Angela Adduci, Class of 2016
Political Science & Peace Studies
When Angela Adduci was born in May 1994, she already had seven older siblings: six brothers and one sister. She was ten years younger than the seventh child in her family. By the time she walked onto Notre Dame’s campus in August 2012, she had seven younger sisters as well. While being the middle child of 15 seems exciting enough to most, Angela’s family was just a little different. All of her younger sisters were adopted: five sisters from Vietnam and two sisters from China, both with disabilities.
“I loved growing up in a big family. It was really interesting because I got to be the youngest, and then I got to be the oldest, and then technically I’m right in the middle. It was like being in two families, but we were all always one big family.”
Angela’s father had a twin brother who lost his life in the Vietnam War. Her family has always felt connected to the country. When her parents went to Vietnam to pick up her sisters, they brought back stories of unhappy children in unhappy orphanages. They wished they could do more. Angela was too young to pay much attention at the time, but ten years later, her parent’s stories would start to have an impact on her life.
Angela went to the same public high school her seven older siblings attended. All of her teachers knew her family by the time she got there. She was in band, and she sat on the Youth Leadership Council of her church. She went to classes and spent time with her friends. When she started applying to colleges her junior year, she applied to Notre Dame mostly because her dad was always a huge fan. She didn’t even visit the campus until after she got her acceptance letter. She came on a football weekend, and knew that this was where she wanted to spend the next four years of her life.
“Notre Dame was one of the few schools that offered me a really good aid package, based on my family situation. I also got a lot of assistance from the Notre Dame Club of Chicago; they were very generous. It ended up a combination of how much I loved the school and how available they made it to me.”
She came to campus early as a new freshman for band camp. It was her first time away from her big family. She was also the first of her siblings to go to a university outside of her home state of Illinois. It was a little stressful those first few weeks, but Angela was excited.
Her interests were in the global health aspect of being a physician. Specifically, she wanted to be a doctor for disabled children and orphans in developing countries. She wanted to provide more children with the care her sisters didn’t get before they came into her life.
“I wasn’t really aware of all the different ways you could help with something like that, structurally and with different organizations. I thought I’d be a doctor and do medical missions.”
Then, she discovered Political Science. One of the classes she took was International Relations with Dr. Alexandra Guisinger. She thought she could be a Political Science major.
“It was just a really good class, and I felt like I enjoyed it. I did all of the readings and liked reading them, instead of just forcing myself through. Then I took a seminar on NGOs in International Relations, which led me to the area that I wanted to be in; that I’m pursuing now.”
After her seminar on working with non-governmental organizations, Angela realized there was another way that she could help children like her younger sisters. She could be their advocate. She could work in policy making and grant writing to provide for them in a different way.
Angela had planned on going back home to Illinois to work for the summer so she could save some money to start her sophomore year at Notre Dame. Then she received an e-mail offering another option: the 2014 Eagan Summer Fellowship.
It offered two students who lacked financial resources the opportunity to pursue intellectually-enriching summer experiences, administered by the Center for Undergraduate Scholarly Engagement (CUSE) at Notre Dame, and sponsored by Phil Eagan.
Angela knew that she wanted to go to Vietnam to work with an NGO. This was her opportunity to do just that. She applied for the grant, working with staff in the CUSE office to perfect her proposal before its final submission.
She moved on to the next stage of the process and returned to CUSE for an interview. Then she waited.
She got her award letter the day before Spring Break. Angela was going to be part of the first class of Notre Dame Eagan Fellows. She was going to Hanoi, Vietnam to work for two months of her summer.
“I called home, but no one picked up! I was trying to call my parents, and my mom was at a doctor’s appointment with my sister, so I couldn’t get ahold of her, and my dad was at lunch. So I had no one to tell. I was just sitting in my dorm room waiting to tell my family.”
When she finally spoke to her family, they were just as excited as she was.
Angela got on a plane that summer and took the 20-hour trip to Hanoi. She was assigned to work with SJ Vietnam, writing proposals for grant money that would support projects in orphanages and centers for disabled children. She spent a month writing grant proposals and helping local staff learn formal English. She lived with many other volunteers, some of whom worked with the local orphanage.
Angela at SJ Vietnam
“I wrote one proposal for a disabled center that was destroyed by a typhoon. The NGO was trying to get funds to help rebuild it. When we were trying to write this, it was for a social innovation grant, and the funders wanted to see that we could take the money and generate more out of it. So we were trying to find a way to train the residents of the center to have skills. They had no skills and no education, so it seemed no wonder that there’s a stigma against them. If they’re not being trained or educated in anything, then they do become a drain on society, because nothing is being put into them. I got to see the same thing later at the orphanage.”
Angela wanted to visit an orphanage in Vietnam, and visiting the ones her friends worked at seemed to make sense. She remembered her parents’ stories about sad buildings with no toys that her sisters had lived in. But these volunteers had stories that were much worse. There were stories of abuse and corruption. Donations were not being used to help the children. Everyone was malnourished. Twelve disabled children were kept in cribs with no stimulation, resulting in malformed pelvis bones and potentially permanently damaged bodies. It sounded much worse than a building with no toys.
