Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Vietnam Culture Camp

When I first heard about this 4-day camp, I wasn't sure it was for us. I thought Phoebe might be too young to absorb it all, and I didn't think we had the issues some people have of their child having no one in their school or town who looks like them. Boy, was I wrong. The camp was founded by a visionary Vietnamese American named Caroline Nguyen Ticarro-Parker founded. The main idea was to inspire connections between families and celebrate Vietnamese culture. Over one long weekend, their counselors–all teens and college students who were also adopted from Vietnam, treated the kids to games and activities. At the same time, the parents attended workshops (one was on DNA testing that was fascinating) and saw documentary films. The Teen panel was made up of middle school and high school students. They talked about their experiences of being adopted, finding birth parents, not wanting to find birth parents, the gamut. How amazing it was to see in their faces and picture how my child might be in 9 or 10 years. How enlightening it was to listen to their struggles and fears and triumphs. It was a small window into the future. It filled me with emotions and questions I had no idea I would have. In the evenings we participated the talent show (with our own rendition of a Pippin song) and attended a culture show where the kids got to dress up in traditional Vietnamese Aoi Dais and perform with their groups. They were all so beautiful in their vibrant colors.
Caroline uses these camps and the travel and volunteer projects she runs to fund her philanthropy– the Catalyst Foundation. ( They build schools in poverty stricken areas of Vietnam and have worked to curb the tide of human trafficking. Every year, they put together cultural tours of Vietnam with families from the U.S. The tours are designed to give families a safe and easy way to explore the country where their children were born. They help with side trips to your child's hometown and even help facilitate visits with birth families, should you and your child be interested in uncovering and discovering that part of their lives. It was a lot to take in. I don't know how Phoebe will feel about that part of her identity. As a parent, I just want to be armed with as much information as I can offer her. I have always wanted to take her back to Vietnam, and we have talked about it a bit. Now, I feel like I have a great resource to take our family to explore that part of her that only lasted for 5 months, but is written on her face and in her heart forever.
As for Phoebe, she seemed to really love being around all these kids – especially the bigger girls. She has already told me that she wants to go back next year. When we came home, she played back a lot of parts of the weekend to her Dad and brother over dinner. She even met a girl at camp who lives only 7 blocks away and is in her day camp at Asphalt Green. Overall, it was just an amazing experience. We met so many wonderful families. We even had a reunion of 6 kids who had all been adopted from the Vinh Phuc orphanage– three teenagers and three 6 year olds. Now that the program is closed to Americans, it will be interesting to see how this program develops over the next decade. Caroline says she already has a plan for these kids with leadership camps and volunteer opportunities. I hope we find ways to stay involved and keep learning about the culture that brought us our incredible Phoebe.

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