Angela Chapman, an international studies major at the University of Oregon, is currently working with Holt in Vietnam through IE3 Global Internships. Every week, Angela journeys to one of the government-run child welfare centers that Holt helps support in the region. Here, she writes about a child she met on her first visit, and how Holt’s sponsorship program is helping this little girl to reach her potential — and grow ever closer to finding a family of her own.
Just off a bustling street in the heart of Hanoi, Vietnam, my co-worker and I drove down an eroded, red dirt road toward a Holt-supported child welfare center. From where I sat on the back of her motorbike, bumping over potholes, I was full of anticipation. After volunteering to take on weekly visits to the orphanage to document the children’s progress, I knew that what I was soon to face would be nothing short of life-changing.
What I did not prepare myself for was the impact one specific child would have on my perspective of life, opportunity and hope.
As I walked through the tall French doors of the welfare center into a room full of toddlers, one particular child caught my eye. Most of the children were playing games on the floor, but when they saw my co-worker and I enter the room, they eagerly flooded around us. Although all adorable, enthusiastic children, one child stayed put. From where she sat in her crib, this little girl shot me the most fantastic, bright-eyed smile I’ve ever seen – one that will be imprinted in my mind forever.
Come to find out, this amazing child’s name is Nguyen Thi A* and she suffers from cerebral palsy – a physical disability that has rendered her with very limited cognitive and muscular control. The disorder has especially shown an effect on her limbs. With one glance at her crossed legs as she was delicately seated in her crib, I could tell her tiny ankles and calves were beyond fragile. The array of motor conditions that characterize the disorder are all caused by lack of oxygen to the brain in the womb or during infancy, and symptoms – like delayed development or limited vocal ability – begin to show typically around key developmental times.
At about 2 years of age, Nguyen was found abandoned at a local bus station and admitted to the center on the 15th of February, 2008. Because no one could locate her parents or other close relatives, her technical birth date remains unknown. But when she entered care, the center determined that developmentally she was around 2-years-old, and gave her an estimated birthday of January, 11 2006.
As I study Nguyen’s sweet face, I wonder why her mother might have left her.
Did she realize that her daughter wasn’t developing properly? Was she too poor to provide for basic necessities, or proper nutrition? Perhaps she was a young, unwed mother. In Vietnam, the stigma of unwed motherhood remains strong, and often compels single mothers to abandon their children. Did she not want to face the shame? These questions will perhaps never be answered. At least here, Nguyen receives the care and support she needs.
Through Holt’s child sponsorship program, she is ensured food, clothing, shelter and loving care in the arms of trained caregivers.
Upon admission in February 2008, the team at the child welfare center determined that Nguyen suffered from second-degree malnutrition. They nursed her back to health with formula and devoted countless hours to support her in every way. After extensive examination and evaluation of Nguyen’s delayed physical and mental development, the team diagnosed her with cerebral palsy the following May.
Now, at about 6 years of age and after 4 years in care, she is one of the oldest children here.
In an effort to enhance Nguyen’s chances of living a happy, full life with an adoptive family, she was placed into foster care after a year at the child welfare center. Unfortunately, her foster family could not address her needs properly, so she was transferred back to the center roughly one month later, at the end of March 2009. However, the dedicated nurses at the center and the amazing employees of Holt Vietnam refused to give up on Nguyen. After returning to the orphanage, Nguyen was placed into Holt’s child sponsorship program. With the help of generous sponsor families in the United States, Nguyen was able to receive the proper care she needed to begin treatment for her cerebral palsy.
Upon admission, the nurses at the child welfare center could tell she was an incredibly special child. Although the cerebral palsy has made it so she has been slow to develop, she is extremely happy and is constantly catered to by the nurses and other children. She is extremely sociable, and adores being around the other children. She is absolutely charming, and bursts with laughter when she is tickled. I could sense her strong will as she returned my extended gaze and grasped my pen.
Since beginning physical therapy treatment on October 24th, 2011, Nguyen has developed remarkably well.
For her first round of therapy, she met with a physical therapist three times a week for one hour. Now, Nguyen is going through her second round of therapy. Holt International budgets around $600 for physical therapy for two children in the center, Nguyen and another child with autism. To cover the cost, the child welfare center and Holt rely greatly on generous donations and sponsors.
With the help of these donors and sponsors in the U.S., as well as the caregivers here, Nguyen has surpassed all expectations – showing us all a glimmer of hope and promise because miraculously, and against all odds, she is finally able to stand. I will never forget the tears that welled up in my eyes the moment I saw Nguyen’s frail, tooth-pick-legs unfold themselves. She extended her tiny hand to me, and placed the other on the crib. With all of her might she braced herself and wobbled to the most proud stance I have ever seen her in.
Her face instantly lit up with her usual, radiant smile, but this time, it was luminous.
I knew that by committing to come to Vietnam, I would be greatly influenced by the things I saw. I knew I would be inspired and moved by many things. I had hoped to make a positive change in someone’s life, and of course better myself, but in no way could I ever have imagined the impact of the work here. It’s truly amazing how something so little – just $200 worth of physical therapy – can sincerely change a child’s life. Nguyen’s life has been transformed through the sponsorship program. She has made enormous developmental strides, and the stronger and more capable she becomes, the greater the odds of her finding a family; she is literally and figuratively one step closer to finding a home of her own. **
* Child’s name has been changed
** Editor’s Note: Although international adoption from Vietnam remains suspended, many children are able to find homes locally through domestic adoption. Holt continues to support efforts to reform and ultimately resume international adoption from Vietnam.