A Mother’s Final Gift

In Vietnam, the financial stability of a cow can be enough to keep a family together

Kim-Ly with her husband and two children.

Motherhood creates a universal connection. Regardless of skin color or culture, economic status or professional achievement, all mothers share a profound desire to protect and provide for their young. It overpowers everything — compelling them to put to their own needs aside for the sake of their child.

For one mother in Vietnam, the need to provide for her children became her sole focus — even as she faced her own personal struggle.

When Kim-Ly* met with Holt staff, she asked for a calf. She wanted a way to improve her family’s condition and care for her children. Her husband was sick with a heart disease and a stomach condition, which made it difficult to perform his job selling charcoal for about $50 per month. Their two children, an 11-year-old girl and a 9-year-old boy, needed clothing, school fees and supplies. Kim-Ly suffered from Hepatitis B and kidney inflammation. Her son, Dai, was very thin because a deformity in the muscles and bones in his jaw prevented him from opening his mouth wide enough to eat.

A calf, the mother knew, would grow and produce milk that would help nourish her family. And eventually, the growing cow would have a calf of its own. They could sell one cow and continue birthing calves, providing a regular income for the family.

Holt agreed.

Local authorities discovered that neither parent was able to work due to their health.  The authorities referred Kim-Ly’s family to Holt’s services, because the children’s needs weren’t being met. Holt staff realized Kim-Ly’s family was very vulnerable, and struggling to stay together.

Kim-Ly and her family live in Hanoi, the 1,000-year-old capital of Vietnam, built on the banks of the Red River. Skyscrapers and tight, apartment-style buildings with red and green roofs sprawl for miles across this fast-growing city. Motorbikes and scooters crowd the streets, swerving between taxis and busses. On the borders of the city, the countryside begins, dotted with villages and farm fields.

Before Kim-Ly’s death, she requested that Holt help her family get a calf, and Holt agreed. In Vietnam, a calf can provide long-term financial stability.

In Vietnam, there is a large disparity of wealth between rural and urban families. In the city, industrial jobs are often more stable and pay better wages. In the country, a family’s wealth is often linked to the amount of land they own, since their income is based on how much food they can produce. Few families living close to the city own much land. Kim-Ly and her family own a small plot, where they produce about 500 pounds of rice every six months to sell and eat.  Each child’s school fees are about $100 per year, and the profits from their crops do not leave the family with enough income to cover these costs.

Holt provides several family strengthening services in Vietnam, including free day care, nutritional support and assistance for children to attend school.  Holt staff in Vietnam work to identify children who are at risk of being displaced from their families, then supports them with counseling, food, medical aid, and/or income-generating projects — all in an effort to keep children with their families.

In America, where most people own a car and a television, a calf is not especially valuable, but in Vietnam, a calf is a huge asset that can produce enough capital to stabilize an entire family. It allows parents like Kim-Ly and her husband to pay for their children’s needs.

Shortly after Kim-Ly and her family received their calf, the director for Holt’s programs in Southeast Asia, Thoa Bui, travelled to Vietnam to visit the family in Hanoi. When she arrived at Kim-Ly’s house, a small brown cow with floppy ears was tied to a tree outside, munching on weeds. Though no longer a calf, the cow wasn’t full-sized yet. It would still be a while before the calf would have a baby of its own.

The father greeted Thoa with sad news to share.

Shortly after receiving their calf, Kim-Ly died from liver cancer. As a mother, she worked hard to support her children, putting their needs before her own.

When Kim-Ly died, her husband and children grieved deeply. Holt staff came to visit the family often, offering additional support, counseling and encouragement. Today, Holt continues to ensure the children’s school fees are paid and they receive proper nutrition. Dai and his sister are healthy, and Dai is doing much better in his fourth grade classes. He’s received private lessons to help him catch up in school. The family’s cow is healthy, and generating income to help the family stay together and remain stable. Dai has started playing sports, and loves soccer. He said he is happy he lives with his father and sister.

Even though she wasn’t able to see the profits from her growing calf, Thoa says she was alive to see her family receive the animal and know that the cow came with financial stability and a new hope for the future.

“Dai’s mother is able to rest,” she says, “knowing that her children’s needs would be taken care of.”

*Names have been changed

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