Giving Back to the World We Travel: Making a Difference in Vietnam
Get a firsthand glimpse of daily life at Minh Tu Orphanage, and see before-and-after photos of improvements supported by Grand Circle Foundation, in the video above.
Help Wanted: Buddhist women to live at orphanage with 200 children, many of whom are disabled.
Must be willing to rise at 3am for two hours of prayer before waking the children, preparing them for the day, getting them off to school, and teaching additional classes afterwards. Must also be available to visit nearby lepers’ hospital, help local victims of natural disasters, and support people afflicted with HIV/AIDS. Compensation: below poverty level.
How many people do you know who would respond to a classified ad like that? Yet, for the 18 Buddhist nuns who live at the Minh Tu Orphanage/Duc Son Pagoda in the ancient Vietnamese capital of Hué, that is exactly the lifestyle they have chosen.
It all began in 1987, when two Buddhist nuns literally found a baby on their doorstep. One of the sisters was Minh Tu. It was just twelve years after the collapse of Saigon that ended the Vietnam War, and Minh Tu saw a country still reeling from decades of conflict, struggling to preserve its heritage and rebuild for a brighter future. She founded the orphanage to offer those who would create that future (such as the abandoned infant on her doorstep) the building blocks of food, shelter, education, and—most importantly—love and hope.
Today, the orphanage is thriving, but the need is also still great. According to a 2010 UNICEF report, Vietnam remains a poor country, ranking 166th in the world in terms of per-capita GDP. More than 20% of children under age five are malnourished. And care for the country’s 1.4 million orphans depends largely on religious organizations, NGOs, and other charitable institutions. In the case of Minh Tu Orphanage, which remains privately run, the government provides no support other than health care and school fees.
Yet, the children’s stories can be heartbreaking. Many have lost one or both parents to flooding, disease (especially HIV/AIDS), traffic accidents, or the occupational hazards inherent in two important local industries: fishing and mining. Sometimes, they themselves are the victims of a war that ended more than 45 years ago. They or their parents may have been injured by landmines, which still are dug up to this day for their value as scrap metal. Others may have been affected by Agent Orange, a poisonous herbicide and defoliant used by American forces to destroy the jungles of Vietnam during the war. Food harvested from gardens with affected soil still has the power to harm the young.
In all, Minh Tu Orphanage provides a home to 200 children, 13 of whom are disabled. Ages range from pre-school to college and university students. “The kids are raised in an environment filled with love and harmony,” Minh Tu affirms. “My greatest joy is the love we can give to them. They are dying for love!”
Grand Circle Foundation partnered with the institution in 2002 and is proud to have made life more comfortable for the children. Over the years, total donations over $375,000 have helped to renovate the kitchen, dining hall, and dormitories; establish a computer lab and sewing skills room; purchase new washing machines and bicycles; and provide milk and diapers for the infants. We’ve also purchased an organ for the orphanage so that the children can enjoy music lessons and renovated an area into a sports field. And we were happy to partner with Shake Hands with the World to build a mushroom farm that will help sustain the orphanage.
In 2020, the worst typhoon season in decades devastated Vietnam. Our team in Vietnam sent an urgent plea to Grand Circle Foundation on behalf of Minh Tu Orphanage, which took in local villagers who had been flooded out of their homes. Our team rallied together to provide 30 bags of food and clothing donations, and Foundation funds also purchased a generator.
We thank all of our generous travelers who have been inspired by Minh Tu Orphanage over the years—and the children who call it home. With your help, hundreds of children are getting a second chance at a life filled with love and support.