Pure Good’s visit to the Khai Tri orphanage in the Mekong River Delta region of Vietnam has ended. In many ways, it ended the same way it started – with anxiety and lots of questions. As the twenty of us loaded on the bus, a stream of questions ran through our heads. “Had we completed the job that we came to do?” and “Did we do a good enough job?” or “Was there more we could have done?” and “Will the work we completed have a lasting impact?”
The team from Pure Storage arrived in Ho Chi Minh a week ago. We arrived from all over the world to join two non-profit organizations – Kidspire and Team4Tech – to work with the children in the Khai Tri orphanage. We had prepared for two months, but in many ways, we were not prepared at all for what we would experience.
When we arrived, the children were very much like us. They were anxious and tentative. However, in no time at all, trust was established, and they became sponges in so many ways. They were so excited to see us, that it was like every holiday rolled into one week. They wanted to learn from the lessons that we had prepared. They wanted to play soccer (well “football” for my non-American friends). And they simply wanted to receive hugs and hold our hands. We were not prepared to be the “rockstars” that we were perceived to be.
Once the lessons were completed and we came to our final evening, we had a celebration meal and party with the children. We ate together, danced together, and laughed together. Most of us were very surprised when the children found notebooks or simple scraps of paper and began to ask for our autographs. Those who didn’t have paper asked us to sign their hands and arms. Each student had their favorite volunteer and wanted to sit next to them, climb on them, and simply be with them. We sat on the wooden benches next to each other and they would have one arm around us as they ate their meal. They wanted to play rock, paper, scissors with us. They wanted to play thumb wars. They wanted to dance with us. For one night, they wanted to feel part of a family.
One of the older boys in my class, Loc Tran, had caught my eye throughout the week. He was often proving to the other boys how tough he was. I wouldn’t call him a bully, but I noticed that it was important for him to display to the other boys that he was the leader and that he was tougher than the others. He was a little less engaged than the others and I felt he was more cautious to show that he was getting anything out of the class. However, when we sat down for dinner, he wanted me to sit next to him. He was very proud of the seating arrangement. At one point during the meal, he gave me a hug and said, “thank you,” and then without warning, he kissed me on the cheek and gave me a big smile. We clearly had connected more than I thought.
As we got on the bus to leave Khai Tri, there were lots of tears – both from the students and the volunteers. We hugged and said “goodbye” to each and every one of the students. I had so many special moments with so many students that it would be impossible to share them all here. I felt like I would eye-lock with a student across the hall and they would run to give me a hug – their eyes saying, “you aren’t going to leave without saying ‘goodbye’ are you?” This must have happened twenty times as I walked toward the door of the hall. As I worked my way across the hall, I saw Loc Tran looking at me with tears in his eyes. He ran up to show me that he only had one autograph on his scrap of paper, and it was mine. He pointed at it and said, “Kevin.” I instinctively took my name tag off the lanyard that was hanging around my neck and put it in his hand. I rolled his fingers around it to let him know I was giving it to him. His face lit up, and I knew that this was like Mick Jagger giving his Rolling Stones backstage pass to a fan. He hugged me as I got on the bus and then he stood by the window waving at all of us. As we drove away from the Khai Tri orphanage, a stream of questions ran through our heads. “Had we completed the job that we came to do?,” and “Did we do a good enough job?” and “Was there more we could have done?” and “Will the work we completed have a lasting impact?” The answer was clearly “yes.” The smiles on their faces said it all…