Allambie Orphanage

Allambie Orphanage

I have been volunteering at Allambie for about 6 or 7 weeks now and thought it was probably time I wrote something about it!

Before I could meet the children, I met up with Suzanne and we had a coffee and she told me all about Allambie and wanted to know why I had approached them.

Suzanne Hook

Suzanne Hook, Allambie Orphanage

First Impressions?  Suzanne is a very attractive, well dressed woman in her mid twenties (she’d kill me if I told the truth! lol) who calls a spade a spade!  She rolled up in shorts, high heels, helmet in hand and we got straight into it.  She was very open about why she started Allambie, her childhood, her relationship with her adopted parents and why she needed to open Allambie.  No topic was barred and she was obviously a very energetic, opinionated and hard working woman with drive and passion.

When she started to talk about the children, I knew then and there I had made the right choice in Allambie.  Here was this dark skinned, driven AmerAsian woman, with a British accent all business – until she spoke about the kids.  When she mentioned any of the children, her eyes lit up and you could see the love, not just in her eyes, but her whole body reacted – it was as if she had just walked out of a  1 hour massage, she relaxed so much.

You could tell straight away, she loves her kids and is fiercely protective of the children and I respect her 110% for that.

When she asked me why I wanted to come to Vietnam and volunteer at the orphanage, I answered without really thinking – I talked about the beauty of the country and how much I enjoyed being here.  During our discussion, I really thought about why and by the end of our discussion, I realised why I really wanted to do this.

On my first trip to Vietnam, I ended up in Sapa in the far north of Vietnam, I went on a day trek with the M’Huong people and had lunch in their Village.  I am not a religious person, but I had the closest thing to a religious experience I have ever had when I was sitting there waiting for them to prepare lunch.  I was sitting on the verandah of a ramshackle house, with the poorest people I have EVER met, who were also the happiest people I had ever met, who were preparing a lunch to share with me – the very little they had, they were sharing with me.  Yes, I had paid them to take me on the trek and yes, they knew (or at least hoped) I was going to buy things off them, but I truly felt that this was not because they were going to make a little bit of money off me, but because this is what they do – they do not really care about money, they care about people and how they can use money to help their village and their ethnic group.  

This one experience I had is really the reason I wanted to come back – I wanted to learn how to give without expecting anything in return, even when the giving hurts.

We spoke for about 3 hours and I obviously passed the first test, because Suzanne asked me to come to dinner the next night to meet the children.  After I had met the children, Suzanne would discuss with them if they wanted me to volunteer there.  If I didn’t pass the 2nd test, meeting the kids, then it wouldn’t happen.

The next night I rolled up at 4:30pm to meet the kids.  I rocked in and spoke with the kids and pretty much straight away the 2 younger boys, Long and Chuyen seemed to take a liking to me.  I seemed to get on well with the girls too, but it was obvious the young boys enjoyed the company of a man – even an old guy like me!  By the end of the dinner, I was pretty sure I would be coming back, but you never know for sure.  I left that night hoping that I would get a call back from Suzanne saying that I had passed the 2nd and final test.

Allambie Orphanage

Allambie Orphanage

Well, I obviously got the call back and now I spend 3 days a week with the kids doing photography or just hanging out.  Tuesdays and Thursdays I teach photography and on Saturdays I go out with a couple of the kids (or even all of the kids) for a fun day, sometimes doing photography, sometimes not, whatever they want to do.




It’s not just Food and Water we need..

There are theories of Psychology I learnt when I was at Uni (and I forget who said what now) that once the basic functions of food, water and safety are met, then we need to feed our mind (I think that is Freud’s theory of ID, Ego & Superego, but I’m not going to get hung up on it!).

