Veterans return to Vietnam with thousands for orphaned kids
A YEAR'S worth of milk powder can now be bought for young children in a Vietnamese orphanage, made possible by two veterans who recently travelled to the country where they once witnessed war to make a difference.
Barry Kelly and Terry Smart made the trip in May with $3435 in pocket raised by the Warwick community.
"We went to our favourite orphanage in Ba Ria, just out of Vung Tau, where the South Australian Vietnam veterans have done some amazing work in and around the orphanage, with swings, slides, exercise bike and recently installed a water purifying system so the children can have clear water,” Mr Kelly said.
"With some 70-plus children in the orphanage, some with chronic disabilities, they still managed to give us a smile as we were shown all over the centre.”
It took Mr Kelly 52 years to return to Vietnam, where he was posted at just 19 and served as a tunnel rat.
It was in May last year that Mr Kelly and Mr Smart first came across the orphanage, which was set up by the Australian Vietnam Veterans Reconstruction Group in 1994.
Seeing children abandoned because they had disabilities, were female or Agent Orange victims broke their hearts.
The pair set up a GoFundMe page to help raise funds to buy powdered milk and cloth nappies, handing over all they raised on their recent trip.
Mr Kelly said the orphanage director, Nguyen Thi Lien, was delighted by the donation.
The $3435 will be enough for a year's supply of powdered milk for the youngest children at the orphanage.
That milk has been purchased and has now landed on the ground at the orphanage, he said.
"There are a lot of babies and they're really struggling to get powdered milk,” Mr Kelly said.
"For us to give that cash, they can go out with cash in their pocket (and buy it).”
One little bub in particular stole the veterans' hearts.
"We were introduced to a one-month-old little girl who was just beautiful. She had been left at a Buddhist temple because the mother could no longer take care of her. We were tempted to smuggle her home with us,” Mr Kelly said.
"So many familiar faces from last trip, we were again a little 'shell-shocked' after the event.”
Mr Kelly praised the work of volunteers at the orphanage, who he said received no government support and relied on sponsorship.
Mr Kelly said he was incredibly grateful to the Warwick community for giving generously to the cause.
"It was just lovely. To get those 40-odd donors and to get that sort of money is just brilliant,” he said.
"None of them were corporate donations, they were just people in the street.”
Mr Kelly said he would love to return again to Vietnam.
When planning the trip, he said he hoped his work in the country helped encourage other veterans to go back.
"It's safe to go back - go and do it guys. If you can go back, all is forgiven.”