When Dennis Coyne made a return trip to Vietnam in 2003, he carried with him $2,400 he’d collected from his Erlanger, Ky., parish. He would just drop it off at an orphanage near Kon Tum, “say goodbye, and that would be the end of the story.”
But then he met the children who live there and was engulfed by their love. “First, they take you by the hand, and second, they take you by the heart,” Coyne says. “You could really feel the love that was there.”
Coyne, now 71, made the 20-day “healing trip” to Vietnam since he’d served a year with the U.S. Army’s 4th Infantry Division there. He wound up co-founding a charity in 2005 that has raised $1.2 million to help the Vinh Son Orphanages care for 850 children in seven locations within the country’s highlands. The orphanages, operated by the Sisters of the Miraculous Medal, serve children of impoverished mountain people, who belong to about three dozen tribes living in the forested highlands.
Coyne earned a bachelor’s degree in history in 1967 through the Army ROTC program, and spent parts of 1968 and 1969 in the central highlands. Destabilized by the war, the tribal people began abandoning their infants, especially when the mothers died. When the nuns heard of these cases, they would search and care for these babies, eventually creating the orphanages now located near the city of Kon Tum.
“The minority tribes have a lot of health issues and struggle financially, so children still end up going to the orphanages,” Coyne says.
Friends of Vinh Son Orphanages started raising money to help with basic food, education, shelter and health. Children now are treated for parasites and receive fluoride treatments for their teeth, which has helped improve their overall health. Some orphanages provide tutors. “We’ve been working on things such as furthering their education so they can assimilate a little bit better into society,” he says. “Now they’re truly thriving and growing healthy.”
Meet the children and learn more about the orphanage at www.friendsofvso.org.