NOTES:-The following article appeared in Lua Viet 1995 Magazine. Lua Viet began in 1995 to help build a house for street children in Hue, called Nha` Tre? Em DDu+o+`ng Pho^'. Several fundraising activities have been held this year for this project, including a benefit dinner in Arlington, Texas in May and an on-going T-shirt sale.
``This is T., a three-year-boy whose mother was a streetwalker who died recently leaving him on a street corner. No one knew her, except that she had wandered to Hue from another province somewhere in the South. This is H. an eleven-year-old girl whose mother was also a streetwalker. She died a few years ago leaving H. without any known family. H. was living in the parks where she was raped multiple times. That is perhaps why H. is emotionally unstable. When we brought her home she was infected with venereal diseases and had to undergo treatments for several months.... This is D., a five-year-old boy who was the best known thief of the Dong Ba market. His mother was deranged. She tried to drown him in the Huong river every time he came home with less than 10,000 dong after begging and stealing in the market...''
``These are the stories of the street children of Hue. Abuse and neglect are facts of life for them'', says P., a well-known musician who is in charge of the ``House for Street Children'' at 108 Chi Lang in Hue. ``If we don't take care of these children now when they are still young, what will happen to them when they become adults? They will most likely become gangsters, prostitutes, drug addicts, etc... Then it will be too late to intervene,'' adds Dr. H., a young pediatrician, as he examines a fifteen-year-old boy who has been confined to bed with a fever.
P. and H. are among many young professionals from Hue who are members of a voluntary organization known as the Social Work Group. The goal of this group is to address some of the social problems that have not been adequately dealt with by the city government. Besides caring for street children, they also have teams of volunteers to provide evening classes for children unable to attend regular schools during the day because of work. They have also recently opened a free clinic to provide the much needed medical care to impoverished children of Hue. These are but a few of the numerous programs of assistance operated by the Social Work Group.
108 Chi Lang is small house that has been donated to the group to serve as home for 32 street children. The front of the house is used by a couturier as a shop in return for teaching the girls dressmaking. The back of the house is the living quarters for the boys, and also serves as the kitchen. The second floor is reserved for the girls and their embroidery classes. There is a small yard where the children can play with the only toys they have, two plastic balls.
``Our goal is, eventually, to reintegrate these children back to society. In order to do that we must first provide them with as normal a `home life' as possible. I am the `father', and the other men in our group are the `uncles'. We have two women who work full-time in caring for these children and they are the `mothers'. The other women volunteers are their `aunts'. We take turn to come and spend time with these kids to teach them to read and write, or simply to come and play with them. But more importantly, we have to prepare them to face the challenges of life on their own. Right now we are trying to provide them with a way to latter earn an honest living. We send the boys to learn woodworking and the girls to learn sewing or embroidery. Most of these children, especially the older ones, have never been to school. So now they are unable or unwilling to attend regular schools. It is impractical to force them'' P. further explains as he shows us around the house.
When asked where they find the funds to care for these children, H., a school teacher and a member of the Social Work Group, shake her head and says: ``Very difficult. We get a little here and there. Fortunately, a local benefactor has been very kind, and often gives us money to feed these children. But it really isn't enough to meet all their needs''.
P. and his friends are ecstatic to receive the cartons of milk and noodles because as P. explains: `The children need milk but we only have enough to give to those who are sick. Now many more of them can have milk everyday. Maybe they can even get fat now!'' As for the children, they are more preoccupied with the boxes of cookies, to the consternation of the house mother. ``You will ruin your appetite!'' she reprimands the children as they quickly stuff the cookies into their mouths. Then, as she looks on to the yard where the children are playing with their new toys, her expression softens and she says: ``Thank you for helping us give these children back their childhood''.
Nicole Thanh-Cam Vecchi
New Haven, CT