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Just a Glimpse


This is just a glimpse of the Vietnam that I saw. The heat. The humidity. The sweat. The greenest of greens. Saigon is a bustling city that seems to never sleep. Although it’s a very busy city, the people are so gracious and kind. Hospitality is out of this world. North Vietnam, though, seemed very different with its slower pace of life and its culture very much intact. Northern Vietnam sights are absolutely breathtaking, and the locals are so happy and proud to share their culture, food, and traditions.


A teeming, vibrant city in the south, beautiful vistas and traditions in the north, and the kindness of a proud people all speak of strength and perseverance, of color and light, of motorcycles and cars, of songs and dance! I could go on and on. But there are smaller markets and quieter neighborhoods where lives persist in the shadows….


I met a 13-year-old girl name, Tien. She lives with her parents and two younger sisters. She is HIV positive. Her mother, infected by her husband, is also HIV positive. Their families shun them. Neither their neighbors nor the school that the children attend know that they are HIV positive. And they prefer to keep it that way. Parents’ combine monthly wages don’t cover monthly expenses, school tuition and medical bills.


I met 7-year-old Van. She is HIV positive and mentally disabled. She lives with her parents, a younger sister and a younger brother. During the day, Van stays at home by herself while her parents earn a living selling lottery tickets. They often resort to begging to make ends meet.I also visited the children at Mai Tam Orphanage. I’m happy to report that they are healthy and happy. They even made me lunch.


I flew to Vietnam with some friends to visit the orphanages. I wanted to see the sights, taste the local cuisine, and experience the culture. All the pictures I took can’t capture the words I want to say. I sometimes think of the two families that I’ve met. They are silenced by HIV. But they carry on with poise and dignity. I remember the lines that trace their fragile smiles like creases in the distant mountains. Their eyes sparkle with life. The veins in their hands I imagine like rivers coursing through valleys. How many more families live like ghosts? There are hundreds!


My story ends here. Their story continues but to what end, I wonder? The quiet dedication of the priests and nuns, of the men and women who work daily to bring sustenance, love and joy to these children and families gives me hope.


Kathleen Laughlin

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