DARIEN, Conn. – After her first day of volunteering at an orphanage for the severely disabled in Vietnam, Darien’s Lynn Gagliardi was ready to give up. Two weeks later, she didn’t want to leave.
Gagliardi and her daughter, Demi, traveled with Demi’s friend, Amy Marchesi, on a trip to Vietnam in September. They spent the first 10 days travelling in the Northern Mountain area of Sapa, stayed several days in Hanoi and cruised the HoLong Bay.
During the final two weeks, the three women volunteered at an orphanage in Ho Chi Minh City. The orphanage serves primarily young children who were victims of second- and third-generation parents who were exposed to Agent Orange during the Vietnam War.
“Walking out after the first day, we were silent,’’ said Gagliardi, who owns The Goose restaurant in Darien along with her husband, Mike. “We truly wondered if and how we could be of value to these children? When we walked in we had no idea what we would confront, and the magnitude of what we found was overwhelming.
"The volunteers only spoke Vietnamese, and I know they were thinking how these three people could become helpful, and not be a bother and extra work for them. We all felt a bit lost.”
Once over the initial shock, the women's emotions changed suddenly, Gagliardi said. After the second day, they began to connect with many of the children and couldn’t wait to go back. The children ranged in age from 3 to 29. They learned the capabilities and limitations of these children and young adults and found many ways of engaging them.
“We fed them two meals a day, brought them outside for fresh air, held and played with them and put them to bed in the evening. We had wheelchair races, sang silly songs, and danced. There was a lot of joy and laughter,'' Gagliardi said.
Lynn also commented on the lack of staffing. “There were close to 100 children and young adults housed in this aluminum structure, which was tucked behind a Buddhist Temple in District 10 in Ho Chi Minh City. For every 20 children, there were two aides. In the nursery, there were 16 infants, and only one female caretaker. However thin they were, the caretakers who were there were extremely patient and tireless. They had a strict schedule that they lived by, and I know many of the children benefited from their structured days.”
She and her husband and are philanthropic, Gagliardi said. “But writing a check and being there is entirely different. For me to be there and hold the cause in my hand and live it was a life changing experience for my daughter and I," she said.
Gagliardi plans to take two weeks every year to visit underprivileged communities throughout the world. Her trip to Vietnam reinforced her knowledge of the blessings that she and most everybody else in Fairfield County enjoys.
“You come away from it so grateful and so thankful,’’ Gagliardi said. “You recognize and appreciate the excesses that we do have. I don’t leave water running when I brush my teeth any more, appreciating how precious water is throughout the third world.”
Demi, who graduated from the College of Charleston in May, is continuing her family’s philanthropic
spirit in her first year out of college. She recently began working for Operation Smile, and has finished a mission in Paraguay and is now serving on a mission trip in the Philippines.
Gagliardi also developed an appreciation for the attitude of the Vietnamese residents.
“It’s amazing how they embrace Americans,’’ she said. “They are the friendliest people that I have met in my world travels. To think 30 years ago we were fighting and destroying their country and its peoples, and today, their view is ‘The war was in the past, it’s history. We’re in a good place now, we forgive and we move on. Lovely outlook, beautiful people, amazing country.”