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Making Friends (and an IMPACT) in a Vietnamese Orphanage

Aaron Rouser of Cornell University (center) and Nora Sweeney of Temple University (right) kick around a nearly indestructible ball donated by a partner organization, One World Futbol.

On the Spring 2014, 50th Anniversary voyage there are over 230 field programs offered to the shipboard community ranging from spending a night on a Japanese mountain with Buddhist monks to getting a taste of the Hong Kong culture. Some of the programs offered are referred to as IMPACT opportunities because they provide unique cultural insights into the host country through people-to-people interaction, non-governmental organization visits, homestays, and service opportunities. One such IMPACT opportunity was a recent community service visit to the Dieu Giac Temple orphanage in Viet Nam.

To enhance the experience for all students and deepen the learning on IMPACT field programs, each program is designed to take students through a three-part cycle:

Preparation – Action – Reflection

Resident Director Joshua Moon Johnson (left) and Laura Sturdivant of Elon University (right) brought bubbles and picture books to the orphanage to share with all of the children.


On the way to the orphanage in District 2 of Ho Chi Minh City, Professor Peg Barratt stood at the front of the bus explaining to the 35 students in attendance the history of how psychologists have studied the long term cognitive and emotional well-being of children raised in orphanages. Without a healthy connection to a mother at a young age, she said, children are less likely to feel secure enough to explore their world in a healthy way as they grow up. This can have adverse effects on the child’s development and their lives overall.

So what can SAS students do in only half a day? How can they improve the lives of these parentless children? Before arriving at the orphanage, Barratt offered up this plan:

We are going to cheer them up and bring them new friends.

Although none of the SAS students spoke Vietnamese, Barratt was confident they could all communicate through the international language of play.

Melanie Hobbs from the University of Wisconsin Madison introduced Pixy Stix and how to properly eat the candy to a young boy at the orphanage.


Over the last 50 years, SAS has partnered with many organizations that aim to improve the lives of the less fortunate in small and large ways. As the students got off the bus, they carried boxes of supplies from two such organizations: toothbrushes from Global Grins and soccer balls from One World Futbol. Global Grins, which was started by two SAS alumni, is dedicated to providing toothbrushes to as many impoverished persons around the world as possible. The vision of One World Futbol is to bring the healing power of play to youth worldwide by making, selling and distributing nearly indestructible balls that survive the harshest environments.

After a brief introduction to the Dieu Giac Temple orphanage, home to 106 children ranging from 3 months to 18 years old, the SAS students began kicking new One World Futbol balls, drawing colorful houses and stick figures, paging through picture books, distributing Global Grins toothbrushes and playing new games with all of the children.

Emily Andrada from San Diego Mesa College (left) and Lifelong Learner Maureen McCartin (right) spent time with a few of the younger children. It is not uncommon for babies to be left at the front door of the orphanage in the middle of the night.


Although the visit to the orphanage was fun and allowed everyone to speak the international language of play, what effect did this work have on SAS students? What was the impact of this program? How could this experience be transferred to their own lives?

Jordan Akers of Quest University Canada distributed art supplies and tried (unsuccessfully) to stop a young girl from drawing on her face.

While reflecting on her experience, Alexandria Kuntz of College of Southern Idaho¬†felt that it¬†wasn‚Äôt just that day‚Äôs activities that helped develop her idea of service. It has been the whole trip in general, each experience building upon the last. ‚ÄúWorking with other people and seeing other countries and how they survive and take care of each other has made the biggest impression on me,” she said.

It makes me want to change some things around in my own life.

The time spent at the orphanage was different than what Weston Aviles of Arizona State University had anticipated. “It was awesome. I was expecting it to be, for the lack of a better word, ‘brutal.’ But everyone was smiling and playing. It was a pleasant surprise.”

When asked why he chose to pursue community service opportunities during his time with Semester at Sea, Aviles said he was hoping to have a life-changing opportunity.

It’s more than educational. It becomes a part of you.

  • Service

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