This is what I am trying to do with the orphans at Allambie Orphanage in Vietnam when I go there in March.  There basic needs have been provided and are being maintained by Suzanne, who is a wonderful role model.  I am going to teach the orphans and there are 6 of them about photography.  No big deal really, but the biggest problem I have – apart from the fact that I don’t speak Vietnamese, well, I can say thank you, and point to someone’s head and say Hat! – is the fact that the kids don’t have cameras!

Allambie Orphanage 2013

Allambie Orphanage 2013

So, in an effort to do this properly, I have started an Indiegogo campaign to raise $7,120.  Why so much?  Have a look at the Allambie Campaign and you can see how I have broken this down.

In brief, I need cameras (preferably DSLR all of the same make – Hello Canon!) so that I can teach them how to control the various element of photography – exposure, shutter speed, aperture, white balance and so on.  Some of these kids are probably way too young for a DSLR so I need some point and shoot cameras as well.

I also want to get them a dedicated computer for Photography with all the software they will need.  It needs to be a recent model desktop with a fair bit of grunt to run some of the memory intensive photography applications like Lightroom and Photoshop.  I also want to get them a commercial website so that they can help to support themselves by selling their photographs.

I have given myself 8 weeks to teach them not only how to take photographs, but to edit them and upload them to their website – pretty ambitious really!

I realise that it can’t really all happen in 8 weeks, but I also have plans to give them on-going training and support via the internet.

I am pretty sure I will be ably helped by one of the kids, Nhi, who wants to go to University to study Photography and Media next year, so he is very excited by this plan.  If things work out the way I hope, Nhi will be my “Main Man in Vietnam”!  lol

Suzanne Hook’s Allambie 2013 Update

Click the link below to donate

Please help me to help the children of Allambie by donating now – $10 is not much to us, but it can make a huge difference to these children.

Vietnam – a personal project for 2014

MY Digital Photography - Phan Rang Vietnam

Fun in Phan Rang

I am going back to Vietnam in 2014 (around Feb/March) and I am going to base myself in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) and I have a two part project in mind.  I want to document the lives of the ethnic minorities in and around the Mekong Delta.  Vietnam has 54 different ethnic minorities, each with their own language, lifestyle, and cultural heritage.  I also want to help a group of orphans in Ho Chi Minh City from an orphanage called Allambie.

Ethnic Minorities Project

The fourth largest minority are the Khmer Krom, and they are now thought to number more than 1.3 million people and are found concentrated in the south, in the delta region of the Mekong River. They are ethnic Khmer and are often considered to be indigenous, as they have inhabited the Mekong delta since before the arrival of the Vietnamese.   My intention is to visit as many places as I can in the time I am there and document their life and culture through photography.


The second part of my project is to create a photography programme for a small orphanage in HCMC called Allambie.   I was looking at volunteering while I was in Vietnam but found that it is quite expensive to volunteer through most of the organisations and not only that but I am skeptical of how much of that money gets to the people being helped and how much goes to the administration to cover logistics and infrastructure – I am not saying this is necessarily a bad thing, but not what I want to do.  I came across the story of Suzanne Hook who is he founder of Allambie and was drawn to her story.  In short, Suzanne was an orphan after the Vietnam war and was taken to England by a group of nurses and adopted by an English family.  After many years, Suzanne decided to sell up all of her assets and went back to Vietnam to create Allambie.  You can see more of Suzann’e Story on YouTube.

I have been communicating with Suzanne and want to create a training programme for the orphans (there are only 6 of them in Allambie) to teach them Photography.  Not only to teach them for a couple of months and then leave, but to set them up with photographic equipment, computer equipment and software, a web site where they can sell their photographs and an ongoing support facility.

To do this I need your help.  If anyone can donate cameras, lenses or computers it will be a huge help.  I am also setting up a crowd sourcing site where you will be able to donate money to help fund this trip and also to fund the orphans.

Donations of equipment can be sent to MY Digital Photography, 10 Hawk Street, Slade Point, Qld 4740

Crowd Sourcing Site is Indiegogo.

Donate Here

Vietnam 2014