Image: Child at Phu My facility
The Phu My “orphanage” in Vietnam receives financial support, and volunteers, from Australia. There is no suggestion that there are paedophile problems at the Home, or have ever been any in the past. The problem lies with the potential in the future.
The Royal Commission is concerned with institutional responses, including safeguards against the potential for abuses. These safeguards are patently inadequate at Phu My, and indeed most “orphanages” in S.E. Asia. While it is located outside of Australia, Australians are deeply involved, and becomes our national responsibility. This is particularly so given the nature of the children.
Most of the children have physical and intellectual disabilities including cerebral palsy, autism and Down syndrome. In particular, some have disabilities linked to residues of dioxin-laced Agent Orange sprayed during the Vietnam War. People who feel we have a responsibility to financially support these children, should also support protecting them from predators.
One of the simplest things we can do is to ensure volunteers sent there are suitably vetted and monitored. We have seen, at the Victorian enquiry, abuses by Brothers at a Home for intellectually handicapped children, so this does happen.
Fr. Peter Gardiner, the chaplain at the Christian Brothers’ College in Adelaide, has been running volunteer tours of Phu My for several years. Groups have included teaching and non-teaching staff and their partners. In 2010, he led a group of 33 volunteers from parishes across Australia, ranging in ages from 17 to 73. He also runs tours to the Philippines. Nothing is known of the selection process for the volunteers.
Fr. Gardiner states that “Previous visits have seen the Christian Brothers’ staff and students help to feed and care for the children and, importantly, try to spend as much time as possible playing and interacting with them”.
Many others, estimated at hundreds in the past few years, travel to this Home and stay with the children. The Charles Sturt University School of Community Health runs a program for students to do work experience with the Phu My children. The course outline notes that “there is one week without on-site supervision (typically week four) built into the program.”
The EDA organisation, which appears to have links with Opus Dei, says it “runs workcamps twice per year, during the summer and winter holidays. The most recent workcamp was held in January 2009 in Phu My Orphanage in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. The activities of the EDA, includes spiritual activities within the centres which are entrusted to Opus Dei, a personal Prelature of the Catholic Church”
It is a popular destination for voluntourism (see previous posting). For example, the Woywoy Rotary Club, which sends financial support, also sent a group of members to volunteer at the Home. Some companies run such tours on a commercial basis.
Allambie “offers a variety of short-term volunteering holidays”, including to Phu My, promoting “sharing love and affection with orphans through a hug”. Allambie does require evidence of employment history and two references. It says it may (note “may”) require a criminal background clearance report. Volunteertourismvietnam.com offers something similar.
Many arrive through on-line forums and the like. For example, one post on the tripadvisor site says “Hi Has anyone visited the Phu My Orphanage in Ho Chi Minh and if so how was it?” On another blog forum, there is a posting which reads “I am looking for an Orphanage in Ho Chi Ming city that I can volunteer at. I have tried finding one for a few weeks now but with no luck I hope there is some one who can help me.”
This received the following reply: “Hi there. Expats are most welcome to share their time and effort to children under the care of the St Paul Sisters of Chartres in Binh Thanh District, about 20 minutes bus ride from the city centre. It’s called Phu My Orphanage. Address is 153 Xo Viet Nghe Tinh Street, Binh Thanh District. There are 2 or three buildings sharing the address. Get into the building with black gate facing the petrol station. Contact Person is Sister Mary Hanh .She speaks English, Vietnamese and French. The staff speaks Vietnamese. The best time to visit is from 8:30-10am and 3:00-4:30pm.”
The U.S.-based Children’s Hope organisation has run an adoption service from the Phu My Home. Despite the name of “orphanage” this organisation notes that “children are given up for adoption usually for reasons of poverty…. some children are relinquished by one parent while others are abandoned”. It notes that “not many toddler girls are available”. Adoptive parents must be over 23 years of age, single women cannot adopt and divorced parents are O.K. provided that there have not been more than two divorces for either parent.
The increase in standards of protection should have many prominent supporters at the Royal Commission hearings if they include consideration of Australian-sponsored facilities in other countries. For example, Tasmanian Labor Senator, Catrina Bilyk, and her husband have visited Phu My on a trip organised by Fr. Gardiner.
Justice Elizabeth Curtain, who, as the newly-appointed head of the Victorian Adult Parole Board, will shortly hear Ridsdale’s application for release (see previous posting), has been a volunteer. In 2001, she assisted the Loreto sisters in their work, under the Loreto Vietnam Australia Program, at the Phy My (Phu My?) orphanage in Ho Chi Minh city, according to her VicBar listing. Such prominent people as these two women, and the other prominent people who go to Phu My, can give guidance to efforts aimed at ensuring predators do not arrive at the black gate of the orphanage.
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Lewis Blayse (né Lewin Blazevich)