Four Families in Need of Houses
Over two recent weekends we visited four new families in desperate need of improved housing. Their stories are very different, but all very compelling.
Le Van The family
Mom and five of the kids. Some are older and off at work. Dad didn't join the group photo, but is pictured below.
This family has had 10 kids. The first was severely affected by Agent Orange and died in infancy. The second child, a girl (2nd from right above), suffers serious developmental disabilities. She understands little and can't speak.
The family lives in a crumbling 3 room house near the beach (the father is a fisherman). Their house accommodates two beds and several pillows and mats on the floor at night. The house is over 40 years old and is losing some of its structural integrity.
Orangehelpers wants to help this family replace their home with a larger, sturdier house on the same site. They say...
Mommy, Why Am I Not Handsome III
In October 2009 I wrote about Tien, the little boy with Lymphangioma who had been accepted for treatment by the Facing the World (FTW) charity in the UK. At that time, I expressed our joy that he would be going to the UK in early 2010. Things did not go as smoothly as we thought. We didn't hear again from FTW for months and many emails went unanswered. His departure time came and went and we were starting to worry a bit. We learned later that the kids who preceded Tien to the UK had had their surgeries delayed for health reasons and FTW was bogged down in rescheduling complex surgeries as well as carrying out a busy fundraising cycle.
We finally heard again in May 2010 that he and his mom, Mai, would be going to London during the following August. Orangehelpers helped them prepare their visa applications and sent them to Hanoi where a friend and supporter helped Mai and Tien through the process at the UK embassy. This involved a round trip by train of nearly 48 hours each way. The visas arrived just in time...
The Nguyen That Family's New House
We first encountered the Nguyen That family in October,2008. We had asked the local Agent Orange organization to help us meet some families in the rural area near Salem's family home. They prefer events where families are gathered at the commune government offices with speeches and presentations, while we prefer to visit families at home where we can assess their situation. So a compromise was forged; we would meet the families at the public hall and then visit the homes. After the group meeting we mounted our motorbikes and headed for Nguyen That's home. The (then) seventy-two year old just beat us there, having run the 1/2 mile plus from the hall to his home pushing his son's rickety wheel cha ir along the bicycle lane of busy Route 1, reversing the trip he had made less than an hour earlier to get to the meeting.
Nguyen That lives with his son, Rit, who is 100% physically disabled by severe palsy, and an...
A New House and a Dilemma
The same day Orange Helpers dedicated the Tran family house, we also dedicated a house for Le Thi Dao, a mentally challenged 42 year old woman in La Hai, Dong Xuan district. Her father was exposed to Agent Orange in the war and died of cancer years ago. He left her only a dilapidated room attached to an old house occupied by her sister’s family.
The new house was built on a small plot of land donated by the commune near her old residence and a young nephew will live with her to help her cope. At the dedication, Dao was a little bewildered and unable to speak, but her sister gave a tearful word of gratitude.
Moving Day for the Tran Family
Yesterday we went over to Song Cau to dedicate the new house for the Tran Family (see previous blog below). The home site is on the mother's family's hilltop property about 1 kilometer from the road. Several tons of materials for the construction had to be hand-carried along the winding, uphill, dirt path.
The upside is that the site provides a lovely view of the surrounding rice paddies and mountains in the distance.
In contrast to the one room, dirt floor shack they previously occupied (see previous blog), the new house has 3 rooms, a sturdy roof, and a dry cement floor. The family chose cement over tile for the floor to allow for some other design features they wanted. There are a living room and two bedrooms, each with good lighting and ventilation, with all rooms connected by an indoor hallway.
A House for the Tran Family
Tran Minh Tuan has cerebral palsy, a deformed rib cage and withered limbs because his grandfather was exposed to Agent Orange during the Vietnam War. His uncle is also affected, but not his father. Such is the randomness of this affliction.
Tuan and his two healthy siblings live with their mom and dad in a shack made of bamboo and palm thatch with a dirt floor that gets muddy when it rains. Last rainy season, the shack they were living in collapsed around them. Their only furniture is a bed, a hammock, and a little plastic stool that holds their small electric fan. Tuan lives in this space 24/7 while his dad is out seeking work as a day laborer on construction sites (when available) at about $3 a day. As you can see, Tuan smiles a lot when company calls and his dad surrounds him with love and patience and dignity in spite of the meager surroundings and life.
Orangehelpers is building a new house for the family and will try to provide some simple furntiure. If the dad will build an enclosure, we will also...
Mommy, why am I not handsome? Updated
We met Tien and his mom, Mai, a year ago.
He is the little boy with Agent Orange-related Lymphangioma whose face is distorted by malformations in his lymph system and who looked in the mirror and asked his mom "Mommy, why am I not handsome?" (see earlier blog below) For months we have worked with Mai looking for a effective treatment for Tien. We have taken him to Ho Chi Minh City, first for CT scans, then, when those were inadequate, back for MRIs of his head. We started with wonderful NGOs like Operation Smile. Although they did not deal with problems like Tiens, they were very cooperative in directing us to other groups and individuals who might get involved. After dozens of leads in 5 countries and hundreds of emails, I have to admit I was starting to doubt whether we were really getting anywhere or just going through the motions and making OURSELVES feel better. Then about a month ago, Facing the World,...
"My Right Foot" - May 29, 2009
Toward the end of the month we spent on the Orange Walk 2009, we spent a day visiting with 5 agent orange affected families in Ha Giang, the northernmost province. We were told that we are the first foreigners to come to the border provinces to visit agent orange victims, and we were received with some surprise and much gratitude.
The first two families we visited were an interesting contrast. At the first, there was an older boy lying alone in a back room of the house. He lay on the hard floor with only a straw mat for comfort. This is common when incontinence is a problem, but frequently results in bad bed sores. We were advised that only a few of us should enter the room at a time because he might get loud or upset with a large group. We were told that he used to be taken out in a wheelchair, but for the last 9...
Two Little Sisters - May 15, 2009
As the Orange Walk passed through our province, we visit the Nguyen Thach family. Quyen and Van, lay seemingly unaware on a straw mat on the floor. Occasionally you feel like you have made a connection and are seeing and being seen by someone behind those eyes, but normally their eyes are half rolled up into their heads and quivering uncontrollably. They are tiny and warm to hold, like sleepy, droopy babies, but they are 6 and 4 years old. Their withered limbs attest to their lack of mobility and their necks are bent backward like unsupported infants. The girls have trouble sleeping at night. Each parent holds one, the dad in the bed and the mom in a hammock, keeping them warm and physically trying to close their eyelids with their hands.
There is a picture of Quyen, the older girl, at age one...
Baby Pictures - April 27, 2009
Baby pictures are normally a source of joyous nostalgia. As we sat in the front room of the Ly Van Hay family, we watched their 12 year old son Thanh as he flailed around on the blanket where he spends his days. In spite of his age, he appears to have the cognitive and motor skills of an infant.
During the conversation, I noticed the picture of a happy, healthy infant on the wall and inquired who it was. “Oh, that’s Thanh”, the mom answered. “When he was four months old he was a perfect baby in every way. But soon after that I noticed some problems in his development. And now you see him today.” Thanh is not the only Agent Orange (AO) kid we have met who appeared normal in his early months but then somehow got derailed by this terrible poison.