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Sunday, 16 August 2015 00:00

Dr. Thuy and Jesse Journal: Difficult Changes, Situations Facing the OBV Vietnam Girls

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The closer I get to girls of the OBV Vietnam house, the more privy I am to their personal stories, which in turn makes me feel that much more responsible for their safety.

It's a bitter pill to swallow when I find out that a couple of the girls are taken from or decide on their own volition to leave the OBV house, or when I hear that the father of one of the girls who sexually abused her is about to be released from prison in a year.

Here are a few updates on some of the lives of the girls of the OBV Vietnam house. Names withheld for obvious reasons, etc. etc.

Girl #1: 4-year-old goes back to her ailing mother

One Saturday in mid-December of 2013, I got a text message from Thuy, who was already at the OBV VN house before me, informing me that the youngest member of the Vietnam house (I wrote about her in one of my first blog posts) was returned to her mother.

At first I was upset. Granted a parent-child reunion is typically good, I tend to assume that the kids were brought to the OBV house because whatever environment they existed in prior to OBV was unhealthy and unsafe. I was worried that this young one would be returning home to that same environment.

I arrived at the OBV house a short time after receiving the text; everyone seemed to carry on without much being said about the reasons for her departure. Her absence, however, was very much felt, and was very much obvious. She was the cute, spritely girl who tagged along with her bigger OBV sisters whenever she could. She was the charming singer and dancer who would never pass up an opportunity to entertain. She was the concerned helper who always wanted to bring water for guests that came to the house.

I missed her. We all missed her.

A month later, I stopped by the OBV office in District 3 to catch up with a few OBV staff members. While I was hanging out at the clothing store that sits below the OBV office, the rear door that connects the store to the residential and office halls opened and out skipped the little 4-year-old, a beaming smile decorated her face. We saw each other, and I immediately knew that I was in for a big hug.

Following right behind her was her mother. I greeted her and explained that I was her daughter's self-defense instructor. After a few more minutes of chatting with the young girl and her mother, they left the store and returned home.

I asked Fr. Martino, who happened to be visiting Vietnam at the time, if he knew anything about why the young girl was taken from the OBV house to live with her mother.

With a bit of a solemn expression on his otherwise usually tired face (the man travels a lot), Fr. Martino explained that we let her go back because her mother was in the late stages of cancer. I don't recall the kind of cancer she has as I'm writing this. However, my understanding was that it was serious enough to warrant letting the girl spend some time with her mother before she passes.

What will happen with her after that sad day comes, none of us know.

Girl #2: Leaving OBV home with mother after the Tet holiday

When a girl is brought into the OBV house, be it Vietnam or Cambodia, a contract is signed between OBV and the girl's guardian that stipulates that the girl will remain at the OBV house throughout the year. The girl may return back to the guardian's home only during the Tet holiday, the most important holiday of the year for Vietnamese people. After Tet ends, the girl is to return back to the OBV house. The guardian may visit the girl with permission from OBV, but contact with the family seems to be kept at a minimum to avoid distractions and keep the girl focused on school and healing.

It was the penultimate day before school starts for the OBV girls. The Tet holiday was winding down, and the girls were starting to trickle back into the house.

Come home soon...

As I was walking across the courtyard to greet Sister Ngoc, I noticed that one of the students in my older girls' Krav self-defense class was speaking with a woman whose identity I couldn't immediately make out; she kept herself rather covered up from head to toe. She kept her conical hat on even though she was in the shade.

I tried to make eye contact with my student, but she kept her down. Her eyes were locked on the floor. This usually smiling and jovial young woman looked visibly saddened by the older woman before her. I've been around my students long enough to know their general mannerisms. It was obvious that something was troubling her.

I was talking with one of the other girls when I noticed that my student was about to walk past me. I held out my hand to give her a high five, something she's been more than happy to reciprocate in the past. She gave my hand a touch and kept on walking. No eye contact. No greeting. I was getting a bit worried.

