Last update: 15:22 | 12/07/2018
23-year-old Nguyen Huong Lien is working her way through university to become an English language teacher, her career choice, with the help and support of her adoptive parents.
Orphans at Ky Quang 2 pagoda in Ho Chi Minh City
Lien (not her real name) said she didn’t remember her life at the orphanage in Hanoi where she was living up until the age of four before she was adopted.
However, it is easy to notice the sympathy on her face when she is asked about orphans and their life in orphanages.
“Sometimes, I visit the orphanage and play with the children there,” Lien told the Vietnam News Agency.
She described how being adopted and living in a stable family surrounding was purely good luck and wished that all disadvantaged children could have such luck.
Infant found in the wild rescued
Thien Nhan was born on July 15, 2006, but was abandoned by his run-away single teenager mother several days later.
He almost died as he was left unfed, wrapped in leaves, and in danger of being discovered by wild animals in the woods in the central province of Quang Nam, when he was found by a villager.
The infant Nhan was immediately rushed to a local hospital, suffering from serious injuries after being mauled by wild animals.
“The story about the abandoned child caught the interest of the press, so my husband and I decided to dig deeper into the story as journalists,” said Tran Mai Anh, Nhan’s adoptive mother.
Nhan survived a long leg-amputating operation, which was a miracle according to the operating doctors.
He was then sent back to his grandparents, who the police had sought out.
Mai Anh said she and her husband Phung Quang Nghinh were shocked when they saw the conditions the infant was living in during their visit to his family home.
“We could see the serious health conditions that Nhan could be facing,” Mai Anh said.
“We could also imagine the extensive treatment process he would have to go through for the rest of his life, which is when we decided to adopt him in late 2007.”
The couple began the year long process of adoption, hoping to give him the opportunity to grow up with a more normal childhood.
The story about Phung Thien Nhan and his adoptive parents went viral on the internet and local newspapers. Donations, care, and voluntary help poured in for the family.
With the financial support and encouragement of their families, friends, and donators, the couple have managed to take Nhan to different overseas medical facilities to seek the best help for his condition.
Over recent years, Nhan has received medical treatment and care both at home and abroad. He has undergone a series of genital and limb operations in the US.
“Nhan is smart, active, and sensible both at home and school,” Mai Anh said proudly about her adopted child.
“I feel like my mum cares for me the most because she thinks I need the most help,” Thien Nhan said. Nhan has two older brothers who have always looked after and cared for him.
Thien Nhan, however, always assures his mother, brothers, teachers, and friends that he can take care of himself despite of his missing leg.
“We (Nhan and his brothers) like to group chat with our mom when she is on a business trip,” Nhan said, adding that there is a lot of fun and laughter whenever we are with her.
More opportunities being created
Mai Anh felt blessed to have Thien Nhan as one of her sons, as well as receiving the valuable care of the community.
Such care has also inspired Mai Anh to connect with domestic and international financial and voluntary resources to help other disadvantaged children like Nhan nationwide.
Mai Anh and several others co-founded the Thien Nhan & Friends fund in 2011 to provide nationwide help for disadvantaged children as well as those with genital injuries.
The programme has funded hundreds of genital operations. Thousands of others received free examinations with international pediatric urologists.
“I am also hatching plans to match up adoptive parents with orphans and disadvantaged children like Nhan,” said Mai Anh.
The project, which will be officially launched on July 15, 2018, aims to provide financial support for at-risk children and families, to make sure they are kept together, according to Mai Anh.
“We will find families for orphans, while also equipping foster and adoptive parents with the skills and knowledge required to meet the needs of children coming from different backgrounds and suffering traumatic experiences,” she said.
The project will also conduct post-adoption assessments to ensure the children are growing up safe in their new families.
According to Vu Thi Kim Hoa, Deputy Director of the Department of Child Affairs under the Ministry of Labour, Invalids, and Social Affairs, Vietnam has 29 million children under the age of 16 with disadvantageous circumstances.
Nearly 160,000 are orphaned and homeless children, with around 10 percent of them living in orphanages.
In Vietnam, childcare provided by the extended family is strongly rooted in local cultures. The paternal family automatically gains custody of an orphaned child unless it is beyond their affordability.
As part of its determination to care for Vietnamese orphans, the Government launched the revised Child Law on June 1, 2017, aiming to push for greater foster care.
Alternative forms of care for children – either by individuals, relatives, or unrelated but loving families – is the best way to protect the interests of these children, Hoa underlined.
Family environment is best place for a child
There is no exact count for orphanages nationwide. Many of them are run by religious establishments, such as in pagodas and churches.
The “Suoi Nguon Tinh Thuong” (Stream of Love) Buddhist Orphanage Centre in Tam Binh district, in the Mekong Delta province of Vinh Long, is one such legally-recognised pagoda for institutional care.
The facility was launched in 2012 under the auspices of the Phuoc Quang pagoda in the district. It now accommodates over 200 children, including many with disabilities.
“Most of the children in the centre have no source of support at all,” said Venerable Thich Phuoc Ngoc, Director of the Centre, who is also head of Phuoc Quang pagoda.
Ngoc has been actively working with local authorities to ensure the children are given their basic healthcare and educational rights, as well as feeling part of the community.
In some cases, the pagoda charity fund has provided the poor extended families of orphans with the financial support needed and encouraged them to keep their relatives’ children in their homes.
The monk has also worked to find relatives of the children and ultimately help them be reunited with their family members.
“Some are adopted,” Ven. Phuoc Ngoc said, adding that “the process involves the local authorities and adheres to legal procedures.”
Venerable Thich Phuoc Ngoc said he believed family care ensures the best interests for children. Institutions of any kind should be the last resort for them.
According to Le Van Thang, a child psychologist, institutionalised children are fed and educated sufficiently.
However, they are more likely to suffer physical, emotional, and mental development delays.
“Basically, an institutionalised child becomes just one in the crowd, craving for the individual care and attention a family unit can provide,” said Thang, who is running the private 247 Psychology Consulting Centre.
Institutionalised children also tend to feel less confident. They lose a sense of love, care, and trust.
Many volunteers and donators have visited and cared for them from time to time. However, that kind of love is fleeting and temporary, which is often confusing and damaging for children.
“These emotional and mental damages are usually long-lasting.”
Countless studies have shown that children reared in orphanage institutions have an average of 20 IQ and EQ points lower than their family-reared peers, Thang said.
“Family-based care is the best place for a child.” -VNA