Angela worked up the courage to visit the orphanage with a friend who spoke Vietnamese. It was as bad as she had been told. Her friend even pointed out that the nannies were cursing at the children in the local language. Nothing there seemed to have any goodness.
“For example, when someone came in that was going to give a big donation, they would turn off all the lights, and make it look really damp and dangerous. They’d bring the donor in so that it looked like they really needed the funds. They would give a big donation, and then the officials would either pocket it or use it on the temple that was attached to the orphanage. It was actually to their advantage to keep the children in a bad state, because that would bring in more donations for what they wanted.”
After leaving that day, Angela got permission for SJ Vietnam to spend the next month working on securing justice for the children in that orphanage. With the head of the orphanage politically connected and corrupt, she didn’t know where to turn or how to approach the problem in a way that would be culturally sensitive. She was acutely aware that coming at this as an outsider from America trying to “fix” a developing country would not work.
The NGO that Angela worked with was the same organization that was placing international volunteers with the orphanage. If the officials at the orphanage found out that somebody with the NGO was pursuing these issues, they could retaliate against the NGO. They would threaten to kick the volunteers out of the orphanage, which would be a huge disadvantage to the children. Even if the NGO couldn’t help directly, Angela felt that she could help on her own without fear of retaliation, since her time in Vietnam had a set exit date.
She decided to try to contact the Child Protection Program of Hanoi. She reached out to the director through e-mail, asking for advice on how they would address this situation, leaving out any names of the orphanage or people associated with it. The director quickly got back to Angela.
“They said that they wanted us to come in and talk to them about it, because they thought it was really serious. The director called me on the phone, and he seemed really genuine, but I was hesitant. It was kind of a risk to go talk to him if he could potentially be connected to the corruption. But the other option was having nothing happen, so I decided it was a good risk to take.”
Angela working in Vietnam.
Because of the cultural norms in the area, they were hesitant to approach the issue politically, from the point-of-view of the United Nations or other organizations. Angela and her friends took a different approach. They went on Facebook and researched the name of the orphanage.
Many comments and complaints in Vietnamese appeared, outlining the terrible conditions in the orphanage and the mistreatment of the children. Angela’s friend translated them into English so the rest of the group could understand. They also found a few exposés that locals had tried to write. They compiled everything they found, along with a few pictures they had of children in the orphanage. They presented the case to the director from the point of view of the local residents.
While they didn’t have the physical evidence often required by Vietnamese law, the director promised that they would do their best to help the children in the orphanage. A week later, an official investigation occurred. A flurry of news articles came out about the closing of the orphanage, due in large part to child trafficking they discovered. They moved all of the children to other, safer orphanages. They would all be provided with proper care.
“Now they’re in new places, and they’re doing a lot better. My friend who helped is still in Vietnam working with the kids. She’s a pediatric nurse, so she’s helping them on a daily basis. Three of them are in education programs. They’re making progress.”
“We are trying to get a medical mission group to go in and diagnose all the children, to help determine what surgeries they need. We’re trying to get donations for supplements, because currently they’re too malnourished to get the treatment they need. Potentially in the future, we’ll be looking to get them put on the international adoption list.”Angela returned to Notre Dame for her junior year. She is continuing to work for the children she met in Vietnam. While she can’t make it back to Hanoi this summer, she can provide support from home by helping to form partnerships with outside NGOs, locating funding for things like diapers and food, and finding other organizations that are willing to come in and help the children.
Angela is planning on pursuing an internship with Disability Rights International in Washington, D.C., this summer. She would be conducting research and compiling a database on violence against the disabled, the institutionalization of children, and other issues worldwide. The Eagan Fellowship will again allow her to spend this summer working toward policy changes that can truly help not only the children she met in Vietnam, but many others across the globe.
“I cannot say enough good things about CUSE and the Eagan Fellowship. I forwarded this year’s Fellowship information to every freshman and sophomore I know, because it’s such a great opportunity. I couldn’t have done any of this without CUSE. They also definitely valued the social aspect to what I was doing as well; they valued that I wanted to make an impact. My friends at other schools don’t have these opportunities.”
As Angela finishes up spring semester and prepares to take the next steps in her journey, she shared a few of her long-term goals. She hopes to work in international advocacy in developing nations post-graduation. She wants to work on long-term, sustainable solutions that take cultural components into consideration. She wants to return at some point to work in the States in non-profits; maybe she’ll even start her own. She will take the lessons that she learned in Vietnam and move full-steam ahead toward changing the world.
The Center for Undergraduate Scholarly Engagement (CUSE) at the University of Notre Dame would like to thank Phil Eagan, whose generous gift made Angela's research possible. If you would like to support undergraduate research at ND, if you're a current ND undergraduate interested in learning more about research, or if you'd like to learn how you can help Angela, visit http://cuse.nd.edu.