As most of you know our primary reason for being in Saigon currently is to volunteer for Allambie orphanage which was established in 2010 by Suzanne Thi Hien Hook . It was Suzanne's story, which I learnt by pure chance when I met her friend in a beautician's in Henley while staying with my sister Niamh and family at the end of  February before setting off on this leg of our travels, which inspired us to do so.

Born in Saigon at the height of the Vietnam War, Suzanne, was found under a bush and taken to an orphanage. She believes her father to be a black American GI and her mother Vietnamese. The term "Bui doi" refers to Vietnamese street children and especially the offspring of American soldiers and Vietnamese mothers abandoned during the War. The phrase connotes "uncared-for child," and literally translates as "living dust" or "dust of life"; a child abandoned and moving about without purpose, like dust. "Miss Saigon" the musical is based on the story of such children. These mixed race children were treated as outcasts in their native country; their only crime, of which they were innocent; their parentage. Suzanne, along with other bui doi at her orphanage, was very poorly treated.

Eventually brought to Britain and adopted when she was three, she went on to marry and became a successful businesswoman. But a holiday to Vietnam in 2006 changed everything. Suzanne decided to sell all of her possessions in the United Kingdom and found an orphanage in the country of her birth. Suzanne now houses six happy and safe children in Allambie.

To find out more about Suzanne and Allambie's children visit their website.

I really admire Suzanne and what she has had the courage to do. She is a remarkably strong woman who has literally given up everything to return to Vietnam and make a difference. She has created a secure and safe home for six children at the orphanage to date all of whom now refer to her as "Mummy" by choice.

Chuyen is one of the children I have come to know best. He's one of the youngest at 8. He came to Suzanne from an overrun orphanage, with his 3 siblings, only 6 months ago, half starved, ridden with scabies and head lice and not even toilet trained. When food was put in front of him he ate it like a savage lest it disappeared. He's now a happy go lucky, clean, outgoing, polite and toilet trained child who is safe and secure and who can now enjoy his meals at his leisure. Himself and Luca have become great pals; playing together happily for hours on end despite language barriers.

Phil and I try to help out in Allambie as much as we can while we are here. Our main asset being time. I was helping out with the younger children's English initially but, with Luca to be looked after as well, we then decided that I would focus on bringing Luca and Chuyen out for playdates and outings. Phil focuses on helping out with the computers, at which he is a whizz. And sometimes all three of us go out, along with the children, on day trips.

"Allambie" is housed in clean, comfortable and homely four storey house. Recently Suzanne converted a room at the top of the house into a study area/ classroom where the children go to have their extra tutoring, to read, study or just chill out. Apart from that the only other "freespace" for the children, who share their bedrooms, is the ground floor which is an open plan area with a small kitchen and living room. There is a wonderful, but currently bare, balcony space on the same floor as the study.

I've been inspired to help to "Grow a Garden for Allambie". Or rather, in practice, create a nice outdoor eating and chilling area for Allambie on that currently bare balcony. A place with some outdoor furniture, potted plants and vegetables and outdoor lights. A place where Suzanne and the children could go to enjoy an outdoor meal and/ or go to chill out.

My inspiration? Suzanne's achievements and the children and also a little "sign". On our first few mornings in Saigon, while we were having breakfast on the 9th floor of our hotel, I looked out at the built up city below and spotted a man on a small balcony carefully and proudly tending to his postage stamp garden on a balcony which was a plant filled oasis in a concrete desert. This man was there every morning we had breakfast - same time, same spot  -  and he just looked so at peace. I have no idea why, but the sight of him stirred me and moved me momentarily each time to tears. A mere fleeting  moment from an everyday scene but one which somehow transfixed me and reminded me of the fragility and yet promise of life. As Suzanne and Allambie do.

It was thus that, when I had my tour of the house with Suzanne on my first day at Allambie, I felt that creating a little garden for these kids was what I, and Phil and Luca too, were meant to do here.

In order to do so we will need your help by way of a donation if at all possible. I do know, believe me, how straitened things are in Ireland,  for example, at present. With so many families struggling with one spouse, unwillingly, out of work and trying to keep the roof over their heads and so many businesses desperately trying to keep afloat. And so we ask, on behalf of Allambie Orphanage,  that anyone who is in a position to do so please donate if and whatever they can afford, to realise this project  - be it  €2.50/ €5.00/ €10.00 or €15.00. We'll make every cent count and go far.

To donate to "Grow a garden for Allambie" via Paypal click on the donate button below. For anyone who would rather make a donation offline, please get in touch with us and we'll explain how. Thank you so much in advance.


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