Sunday, July 14, 2013

"Everyone can do simple things to make a difference, and every little bit really does count"

Meet Mr Loc: 45 years old. Local farmer in Tien Phuoc District about 25km away from Tam Ky.

Population: 110,000 yet so dense with fields and forestry, feels like I am travelling from Sydney to Wollongong to see the neighbour!

Literally, the road we traveled on...

He has four children, one passed away at the age of 9 from haemophilia.
He has a twin who is still alive, who also suffers from haemophilia. He is 22 years old now. After his twin died, they got scared they would lose him too so they pulled him out of school, then in grade 4, and has been confined to bed ever since.

A daughter, aged 15, is well and attends school. She has a dual issue: the fathers gall stones are causing him to much pain and so since he cannot work, its up to her to support the other 4 sick members of her family. On the other hand, Year 10 means she has to go to upper high school and this high school is 2 hours away from her house one way. She will have to cease attending school anyway,  although she enjoys it and is a good student due to the family having insufficient funds to pay for her board, food, school supplies and uniform. Total cost to support her for one year is $150.

Mr Loc youngest son, aged 10, also suffers from heamophilia. He, together with the older brother are confined to a bed all day, everyday, for fear of bumping into something, tripping and bleeding to death.
Mr Loc's wife has been diagnosed with breast cancer. They are to poor to be able to provide her with any medicines.
She stays at home to care for her two sick and frail children.
Mr Loc has gall stones and has had them since 2010. He does not earn enough money to warrant a hospital trip and has been putting up with the pain for the last three years.
If he doesn't work, the family does not eat and at times when the pain has been unbearable and he could not continue his extremely strenuous and physical labour of farming, the family had to go without. The nearby neighbours and their generosity who shared rice with them got them through.

Enter me: With the donations I received, I opted to help Mr Loc receive his surgery so then he can be fit and able to work again. This will then relieve the daughter of pressure to support her family and with more funds, support her to complete high school.
Mr Loc has been in the hospital for one week already.

They are doing extensive tests on Me Loc as from what I understand they want to make sure he is not, does not have heamophilia, or carry the gene (?) before they open him up.
I saw him in the hospital last night. Apart from me being the tourist attraction and having literally a hundred people follow me, I was taken aback at this hospital which is meant to be the best one in this entire province.
As I walked through the stuffy corridors and threw side way glances into the rooms, I had to send a silent prayer up above for our health care system back at home. There were entire glass windows so everyone could see everything. No curtains to draw between patients. No fans unless you brought your own. No pillows, no mattresses, more bamboo to lie on. And sometimes, two sickly adults in one bed.
Mr Loc tried to sit up when he saw me, but he went from a deathly pale yellow to a white with the effort that I insisted he stay put on his mat.
A pleasant man with very kind eyes. His skin, very dark due to years of working in the fields. Something looked down upon, a man who has no status in the eyes of the community.
"I wonder how a foreigner has come to help him?" I could see this question lingering on their lips as they watched on and listened to me ask him questions.

After visiting him, we drove to his home.
It was a very emotional sight before me, one which as I walked up the dirt path, I was reciting mantras in my head to remind me that I had to remain strong; this was not about me. They are the ones living it. Day in, day out.
The house, nothing more than old panels of woods slapped together, with so many holes, it allowed for much rain and mice to enter; a roof with so many cracks, the sunlight was streaming in. One bed with one frail boy in it. One hammock with another sickly boy in it. A tiny table, a shrine to the 9 yr old son who passed away and a dirty floor.
I met them, spoke to them for a little via a translator. It was really hard choking back my tears. I had a constant lump in my throat that threatened to over-spill.
The 22 yr old boy was very skinny. His legs were in so much pain, his mother tried to alleviate his pain the only way she knew how: by making a paste out of a traditional green plant.
I think the 22 yr old has been in bed for 20 yrs and so his legs have atrophy. Watching him try roll over on his wooden plank of a bed literally made my heart wince.

The ten yr old in the hammock had no choice but to stay in that one position.

The mother was so emotional. When she began talking to me, the tears were falling rapidly down her face and splashing onto her hands which were clinging to mine.
The 15yr old daughter Phuong, stood as still a a rock, face down, not moving or looking at anyone.
The mother has one wish: to find a cure for her sons so they could be better. She didn't even care about herself. She worries that she may die and then no one will be left to look after her children. I suppose if that scenario played out, poor Phuong would have that cross to bear.