Sister Ngoc rang the bell; it was time for lunch. Everyone present at the OBV house came to the two dining tables for their regular lunch meal. When Thuy and I are at the house, we're always invited, nay encouraged to join the OBV family at the table. We love having lunch and dinner with the girls.

I noticed that my student wasn't at the table.

I asked Sister Ngoc why she wasn't having lunch with us. Sister Ngoc explained that she just left with her mother. She wouldn't be returning to the OBV house anymore.

I would later find out from Thuy (who apparently heard it from Sister Ngoc) that my student's older sister convinced her mother--the woman in the conical hat who visited the house--to come to the OBV house and talk my student into returning back home for good to help out with the family business. What business that is, we're not exactly sure.

What we do know is that she won't be able to continue her schooling, which ABSOLUTELY SUCKS. She was a bright student who came from far behind in her studies due to her troubled past to becoming one of the best students in her class. In fact, Fr. Martino wanted to send her along with two other OBV girls to the States to continue their English language studies.

Without warning and without much reason given, she up and left.

No good bye. Nothing.

I let the members of the 2014 OBV Mission Team know about the situation. The best we can do is keep her in our prayers and hope that her family comes to their senses and returns her so that she can complete her education and have a decent chance at life.

Girl #3: Father who abused her will be released from prison in a year

Among all of the girls in my older girls' Krav self-defense class, three standout as exceptional. That's not to say that the others aren't badasses. All of my students do well in class. However, these three consistently perform the best, learn fast, and hit very hard.

I actually entrust all three of them to lead class during the days Thuy and I have to be out of town. From what I heard, they lead classes just as if not even harder than my own.

Among these three girls, one of them and I seem to have taken a particular shinning to each other. I usually rely on her to help me give examples to the rest of the class. She was also one of the three Fr. Martino wanted to send to the States to learn English. I told her that I hope Fr. Martino sends her and her sisters to Seattle to live with us. If they did, then I told this particular student that she's going to join us at the Krav Maga Renton studio to continue her training. She'd hold her own quite well among the other students.

When we stopped by the house on Saturday to have lunch with the girls and shoot footage for an OBV documentary that Duy (fellow 2014 OBV missionary) and I are producing, I noticed that there was another woman walking about the kitchen and helping set the tables for lunch. She looked familiar, but I couldn't put my finger on it.

It turned out that she was my student's mother. While they're not identical, you can definitely see a resemblance of the mother in the daughter's face.

We carried on about our time at the house. We had lunch, and then we shot the video. My student's mother came along to see what we were all up to.

The next day, I held a regular Krav class because there were more girls who came back from the Tet holiday. Actually, it wasn't exactly regular. I turned up the heat quite a bit to remind them of why they train. My student's mother sat in the class to watch her daughter.

Girl #3 is main girl in black. She kicks very hard.

I'm glad she did, because her daughter was awesome as usual. I made the girls do their first full ladder drill, and then I made them do fatigue drills for the next 30 minutes. She hit hard throughout the entire class, never wavering for a moment.

You could see the look of surprise on her mother's face. She has never seen this side of her daughter before. This obedient, feminine young woman was executing a rapid succession of hard groin kicks without flinching.

During the break, I looked at her mother and told her that her daughter was one of the strongest students in my class. She was speechless.

After class ended, I packed up my things, and Thuy and I made our way to the bus station a short walk away from the house. During this walk, Thuy filled me in on something that was making my student worry.

My student was sexually abused by her father, a heinous crime for which he was thrown into jail for a number of years.

Her father is scheduled to be released from jail in about a year.

Thuy told me that my student did something rather uncommon for a girl her age: she stood up to her mother. She told her mother that if she didn't leave her father after he got out of jail, then she'd never look at her mother again.

Having seen what her daughter can do in my class, she should heed her daughter's warning in earnest. Perhaps her mother might warn her father about their daughter's newfound strength. Perhaps the father will do the right thing and keep his distance from her.

If he doesn't, then he can forget about having testicles.

I also realize that I should consider teaching the girls ground defense. If we're serious about teaching self-defense, then it's time we face reality and teach material to defend against tragic situations that some might've already experienced in the past.

Jesse Robbins

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