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Published: August 16th 2007
Thuy is a hard-working woman, spending her days hauling sand and bricks. Her husband, Duc, is a river fisherman. They have two children, 13-year-old Truyen, who has Cerebral Palsy (CP), and 6-year-old Tay.
Thuy, like most mothers I meet who have disabled children, has a permanent look of worry, sadness, and strain on her face. When you are poor in Vietnam, it is difficult (bordering on impossible) to access medical advice and treatment. I think most poor people with children who are sick or disabled have a lot of unanswered questions. In many cases, they don’t know who to ask or what to ask.
In part, it does not seem to be the Vietnamese way to demand treatment, answers, and results (as we would, perhaps!). In some situations they take a more passive philosophical and sometimes superstitious approach to sickness. (Or is it resignation? I'm not sure.)
Recognizing the level of poverty this family suffers, the government built them a small concrete house. Thuy and Duc cannot afford any furniture, so all of our meetings (of which there are many) take place on the floor. One of these days I will get the hang of how to squat
Thuy is such a hard working woman
Thuy hauls bricks and sand around in this cart
Vietnamese style, although I'm beginning to wonder if my western limbs are ever going to comply!
After the assessment, this family was approved for help under the Lifestart Foundation Adopt-A-Family Program. Duc’s boat was old and about ready to sink. It was agreed that sponsorship would have a new boat built for him. The boats we have built are done so by hand (no fancy machinery here...), and they last about 10 years.
Most of the families I work with are Buddhist and have many significant rituals and ceremonies that apply particularly to boats, so we try to observe them all for good luck! An "eye" is painted on the front of every boat to ward off evil spirits, and a new boat can only be launched on special days (again, for good luck). On the day of the launch flowers are placed on the front of the boat and incense is burnt. (A bit different from our custom of cracking a bottle of bubbly on the bow of a boat!)
We also managed to purchase a second-hand motor for the new boat. Having a motor will mean that Duc can travel further afield in search of
a good catch instead of competing with one hundred other people for the same fish.
Tay is a typical lively six-year-old and is in grade one at the local primary school. Sponsorship paid for his education costs for 12 months (school fees, uniform, and books). Paying for children’s school fees for one year relieves an enormous amount of pressure for the family. All parents want their children to have a good education, and people like Thuy and Duc are no different—but if the choice is between eating or paying school fees, we all know what the answer has to be.
I was very fortunate to have two wonderful Physiotherapists (Bernie and Paul) from Australia volunteer on this trip. I took them to meet 13-year-old Truyen to see if they could offer some help. Truyen has low-level intelligence and moderate CP. She can make some sounds but doesn’t talk; can walk, albeit with difficulty; and cannot feed herself, although this may be able to be remedied or improved with some eating aides.
Truyen, a really sweet and gentle girl, was more than happy to try the exercises that Bernie and Paul suggested to help her mobility. Thuy has
learnt how to help Truyen with her exercises and she has promised to maintain a daily exercise routine.
It was also necessary to explain to the family that it is quite dangerous for Truyen to be left alone and that she should be accompanied all of the time. Unfortunately, her age makes her very vulnerable to predators and she has no way of defending herself. Sponsorship paid for medical treatment and pharmaceuticals for Truyen. I will keep a close watch on Truyen and help out with whatever she needs in the future.
This was another family that was lovely to work with. They were so grateful for all of the help and couldn't thank me enough. They have nothing and asked for nothing—except I do recall that the first day I met Thuy, she asked me if I had a tablet that could “fix” Truyen.
Sadly, I had to tell her that there was no such tablet...
Travellers tips: Anything that would assist children with disabilities, especially eating aides such as spoons, etc. would be very helpful.
Lots of Love from Karen.
For more information on Lifestart Foundation
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