A four-legged friend
A few days later, I decided to look for a puppy to add to our growing home. Coincidentally, the dog I liked was also a lost dog. He had been lost for a couple of days, quivering, scared, and hiding under a cupboard at the house of the lady next door.
A friend I had known for a few years happened to rescue abandoned, lost, or sick dogs, and after 3 days of going back and forth, talking to the dog to befriend it, the puppy finally followed Terry Chen (his nickname on Facebook) home.
A meal at OBV family. Far right is "Lucky"
We named the puppy 'Lucky', since luckily he had survived life to this point. Just like the children we had rescued, I hoped the children and the puppy would be lucky in life.
Arriving to the family home, Lucky immediately integrated himself into the community way of living. Although he was only a puppy with his coat of baby fur, he promoted himself as 'leader of the home. The the children got in circles or groups for activities or to play games, Lucky would sneak into the centre of the circle, commanding full attention and quite happy to be the leader of the game
The children adored him. As soon as they returned from school, they would run and hug Lucky right away, and run and chase each other in the garden. It was so joyful to have this new member that only 2 weeks later, the house mother decided to get another puppy, as she wanted to fill the home with joy and laughter.
Their Ups and Downs
I wanted to share with you only the stories with happy endings. But life isn't so kind.
Two siblings, in Town 'A', became victims to their biological father's depravity. I had mentioned in an earlier chapter that they were now grown up. The elder sister had left that town not so long ago, got a job and was settled. The younger sister, only 16 years old, gave birth to a baby girl had no choice by to stay behind. The biological father of the baby refused to accept the child as his, and so, both mother and young daughter remained with the teenager's father for food and shelter.
It wasn't long before the baby, now a 2 year old toddler, because the next victim to this man who had abused her mother. Her grandfather.
Fortunately for her, her mother had been keeping an eye on her, so while she was sexually harassed, it had not turned into anything more serious. But she knew the situation would get worse if she allowed her baby to stay in these conditions. She quickly contacted her sister, and asked her to sponsor the baby and hand her over to OBV.
A vist to the victim's family to convice the parents to get the child away from high risk environment: staying with OBV family
One day, I visited OBV in the afternoon. The children were all taking their afternoon naps. A baby girl walked out from one of the rooms and welcomed me. With round, rosy cheeks, her face reminded me of a beautiful doll. I lifted her up and put her in my lap. Since then, my lap has been considered to be 'reserved' for her only to sit on. It was clear she had never had a 'real' mother and craved that kind of bond.
Oh poor little baby. At that age, nothing is more important than being nurtured with motherly love. Even if your sisters, aunts and grandmother care and love you, it can never replace your true mother.
After Ngoc Lan (spoken about in chapter 2) had a few sessions with therapists, her angry outbursts begin to subside, though her internal anguish had not yet healed. She had been transferred to another house, where the staff there could take care of her. Having her at OBV, unfortunately, would cause more harm to herself and to the other children around her. OBV's house mother often visited Ngoc Lan, at lest a few times a year. For the last visit, she had grown up, but still couldn't stand on her own feet.
A "house" of a victim in Hanoi
Little White is probably OBV's most special case. After living with OBV for a year, her family came and picked her up for the Lunar New Year holiday and promised to return her to OBV after the festivities were done. But after a whole month and still no sign of her, our House Mother begin to worry and took a trip out to her house to check up on her. She was in worse condition than when she had been living with OBV. After some persuasion, her family agreed to let both her and her younger sister come back to OBV. They stayed for just 3 months before their family requested for them to go back.
Our House Mother had made a trip or two out to visit the siblings. Indeed, Little White's sister was pretty much a duplicate of Little. At 8.00 or 9.00pm, she was a little girl of 5 or 6, hugging a teddy bear and walking alone to the pier where her grandmother worked. Unkept, no signs of personal hygiene, let alone an education.
OBV is only a private organization doing voluntary works, there was no way we could force the family to give up their children for us to take care of and to provide an education for, free of charge.
How sad it is! I had asked them to make a commitment, in front of local authorities, that they would let the two siblings start school. But they never fulfilled that commitment. They'd much rather pay 10 USD to a babysitter to take care of the two sisters. The baby sitter never allowed them inside. Instead, they sat outside by a tree stump, on an old tarp as the days drifted by. You can only guess how dirty they were.
What fat the the two siblings have? Would it be a bright one, or would it be more similar to that of Ai Thu, a child who has now disappeared??
This was a case that our House Mother couldn't resolve. Ai Thu was raped by her biological father when she was 13 years old. She didn't dare to tell her story to anyone. For 3 years this continued, until the owner of a hair salon where she was working, recognized that she was always tired and scared. Her sad story was uncovered after the salon owner asked for the reason.
The OBV children and volunteers in an activity
I want to go to school
Nguyen Yen Thao, the Country Director of OBV shared her memories of Ai Thu with us.
She had been living in the OBV house for a little over a month, and was eager to go back to school. She was 16 years old, stuck at a second grade education. She couldn't see her parents because of the danger it imposed. Her father would sexually harass her, her mother couldn't protect her, and there was that high risk of her being sold. She didn't have any I.D. How could we help her? What she needed to even apply for school was her birth certificate, but we had already attempted 6,7 times to get this document, and we were still empty handed.
A dentist volunteers to check up the OBV children's teeth
According to the law, a relative is able to request for the paperwork. However it wasn't so simple. Her uncle, who could get this important document for us, was a heavy drunk, already slurring his words at noon, and wouldn't listen to any reasoning from our side, even suspecting us of selling her.
We had no choice but to wait for him to sober up, then we could push for this paperwork once more. When would he ever be sober, though? When would she be allowed back in school? When would she see a future for herself....when....?
Ai Thu's family wouldn't, or couldn't, help OBV in getting her birth certificate. Instead, they chose to keep her behind. Since then it's been over a year, and OBV hasn't been in contact with her anymore.
But, there are still some happy stories
Actually, there are usually more good stories than sad ones.
Some of our girls are now fully mature, and have left OBV to get jobs and earn a living on their own.
Some have gone to college with high grades.
Some have even gone on to study abroad.
Some have graduated from vocational training, have gotten good jobs in Saigon, but remain at OBV house in order to help take care of the other children.
One of our children left our house, got a job and fell in love with her fiance. They are due to wed next November.
One of them proudly introduced her partner to her House Mother and the other children.
And there are still always young victims being discovered and helped.
A message from OBV: to end child sex exploitation
Imprisonment of these vile men who abuse the rights of children is simply not enough. There is scientific evidence that shows the desire to engage in sex with a minor is a form of mental illness. Therefore, to simply imprison them won't help. In fact, there have been many cases where upon release, they have gone right back to abusing children again.
What further action can we all take to stop this???
By Hoàng Xuân, Ảnh: Phạm An/ Trí Thức Trẻ
Translated by Jacqueline Huynh and Mr. Phung. The Vietnamese version in OBV website entitled "Những Đứa Trẻ Bị Xâm Hại (Kỳ 7): Chìm Nổi Đời Con, Cần Lắm Sự Chở Che Của Mẹ"