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.