Last December, David Kuefler took his family back to Vietnam where his daughter was born. Here he shares why the trip was so important.
David, his husband Peter, their daughter Chloë, son Aidan, and Chloë’s godmothers, Corinne and Amanda, joined for the trip to Vietnam, where Chloë was adopted from when she was eight months old.
"We wanted Chloë to know her country of birth and it's amazing people and places. We wanted to revisit the place where our lives with her started. We believe that it will help Chloë fill in her story—the story that starts with the first email we received telling us about her. We wanted her to see the place where we first met her, the room in which we first cuddled her, first fed her, and cried tears of joy," explains David.
The trip wasn’t just for Chloë’s benefit. "Giving our family the shared experience of seeing Vietnam, eating its food, smelling the aromas, and, most importantly, seeing the orphanage from which Chloë came, was deeply moving for us all."
David explains that visiting the orphanage evoked many emotions. "Our feelings went up and down during our four visits. Sometimes we felt immensely hopeful, sometimes we felt helpless."
"We were all changed by the visit; it was both heart warming and heart breaking," says Corinne. "It left me feeling incredibly lucky, deeply compassionate toward others not so lucky, and grateful toward those who do their best to help."
The orphanage, a collection of modest buildings with dormitory-style bedrooms arranged around a dusty courtyard, is home to about 50 children from newborn to 16 years old. Several of the children have significant special needs; some had been at the orphanage at the same time as Chloë. "When we met the children who hadn’t been adopted, it was a moment of deep acknowledgement for us," said David. "It reinforced for us the importance of adoption and the enormity of the difference it can make in a child’s life."
Another significant experience was when David compared the young teens in the orphanage and his 14-year-old son, Aidan. While Aidan’s opportunities are immense, many of the older children in the orphanage face a daunting transition when they have to leave at 16. "We heard stories of girls, especially, trying very hard to become a caregiver at the nursery room so that they wouldn’t have to leave" David says. "Without a family, many of these young men and women have so little."
David’s family brought a van to the orphanage packed with clothes, toys, school supplies, baby formula and baby carriers. "They really needed these things: money goes to just the basic necessities and school. The children had almost no personal belongings, most often just a couple of books, keepsakes, handed-down school clothes, and a few outfits for chores and playing."
On the positive side, David says that, though short staffed, the orphanage workers were wonderful and the older children were very involved with playing with and stimulating the babies. Aidan was especially moved by the older children’s affection and kindness to the younger ones. "They’re like a big family, with older brothers and sisters looking after little ones, and the little ones learning from the big ones," said Aidan.
There are deep bonds between the children, growing up as a large "family of siblings," and those amazing "Aunties" that help and take care of them. "It is a testament to the resilience of children and to the importance of family in their lives," says Peter.