Phuong was literally about to go get a job to become the breadwinner for her family when I heard of them and offered to help.
Phuong had many certificates from school signifying her status as an excellent student. The mother was so proud showing me.

I also took 25kg of rice, two boxes of noodles and a big box of random food for them. She couldn't stop thanking me, the entire time, tears streaming down her face.
She told me that I was the answer to all her prayers and they couldn't believe when they were told that that the local community had found a foreigner to help them.
I guess my timing was impeccable. I think of this timing and how much it would have/ has affected Phuong mainly. I guess she is lucky I came during school holidays. If I came in September or later, the new school year would have already started and even if she had wanted to continue her schooling, she couldn't have. I guess someone did hear her prayers.
Phuong held it together the entire time..... Until they asked me to make a 'speech'.
As I began talking, that lump in my throat betrayed me and I began crying. I told them that they were the strongest, bravest people I had met. I spoke to Phuong and explained to her how important education is and how I want her to continue and not give up, that she has better chances of earning more money if she completes high school and hopefully university. And then the more she earns, the better position she will be in to help her family. She stood there, face still facing the floor or staring out into the distance, with an endless supply of tears streaming her face. I was in the middle hugging mother and daughter on either side of me wishing them well, telling them that I will also be praying to them to whatever and whoever will listen.

I felt helpless about the boys. What could I possibly do to help them? I had no idea. The little one needs blood transfusions in Hue, a city 6 hours away.
The older boy, can't even read to pass the time having being pulled out of school at the age of 9. He literally had been in that bed, staring at a wall for 20 years.
I had a handful of marbles at the bottom of my bag which I gave to the 10 yr old. His mum said, some days when he feels ok, he gets up an walks around. He was reluctant to take them at first but he did after some coaxing and thanked me ever so quietly. His little hand closed around them so tightly, like they were his most prized possessions.

After another million thank yous, an embarrassing amount of photos taken,  behind an even more mortifying poster with my name on it, we left.
Wow. No one said anything in the car until we reached the next house and the next family we were helping....

Ms Lan has three children under the age of five.
Her husband died last year at the age of 33. When I asked how they was a bit of a commotion as his death is put down to a 'mystery'.
Why a mystery?
He was burned alive.
Did someone burn him alive or did he set himself on fire? Was it an accident? Was he trying to light a fire which went horribly wrong?
It's unclear. His wife Ms Lan refuses to believe her husband killed himself. She told me this happened last year, a few months after baby number three was born.
She said that they were happy, he didn't have any real problems (I find astounding she doesn't classify hunger and poverty as their real problem).
Now, she was left alone with three girls, unable to work, trying with all her might not to place them in an orphanage.
The girls were a little wary of me, throwing me side way glances and turning away if I made eye contact.
They were filthy, no shoes, no toys, nothing for their stimulation.
The three year old had a huge lump on her neck.It looks like a huge pus infection that should be drained.
How to get to the hospital is first obstacle and second is how to pay for said hospital visit and medicines?
She had the same green plant mush herbal paste on it, just like the other mother trying to help her sons haemophilia pain with it. Apparently it cures big pus infections too.

She was very grateful for the boxes of food and especially the cow we bought her, which hopefully in 12 months we can impregnate.
We shall check on her next visit too....
So excited by cans of condensed milk!

The other family we donated a cow to, also has three children. Aged 7,8,9..... These had to be the filthiest children I have seen. Dirt was present in every crack and crease of their skin. The father was no better and it took all my strength to suppress my gag reflex as I interacted with him and stood next to him for photos. His shirt was stained with sweat and dirt.
My heart plummeted at their abysmal state.

His story? Mother ran out on him and the children without a backwards glance. She ran straight into the arms of another man and left the district.
He didn't see it coming at all. With a pained expression he said to me that if she wanted to leave him, he could cope with that, but she ran out and left her children too. 'How can a mother desert her children without a pang of guilt?'
A softly spoken man with gentle eyes and a pained smile, a farmer who is desperately trying to keep his children with him. A rare thing, really. Fathers usually place the children in the orphanages. It's not a man's job here to raise children.
I take my hat off to him and his efforts.
I brought a 25kg bag of rice, two boxes of noodles and a box of assorted goodies. He saw the 6kg washing detergent and his face lit up. He said he can wash their clothes now with soap and he was going to try make it last a year.

Let's hope this cow performs and gives him some good babies to sell!