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Published: April 14th 2011
Khanh Nguyen started life in the Cam Chau ward of Hoi An, living with his mother Chau (pronounced Chow) and father Vo Cu. Being the poorest family in their village, life was already difficult for the family although similar to that of many others living in the province. When Khanh was eight years old however, his mother gave birth to a little girl, Ngoc (pronounced Nyop) with an apparent yet unidentified disability.
The Nguyen family were the first family sponsored by the Lifestart Foundation and in fact our relationship goes as far back as the very first Christmas Eve’ party that marked the start of the charity.
Initially my first visit to their home was to make an assessment of their predicament to see exactly what we could do to help them. The family lived in a small coconut leaf hut not nearly strong enough to resist the rain of the monsoon season and rarely big enough to accommodate them. As the chief income earner Vo Cu had a very old bike with threadbare tyres and no breaks - when I asked how he stopped it he just laughed and pointed to his feet! Chau explained to me through
a translator that Ngoc had never seen a doctor, not only in terms of diagnosing the disability but also being turned away when very ill as the family were unable to pay fees upfront. I also learnt that Chau, with the best intentions had been chewing food for Ngoc as the little girl was unable to chew for herself, very unaware that through doing so vital vitamins and minerals were being digested along the way. With their money dwindling, I have no doubt that Khanh, a delightful thirteen year old at the time of my first visit would have been unable to continue his studies. Needless to say, my shopping and ‘to do’ lists after the visit were like nothing I had imagined!
First and foremost Ngoc’s situation needed immediate attention. The day following my visit I organised for a paediatric assessment at the family home. Words cannot adequately describe Chau’s relief and gratitude at finally being able to discuss Ngoc’s condition with a doctor. Lifestart sponsorship money initially paid for a monthly, one-hour physiotherapy session at the home and further to this I bought a blender and vitamin supplements to build up Ngoc’s strength so she could handle
Up until that point Ngoc, unable to sit or walk had spent her entire life confined to a wooden bed with no mattress. This was not at all reasonable and so a mattress, pillow and bath were purchased. Next on the shopping list was a pram. As Ngoc and Chau had been house-bound for four years, a pram would enable them to go to the market or simply move out of the confines of their home. Prams are not the norm in Vietnam and I had to go to a big city to get one. It was quite a novelty in the village, yet a very practical one.
On my many visit’s to the family home, Chau and I have cried a lot. Though neither of us speak the same language, as a parent I know how much this help meant to Chau. It is difficult to imagine the desperation and despair Chau and Vo Cu must have felt during those first four years, unable to get help or advice for Ngoc and struggling to maintain a grip on their day to day life.
To the family’s credit they had diligently cared for Ngoc with
Khanh pictured working at home.
her complex disabilities. It is very common for families in this situation to leave their children at an orphanage or even to never pick their child up from the neo-natal ward, as the reality of caring for a sick child is usually too much. For many families it means one less working adult in the family and money they generally don’t have spent on hospital bills instead of food. Ngoc may not have a lot however she is definitely surrounded by a loving family including a very devoted brother.
Like many young people with a sibling with a disability, Khanh has always demonstrated maturity, kindness and sensitivity way beyond his years. Perhaps less commonly, he has never seen an option but to take care of his little sister, from a sense of responsibility and duty which bears no burden nor resentment. Having been thrown into the deep end and at times being uncertain of his future, he has not once indicated an annoyance and has carried on with an admirable sense of dignity and dedication. He is an absolutely devoted brother of dear little Ngoc and it is definitely a two way street, when Khanh walks into the room
ART CLASS TOO
As part of an Architecture degree in Vietnamese University all students have to learn to draw as well as learning how to complete building plans and designs
her little face just lights up.
Khanh has been a recipient of a Lifestart Foundation Secondary School Education Scholarship since he was thirteen years of age, when I first met the family. Each year Lifestart Foundation has paid for his government school fees, all additional classes, uniforms, shoes and books. This has taken a huge financial weight off the shoulders of his already struggling family. I have no doubt that without this Educational Scholarship Khanh would have left secondary school way before completing year 12. After studying diligently Khanh was accepted into Architecture studies at Da Nang University, chosen above Ha Noi and Ho Chi Minh City as it is relatively close to Hoi An and allows him to visit home more frequently. Khanh now has wonderful sponsors from Melbourne, Australia who are supporting him through his tertiary education. He is most grateful for this assistance and continues to work very hard and apply himself thoroughly.
Over the years sponsorship money has bought the family two new bicycles, one for Vo Cu to go to work on and the other for Khanh to attend school. To put this in perspective, the gift of a bicycle is pretty much
Ngoc pictured in her wheelchair.
She remains a happy child although very little has helped improve her overall disability.
like someone giving you a car! Two pigs were also purchased for the family which were then raised and sold at good profit at a later stage. Money also covered food supplies including rice, and a few treats.
Each year, instead of exchanging Christmas gifts, a hat is passed around and money collected to further help the Nguyen family at my Christmas Eve gathering. The Christmas Eve group has now helped the Nguyen family build a new house, providing this family and future generations of the Nguyen family with somewhere safe and secure to live forever.
Thank you to Sahar Hadidimoud for her contribution to this blog. Sahar is currently volunteering with Lifestart Foundation in Vietnam.
Lots of Love from Karen www.lifestartfoundation.org.au
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