All month long we are talking about our programs in Southeast Asia, reintroducing you to some of the beautiful work happening to prevent human trafficking in Vietnam and Cambodia. Pam Cope, Touch A Life Co-Founder, took a trip to Vietnam this past summer, and wanted to share a little bit of her travel story with you. Enjoy!
Africa has been the continent consuming all my time for the past six years, so I was thrilled to travel to Southeast Asia last summer, making the trek back to where Touch A Life all began. My very first trip to Vietnam was in November of 1999, and since that time, I have made countless trips across the ocean. I love Vietnam more than words can express, especially since two of my children are adopted from there. I have such a passion and love for that country and after all these years, my soul feels most rejuvenated while in Vietnam. There are amazing markets loaded down with fresh fruit and vegetables at every turn, street vendors selling hot and spicy pho soup on every corner. The produce, the clean air, and the wonderful people fill my spirit, giving me a sense of balance that often gets lost here at home in the States. In Vietnam, I find beauty and peace.
This trip was extra special because my youngest daughter Tatum joined me. Tatum was adopted from Phan Rang, Vietnam, when she was two years old and this was her first trip back to her homeland. Talk about a dream trip for the two of us to experience this together! There were many powerful moments as I watched my daughter embrace her heritage with pride. There is much to share about her perspective, but Tatum has offered to write her own story of our trip and give an inside glimpse of meeting her birthmother for the first time – stay tuned! The most memorable moment of traveling with Tatum was watching her scoop up a premature infant without hesitation. The baby was abandoned at the hospital weighing less than four pounds and was so fragile. I think we were both ready to cancel the rest of our itinerary and stay there indefinitely to love on the babies at the orphanage. The abundance of abandoned and unwanted children has not changed over the years and I will never be prepared to accept that despair.
When we visited the Touch A Life program in Ho Chi Minh City (formerly called Saigon), we wanted to do something fun with the children there. The group traveling with me asked them to choose an adventure and they asked for chicken from KFC and ice cream! Words cannot begin to describe how terrifying it is to navigate the streets of Saigon with 16 children all under the age of seven. At one point a toddler lost her shoe crossing a busy intersection and all the adults screamed in unison, “Keep moving, we will buy another pair!” It is memories like these that I cherish the most when I feel like I have risked my life to get the kids an ice cream cone. Getting run over by a motto (motorcycle) on my way to KFC for drumsticks and ice cream with 16 orphaned children would certainly be an epic way to end my time on earth, but not quite what I had in mind!
Recently, I asked Tatum what was her fondest memory of the trip and she quickly said it was the night we took all the kids to the park and then walked to get ice cream. Sometimes idyllic beaches and fancy dinners cannot begin to compare with simple acts of service.
Even though it has been years since my last trip, I found everything so familiar. There are certainly more areas that are developed, becoming more western in their appearance, but at its core, the Southeast Asian culture runs deep with a richness of peace and contentment. Clearly this is an amazing place to practice meditation and mindfulness because you can sit for hours just quietly absorbing the depth of beauty you see everyday. And I did exactly that for several days. When I walked away I knew in my heart that I want to continue to serve the suffering of Vietnam and Cambodia. I have a renewed level of excitement and commitment to develop new programs and also launch new projects in Asia. I am so thankful and grateful for those two weeks I got to spend reconnecting with a country that saved my life. Asia, I have missed you dearly and I am thankful for our reunion.