Why Was It Only a Weekend! Vietnamese Culture Camp

By Kirk Savage

An adoptive parent reports on the Catalyst Foundation's Vietnam culture camp for adoptive families.

When the Catalyst Foundation's First Annual Vietnam Culture Camp ended in 2001 my eight-year-old daughters Rose and Sara protested in their own quiet way. "Why is it only a weekend?" they complained. The whole experience had made them feel so special that they wanted to hold onto it for awhile longer.

Gathering together at Catalyst Vietnamese Culture CampIt was wonderful to be surrounded for a weekend by children like my own who had made the long journey from Vietnam to adoptive families across the globe. I was struck by the many different adoption journeys I heard and by the many different kinds of families there – single parent, two parent, some small, some large and blended with children by birth or children adopted from other countries. Even the beautiful children from Vietnam who formed our common bond were a diverse group of ages, temperaments, and skin colors.

We congregated at Camp Courage on the shores of a lovely little lake in the farmland west of Minneapolis. There were great recreational facilities and lots of outdoor space (my kids hit the basketball courts several times a day). Much of the programming was packed into a very eventful Saturday, when children and adults split up in the morning for separate programs and then reunited after lunch for family programs. In the morning I heard Myriam Phan give a fascinating overview of Vietnamese culture; she had some interesting remarks on how this largely Buddhist culture would take a positive view of our children and their life stories. Then I attended an illuminating discussion with Maxine Walton of the Children’s Home Society of Minneapolis on issues involving transracial adoption and searching for birthparents. Some of the parents in the room discussed feelings and problems that they said were difficult to share in any other setting. The family programs in the afternoon (cooking and language instruction) were fun, and I only wished we had more time to learn more!

kids at adoption culture campThe day was capped by a wonderful Vietnamese dinner (cooked by Caroline’s parents) and by a campfire in the evening where dozens of kids ran around, danced, did handstands, and roughhoused with a few willing victims like me. I was very touched to see my own daughters, who tend to be shy in groups, have so much fun with the other kids. To see them giving three-year-old Thu (our neighbor in the camp dorm) wild piggyback rides was one of the highlights of the whole weekend.

On Sunday we were all inspired by the presence of Betty Tisdale, who talked to us about her work supporting Anh Lhac orphanage during the Vietnam War and her airlifting of the children to the U.S. in the chaotic days before the government of South Vietnam fell. While her example of courage and commitment was far beyond anything I could boast of in my life, she still made me feel part of a larger mission to help disadvantaged children around the globe. As I write this now, contemplating the possibility of many more innocent children being orphaned in faraway places such as Afghanistan, I can only hope for more Betty Tisdales to spring up and come to their rescue.

I want to close with heartfelt thanks to all the organizers, counselors, and volunteers who worked so hard to make this happen, and let’s hope for another great camp next year!

Learn more at the Catalyst website.