A sense of belonging 

Published: 01/06/2011 05:00


Quinn Mattingly and his “brothers” from Mai Am Tre Xanh, a boys shelter for street children in Ho Chi Minh City.

“Quinn Mattingly is a hero for what he has been doing for kids,” said Jimmy Siegel, a volunteer at Mai Am Tre Xanh (Green Bamboo Warm Shelter), a charity home for street boys.

After talking to Siegel at the shelter, I was eager to meet the man I had heard so much about.

Mattingly looks like any other young American you’d see exploring the streets of Saigon, until you notice that his demeanor is unusually calm and thoughtful.

The 31-year-old has been volunteering at Mai Am Tre Xanh, located at 40/34 Calmette Street in Ho Chi Minh City, for more than four years. The shelter provides a safe home and an opportunity to study for boys living on the streets.

Mattingly is their older brother – he mentors them and takes them out for swimming, cinema, football, football in the park and on trips to Dam Sen.

Apart from spending time with them and helping when they are in need, Mattingly also finances the education of a few boys at the shelter.

“It is not really work; I just take them to school two or three times a week. Sometimes, I hang around with them cooking, watching TV, playing football, or teaching them English. I also teach (the younger boys) math,” he said.

“Mattingly is like a brother – a wonderful, helpful brother. He teaches me English and photography. When I used to go for English lessons three years ago, he would pick me up on his motorbike when it was raining. He always reminds us that education is the most important thing in our lives,” said Tran Trong An, 16, who moved to Mai Am Tre Xanh three years ago.

Mattingly lives a busy and interesting life. He spends time with street children when he’s in HCMC, and travels out frequently to beach resorts and holiday destinations for work.

As a photographer at The Word magazine, he often travels for work. He shares his passion for photography with his “brothers” at Mai Am Tre Xanh. For a photography project in 2009, he taught the kids to use cameras and take photos for an exhibition at Vasco restaurant.

Mattingly is not a stranger to helping the less fortunate. Growing up in Sabina, a small town in Ohio, US, he saw his mother devoting her life to special-needs children.

He followed his father’s footsteps and studied law at Bowling Green State and Ohio University. “But after school, I wanted to travel and see the world,” he said.

In 2003, Mattingly left the States, and traveled in Europe, before going to Korea to work as an English teacher. In 2007, he moved to Vietnam and was introduced to Mai Am Tre Xanh by a friend.

“In fact, I went back to South Korea for six months but realized I missed Vietnam,” he said.

Before work started taking up more and more of his time, Mattingly used to go to Phu My, another orphanage in Binh Thanh District, HCMC to visit children suffering from deformities and disabilities brought on by Agent Orange.

“Though I don’t go there regularly any more, sometimes I take the boys (from Mai Am Tre Xanh) to Phu My to see these children who are in a worse state. When the boys see those helpless kids, they realize how lucky they are despite their troubles,” said Mattingly.

After four years of volunteering at Green Bamboo Warm Shelter, he has seen the boys grow and change: “They are all getting bigger,” he says with a smile. Some boys, like An, want to go to the university. An speaks English well and teaches himself Korean, French and Japanese. Other boys find jobs at restaurants and tennis clubs in town.

“They are very good kids. They belong to very poor families, where the parents are overworked, or old. They need education, friendship, love and someone to care for them. And I want these children to know they have someone like that,” Mattingly said.

Together with other volunteers and projects staff, he gives lonely boys what they have lost: the love and warmth of a home.

As we finished our coffees, he said he was excited about his upcoming trip to Nha Trang. “Let’s go to Mai Am Tre Xanh together when I return,” he said before we left the café.

Reported by To Van Nga

Provide by Vietnam Travel

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