THUY HA, NHAN DAN
Mrs Canh and child at the Peace Village.
More than 100 disabled children affected by Agent Orange in Hoa Binh (Peace) Village, Hanoi enjoy not only treatment for their illnesses but also the love and care of foster mothers, brothers and sisters who want to help and share with them their losses and disadvantages.
Joy is here, sadness is here
Ms Canh is one of several foster mothers who work at the Peace Village. She has been coming for seven years and knows the names and details of most of the children. They say they love her very much although she is very strict.
Ms Canh is slim and looks younger than her 35-years. She always has a bright smile. “I have to stay young, strong and optimistic for the sake of my children.”
She has been off work only once since she started working at the village. “I am very busy, but very happy. Apart from my mother and relatives in the countryside, this is my second family. Joy and sadness are all here.”
She talks in an honest and unaffected way and her many stories about the children often move people to tears. Once, she was distributing socks to the children. She told them to come to her to collect their socks but Chien did not come. “Chien, why don’t you come and get your socks,” mother Canh asked. Chien showed her his two artificial legs and said: “I don’t have legs so why should I have to get socks?” He was joking but Mrs Canh says “I felt heartbroken and full of pity for him.”
She teaches her charges everything from housework to how to help their parents. In her spare time she takes the children to market so that they will learn how to assess goods and haggle for bargains.
During her early days at the Peace Village, Ms Canh, like many others, was horrified by the disabilities caused by Agent Orange. The children were innocent and full of pain. Some were angry. The mothers found it hard to deal with. For the first ten days Ms Canh could not even manage to teach a simple song to the children.
Ms Canh is one of two mothers in charge of the “special education” class, the most challenging class in the school. There are always at least 30 children in the class of different ages and suffering from a variety of illnesses.
She has to do the work of a teacher, a nurse and when necessary a cook. She teaches her children the smallest things, such as how to greet people, feed themselves and comb their own hair.
Helping children to rely on themselves
Volunteer from Hanoi National Economic University with the children.
Although Ms Nhan is not a staff member of the village, she has taught drawing to the children every week for the past three years. Drawing is one of two vocational training classes for children of the village.
Ms Nhan brings with her brushes, pastels, paper to draw on and a creative style of working which helps stimulate the children’s minds.
Little Nga, one of her students who has recently returned from a Swedish award ceremony for upholders of Children’s Rights, told her: “Many asked me for my signatures. My pink signature was the smallest but the prettiest and the strongest among all the dark-coloured signatures.”
Ms Nhan says her students are obedient and some are very clever. Nhai, Nga and Chien draw very well. Over the last few years her students have won many awards at drawing competitions in Vietnam and abroad.
The work of the foster mothers is shared by volunteers from universities in Hanoi. Young, enthusiastic volunteers are always to be found in the village working with the children.
“Paving stones along the way,” as acts of compassion are called, help these children to improve their physical and mental health, and so integrate into normal life.
Says Ms Phuong, director of the Peace Village: “Almost all the children make some progress, more or less, depending on their abilities and the severity of their ailments. But even though we have tried our hardest, only one fifth of our children are able to integrate into society.”