Senior builds relationship with children in Vietnam


Photo courtesy Joe Rayman

Senior Joe Rayman sits with a group of children at a children’s center in Hanoi, Vietnam. Rayman worked at the center for orphans and children with disabilities as a part of his senior project.

As senior Joe Rayman walks up to the children’s center in Vietnam, he’s suddenly attacked by a swarm of children. They’ve never met him, they don’t look like him, and they don’t speak his language, but they’re ecstatic to see him.

Rayman arrived in Taipei, Taiwan on Dec. 26 and began not only his senior project, but the development of a new world view. Rayman’s senior project included visiting and volunteering at an orphanage during his 11-day stay in Vietnam.

Rayman didn’t develop the idea for his senior project himself, but was suggested to him by Senior Project Coordinator Louise Geczy. “It was kind of spontaneous, on a whim, but it became something much more than that,” Rayman said.

Photo courtesy Joe Rayman
Senior Joe Rayman feeds a child with disabilities at the center. While there, Rayman helped the children eat, get into wheelchairs, and even sit up because they were unable to do so themselves.

His trip began at the John F. Kennedy airport in New York, where he boarded a flight to Taipei, Taiwan. When he stepped onto the tarmac in Taipei, he was suddenly overwhelmed by the number of people at the airport and the reality of the situation. “On the plane ride there, it didn’t sink in until I landed. Then it actually set in, and it all hit me: I am actually doing this, I am in Asia,” Rayman said. After arriving at the airport, he spent the night in Taipei, then flew to Hanoi, Vietnam the next day. After arriving in Hanoi, he drove to the children’s center outside of Hanoi.

On his way to the center, Rayman was a bundle of nerves, as he didn’t know what to expect the situation to be like. However, when he got there, the children at the center were overjoyed to see him, even though they had never seen him before. “When I got there, the kids just jumped on me, and I lost all of my hesitations,” he said.

It took a community of disabled people and orphans in a country where no one looks like me or speaks my language to figure out what life’s all about”

— Joe Rayman

During his time there, he worked with orphans and children with disabilities, providing them with care and company. “There were three types of kids there: ones who were born with disabilities whose parents can’t take care of them, children who are perfectly normal that are dropped off, and those who are completely abandoned and then found,” Rayman said. The children live at the center, and while some are eligible for adoption, many have special needs as a result of their circumstances and cannot be adopted.

Many of the children there needed help doing tasks that the average child can do, and Rayman helped provide them with care. He helped move children into wheelchairs, sit up and move around, and feed them. In addition, he spent time and played with them. “I had to take care of them because they couldn’t take care of themselves,” Rayman said.

Rayman immediately jumped into the work on his first day. “There was this kid I was feeding, who can’t sit up by himself, can’t move his legs or his arms. The first day I was there, I was told to feed him. He’s a kid, and he’s difficult to feed because kids hate being fed. We were fighting about it, and [he] started to smile. And I realized that this is human, this is what it’s all about,” he said.

Throughout his time at the center, Rayman developed powerful relationships with the children, including one specific baby born with Down Syndrome and without the ability to relieve solid waste from his body. When Rayman and the other volunteers were tasked with keeping the child alive, he “fell in love with him” after spending time taking care of the child and working to keep him alive.

Then it actually set in, and it all hit me: I am actually doing this, I am in Asia”

— Joe Rayman

After spending time at the center, Rayman quickly developed a new view on life. “Someone somewhere has it way worse off than I do. Worrying about things that don’t affect you, your health and well-being, it doesn’t matter … It’s not about having the most money or being the ‘top dog,’ it’s about the sanctity of life,” he said.

Rayman believes that his experience in Vietnam is solely responsible for this way of looking at life. “You don’t have to go to Vietnam to figure all this out. People have been telling me all these things. I’m starting to figure out my whole entire life, and I guess I’ve just been blind to it. It took a community of disabled people and orphans in a country where no one looks like me or speaks my language to figure out what life’s all about,” Rayman said.

While it’s given him a “new code to follow,” Rayman ultimately developed more questions than answers about his future. One thing he knows for sure: he’s going to return to the center. “There’s a kid there named Phom, and I gave him a special object, so he said I have to come back to get it,” Rayman said. He’s not sure when he’ll return, but there’s no doubt in his mind that he will.

Grace Mottley is the Assignment Chief for The Patriot and