By Ly Ngo, 2011 VIET Fellow
Incomprehensible, inhumane, injustice. Those were some of the words that popped into my head as I listened to Thay Chau describing the conditions of St. Francis Shelter and the cold shoulder that the world has shown for these beautiful and loving children. Orphaned, disabled, disease-stricken – these are the shared conditions of the children. The children are so full of energy and life, yet some may never be able to experience the feeling of simply being able to walk or speak. But they are not forgotten because they are the very blessings that provide Thay Chau with a sincere sense of purpose and humanity. I’m overwhelmingly inspired by him and the many other servicemen and women who dedicate their time and energy into something so difficult to comprehend.
To feed the children and staff, Thay Chau collects rice and other leftovers from local restaurants. This is his daily routine in order to keep food on the table and a smile on the children’s faces. The shelter also raises frogs, which have expanded into three large ponds. They are a source of food as well as income as local restaurants and community residents come to buy them. The shelter is sustainable throughout these years due largely to the charitable hearts of individual and organizational donors and Thay Chau’s abilities to navigate himself in every direction to collect food scraps.”But I can’t fathom this notion of sustainability as being acceptable. As we go about our days in District 1, I see a country that is economically growing and a tourist industry that is blooming. But in other parts of the country, people are struggling and grasping for air as they go about their lives one day at a time.
I am saddened by the reality of the children lying in metal beds unable to elicit a recognizable response. As much as I wanted to stay with them, touch them, and love them, I couldn’t hold back the urge to leave because I can’t stare into their eyes without feeling trembled and hopeless for not being able to do anything for them. It’s almost an indescribable feeling: wanting to be there but not knowing how to respond to what was around me. I understand that it’s enough just to be there, but to me at that exact moment in time, just seeing their faces, I couldn’t grasp that idea of “just being there.” It isn’t enough; it can never be enough.
As I continued my walk around the shelter, I encountered two beautiful little boys with the names of Nui and Long (pictured above). Nui was brought to the shelter by Thay Chau after both of his parents passed away, his mom of cancer and his dad of AIDS. He’s been tested negative but will need to be retested in the next few months. Thay Chau found Long on the street and brought him to the shelter. Luckily for these boys, they are healthy and very much able in every way. Their energy feed off one another and their livelihoods bring about a sense of hope and dreams in the youth of Vietnam. They found happiness in a cute little frog, entertainment in the dry swimming pool, and hope in each other. Their exquisite smiles comforted me as I tried to sort out all the emotions running through my heart. I don’t know if our short presence provided any sort of comfort for them, but for me personally, Nui and Long (as well as everyone at the shelter) have all touched me so deeply that I tremble just thinking about it. It was hard to leave but someday somehow, my heart will take me back.
With all emotions aside, I deeply believe there needs to be a growing concern and attention to these children. As easy as it is to walk passed the issues and pretend they are not there, they will always be there affecting the people of Vietnam unless we do something about it. The disparity is incomprehensible, inhumane, injustice but it doesn’t have to be that way.
Ly Thi Ngo earned her M.S. in Health Care Administration 2010 at California State University, East Bay. As a 2011 VIET Fellow, she volunteered at the Service Organization In Vietnam and the Thanh Tam School of Special Education.