family I felt secure. Safe and sound in a city with an abundance of resources. The temptation to forgot Vietnam was there. It’s scary how easy it would be to ignore the situation.
And while I don’t want to ignore the situation I know I’ve already forgotten so much. I know it will keep slipping away.
As the end of the year rolls around, my time as a youth ambassador is coming to an end. I guess I’ve been worried that because I’ll stop sharing stories with thousands of high school students that my connection to Vietnam will fade away. But I’ve spent this year speaking to students about the power of their actions. Again and again I have been blown away by the dedication and passion of so many people taking a stand against poverty and injustice in their own way, in their everyday life. I think I might just take a leaf out of their books, because I know that even if without a title or a t-shirt, I have a role to play in seeing the end of poverty.