Paying it forward

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Rachel Leanne Boys, 24, an Australian childcare student, intends to stay in Vietnam after two weeks of her internship at Da Nang City's charity school and care facility.

"The feeling I get when the children greet me and give me their first morning smiles is so special," she said.

Despite the language barriers, Boys says she felt a deep connection to the children the minute she carried the first disabled child on her back.

Boys and four other interns are taking courses at Charlton Brown, an Australian trade school that provides training in childcare and tending to the disabled and the elderly.

The five interns chose to complete their student internship at Thanh Tam private school in Da Nang.

They've brought a lot of laughter to the school, according to nun Tuyet Lan, principal of the facility, which houses 160 children afflicted with cerebral-palsy and 40 elderly homeless patients.

Music, games and a number of outdoor activities have been introduced to daily classes. They began group activities to help the disabled children incorporate body movement and songs into their language studies.

The intern's trip has been funded with the Australian government's Endeavour Awards a scholarship granted to high-achieving students.

Natalie Wise, 21, fondly remembers when it took her more than two hours to carry, caress and play with a child in order to feed him.

There are many times her arms were exhausted but Wise said she's happy that the children feel loved during their meals.

Ceasar Arias, another student in the group, has worked at several old folks' homes in Australia but wants to develop his childcare knowledge.

"I love kids and want to develop my professional skills in this field," Arias said.

The newcomers have also encouraged elderly residents at Thanh Tam to dance three times a week, plant vegetables and tend chickens to help contribute to daily meals.

Christine Kerr, academic manager at Charlton Brown, said the school's first group of interns returning from Vietnam last year had come back virtually "transformed." They were highly aware of their jobs, Kerr said.

Schools for special children in Vietnam have opened the hearts of Australian interns, she said.

Sally Burnard, a counselor at the Australian International Education Agency in Vietnam, said the interns have told her many moving stories about their experiences.

Through the internship, the future caregivers gain a better understanding of their job, which is not just a career but a mission, she said.

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