Child sponsor Stephen Gibson describes his family’s recent visit to Vietnam and the experience of meeting their sponsored child Chi for the first time. 

My family and I arrived in Vietnam for a three week trip. This was our first trip to the country and like anyone else we had our own set of preconceived notions about the place. After having spent three weeks travelling around the country and mixing with the locals, I can now gladly say that Vietnam is one of the friendliest and safest countries I have visited.

Our meeting with our sponsored child four-year-old Be Thi Chi was a very unusual experience. She lives in a village in Cao Bang region, northern  Vietnam. After a long journey by car  we reached the city of Cao Bang in the evening and spent the night here.

The next morning we left to see little Be Thi. We were accompanied by an interpreter, who was the only person who spoke English in the whole region.  When we reached the village, we were introduced to our sponsored child’s mother, her child called Chi and her school friend. We assumed Chi was Be Thi’s sibling. As time passed, we kept wondering when we would meet our sponsored child. After an hour we realised that Chi was actually our sponsored child! Her full name was Be Thi Chi and we were assuming that her first name was Be Thi, while everyone was calling her Chi because surnames come before first names in Vietnam. So communication was a little hiccup, but that’s what memorable experiences are made of!

Chi was such a happy and delightful child, despite her basic living conditions. My kids, Devon (12), Savannah (9) and Eloise (7) had cleaned out their old toys and taken them along to present to Chi. We also gave a sack full of stuffed animals to Chi’s school. Chi and her schoolmates were very appreciative and glad to receive the gifts.

It’s hard to put in words what I felt, especially when I saw my kids playing with Chi. While my wife and I were finding it difficult to communicate with Chi, my kids seemed to face no such problem. Since language seemed to create such a barrier, Chi and our three children began drawing each other pictures. Our kids naturally drew pictures of New Zealand native birds and kiwiana items. Chi and her school friend sang a Vietnamese national song to us and spontaneously our three kids sang the Maori version of our national anthem. Interestingly our kids knew the Maori version better than the English version, which blew me away as I did not know the Maori version at all.

While travelling to meet Chi we were lucky enough to experience a part of Vietnam that tourists rarely see. In fact whilst we were in the small city of Cao Bang, we did not see a single tourist. Every person would stop and stare at us as we walked up the street. Devon made friends with some local kids and despite the language barrier he went off and played soccer with them at their school. We were also invited to two weddings!

Whilst staying at the hotel in Cao Bang, we joined in a local karaoke party downstairs. The locals quickly included us and had us all up dancing and singing with them. Though we didn’t really follow much of what was happening, it was all great fun.

This trip was a great experience. Meeting Chi, seeing how my family had made a difference to her life, was a great feeling.  Also, Vietnam is a great place. Everywhere across the country we were treated no less than royalty, especially our two girls who often had their hair touched and were asked to be in photos with locals. I have travelled widely around the world, but I am yet to meet such welcoming and kind people. Awesome!

Please visit our website to find out more information about how to Sponsor a Child in Vietnam.

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