An Adoptee Helping and Loving Orphans
By ThuVan Tisdale DeBellis
ThuVan, adopted by Betty Tisdale from An Lac Orphanage during the Vietnam War, describes her emotions when she holds an orphaned baby in the Vin Son Orphanage in Vietnam."
My pen flies as my poetry and deepest thoughts flow onto the pages of my journal. It was late at night in my hotel room in Kon Tum, Vietnam. This was my first trip back to Vietnam since I was left on the doorstep of An Lac Orphanage, Happy Place, and later adopted as the war in Vietnam raged on in 1971. Raised in Georgia, and later in Washington State, I’ve always considered myself an American and nothing else. I have a loving husband, supportive family, and two beautiful daughters. My life was complete… or so I thought.
My trip to Vietnam was supposed to be a vacation/humanitarian trip with my adopted mother, Betty Tisdale. I was there to distribute the donations collected by Oceanway Elementary School, where I taught fifth grade. Like so many who visit this beautiful yet very poor country, Mon and I toured the main cities, such as Ho Chi Mnh City and Hanoi, then we traveled to Kon Tum and visited three orphanages and a leper village. Yes, that’s right, a leper village.
I had never wanted to look back into my past, preferring to be grateful for who I was and what I had, never wanting to learn what I could have become if I’d stayed in Vietnam.
As I picked up a baby at the Vinh Son Orphanage in Kon Tum, she put her small head on my shoulder. Like a dam breaking under the pressures a river, my tears welled up and fell uncontrollably. God, how I wanted to take this five-month-old baby home and seep her away from the bleak life I was sure she would face. Looking around the orphanage the floors are swept spotless. Lined along the walls are celery-green, paint-chipped metal cribs. On top of a piece of plywood n the bottom of each crib s a half-inch mattress and thin blanket rolled up at the foot of each crib. At that moment, it was very clear to me why my mother evacuated those babies and my sisters all those years ago.
AS I cried and watched the toddlers run around wearing cloth diapers pinned around their malnourished waists, I wondered if my mother felt this strongly when she first held me at An Lac where there were literally hundreds of babies just like me. During the war, there were so many babies, often two to three to a crib. How did she pick me out of the hundreds of war orphans?
Going back to Vietnam and seeing the disparity and devastation in the provinces outside the ever-growing tourist cities provided me closure to a part of my life that lay dormant and opened a door to a chapter in my life I did not know existed, but now embrace.
I could not walk away from Vietnam without looking back. I came home to be a teacher, but with many new lessons to teach. I will never live another day without trying to teach the values of compassion, caring, and voluntarism. I know understand who I am and what I have become is because of my past.
I could have been that little girl I held in my arms.
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