When Vieng’s husband got sick and could not work, their family quickly fell into crisis. But they had inherent strengths as a family that held them together. And when a donor sent them a much-needed Gift of Hope, they were able to build on those strengths — empowering them to overcome any crisis they faced, now or in the future.
Hung climbs behind his mom and dangles his arms around her in a big bear hug. She grabs his hands and laughs — smiling up at him. Hung is 4, dressed in a plaid golfer’s cap and puffy coat on this cool, 60-degree morning in Danang, Vietnam. He looks like a miniature version of his mom — with round, dimpled cheeks and warm, dark, shining eyes that shine even brighter when he smiles.
In the other room, Hung’s dad comforts his sister as she naps on the bed. His oldest sister is 15. She stands quietly in the background — smiling at her brother’s antics with the detached coolness of a teenager.
This is such a typical family in so many ways. Full of love and laughter, typical sibling relationships and ordinary daily routines. But for Hung and his family, the normality of family Iife is a blessing — and hard won.
Until recently, this family was on the verge of collapse.
Hung’s father used to work as a bricklayer. But he kept feeling sick, and eventually was diagnosed with a thyroid and heart condition. He could not work, but with the loss of income, the family struggled to pay his mounting medical bills. He needed nurturing, attentive care to help him regain his health, but just like any parent, he could not stop being a caregiver to his own children when he got sick. Especially to Hung’s 8-year-old sister — his sister napping in the other room. She has both cerebral palsy and epilepsy, requiring constant care from her parents.
“We were in an extremely difficult time,” Hung’s mom, Vieng, says today. While Vieng ran a small salon business, she didn’t earn enough on one income to meet their basic needs.
“We had to use the little money we had very carefully,” she says.
With the medical bills piling up, Vieng could no longer afford Hung’s preschool tuition.
“When his father was in the hospital, my son had to stay home,” she says.
Like so many families living in poverty, this one crisis — one illness — could have sent Hung’s family spiraling into despair. At first, they would cut school tuition for their children. But then, without enough income, they would still struggle to cover rent, or pay the electricity and water bill. The cost of food could become too much. They would cut back, they wouldn’t get enough to eat. Unable to afford medical care, Hung’s father might go without medicine. His condition would grow worse. Hung’s parents would struggle to care for his sister’s special needs. The family would be stressed, and their relationships would suffer.
Most of all, the kids would suffer.
Thankfully, that did not happen. Thankfully, this family had two powerful sources of support holding them up.
First, their powerful love for each other. On the case report for Vieng and her family, under the question “What are the family’s strengths?” their social worker wrote, above all else, “The family members love one another and take good care of sick ones.”
The second source of support came not from within, but from far away. From across the world, in fact.
“[They] changed the life of our family,” Vieng says, referring to the donors in the U.S. who gave her family the gift of a small business microloan. With this gift, they helped her grow her business, and earn an income for her family.
As Vieng speaks, she sits in front of a long mirror where customers watch themselves getting their hair done. She runs her business out of her home, in a small, tiled-floor room with a reclining massage chair and two orange swivel chairs. On the floor sits a shrine lit up in colorful lights for Tet — the new year holiday in Vietnam.
When our team in Vietnam first met Vieng, and learned that she already had hairstyling training, they noted this as one of the family’s strengths. Building on this strength, her local social worker realized, would be the best way to lift them out of crisis, and provide long-term stability. But first, they needed a donor to step up to help this family. They needed someone to give a Gift of Hope.
“Before Holt donors supported us, we didn’t have enough tools for doing the work. After that, we were able to buy this chair, and this machine to do the work faster and satisfy our customers,” Vieng says, pointing to the salon equipment she was able to buy with the Gift of Hope.
In the time since, the added equipment has brought in more customers from the busy residential area where they live, Vieng says, and she has diversified the services she offers. On a sign out front, she wrote that she can now do Korean-style eyelashes.
As her social worker wrote in her case report, “Vieng had a strong desire to overcome the [family’s] difficulty.” This, he noted, was another of the family’s strengths.
With the income she now earns, Vieng was able to re-enroll Hung in school. Her older daughter helps her in the salon and dreams of opening her own shop one day. Vieng and her husband hope their children grow up healthy and strong, get an education and stable jobs. And Vieng says she hopes they become “good people.”
Good people who love each other and care for one another when sick. Good people who help other people in need.
Vieng’s husband is still recovering from the heart surgery he had several months earlier, but he hopes to return to work in a few months. As the primary caregiver for their child with cerebral palsy, however, it’s important to him that he be home part-time to meet her needs.
This family is no longer on the verge of collapse. Hung has a sponsor now, who helps meet his basic needs while his family works toward self-reliance. But most of all, they are together, out of crisis, and stable. And should another crisis strike, they can now withstand and overcome — not only because of their inherent strengths, but because of the compassion and generosity of those good people who helped them grow even stronger.
The people who changed their lives.
“I’d like to say thank you to the donors for their kind support,” Vieng says. “Thank you for changing the life of our family.”
Robin Munro | Managing Editor