Thursday, August 28, 2008

Help or hindrance?

Talk Around Town


Help or hindrance?

by Thu Giang

A two-year-old boy who was abandoned at birth in Central Viet Nam and then mauled by a wild animal recently boarded a flight to the United States for medical treatment, bolstered by the hopes and prayers of many Vietnamese people.

Dubbed "The Miracle Baby", Phung Thien Nhan has become a minor celebrity in Viet Nam, his amazing tale of survival attracting an outpouring of public sympathy.

Found 72 hours after being abandoned in a garden, the critically-injured newborn was rushed more than 100km to a hospital in Central Quang Nam Province, where doctors managed to save his life, but not his right leg or his genitals. Last March, Nhan was adopted by Mai Anh and her husband, a young family in Ha Noi.

Public support has been remarkable, according to Mai Anh, with contribution of money, time and expertise from people and organisations in Viet Nam and abroad. Yet the child’s future remains uncertain, as his severe injuries will require numerous, complex surgeries over the next 10 to 15 years, as well as ongoing prosthetics care.

Nhan is a special case among the many Vietnamese children suffering from disabilities. He is luckier than most because he met Mai Anh who was able to marshall support from the community, allowing him to be operated on in the US. They can rebuild him; they have the technology.

Nhan and his adoptive parents received their visas to the United States early this month. US Embassy officials did everything possible to expedite the issuance of the visas.

"We appreciate the kindness the US Consulate showed us in granting us the ability to travel to America," said Nhan’s mother, Mai Anh.

But some have expressed concern about the toddler’s celebrity status; he may still be a child who doesn’t understand what happened to him, but as he grows up, many wonder how he will feel. This very article, you hold in your hands, the latest in a long line that helped raise awareness and funds, is part of this peculiar dichotomy. As the old saying goes "What nourishes me, also destroys me."

"I agree that we should help him but we shouldn’t parade him before the whole world so that every Tom, Dick, and Harry gets a chance to show their pity," argues Nguyen Van Ha, mother of two.

Nguyen Hong Ha - a disabled woman and director of a project on traffic safety for the disabled - agrees. "Many people are curious to see disabled people with unique abnormalities. But the disabled don’t want to be treated like freaks. We want to receive normal looks from others."

Ha adds that she used to hate appearing on television or in print because she wants to keep her private life private.

"My life is normal. I was taught by my mother since I was a little girl to ignore rude stares from people. But it hurts sometimes."

Ha admits that she is lucky as she was born into a good family, and studied in schools and university with a warm environment. But she has met many young people with complexes about their disabilities, making it hard for them to integrate into society.

"I live with my friend’s advice: ‘ignore the sneers by keeping quiet and doing my job’," reveals Ha.

According to the Deputy Director of the Child Protection Department of the Ministry of Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs, Dang Nam, people have approached Nhan with humanity and charity.

"Children have the right to have a loving family and good future," Nam says. Nhan undoubtedly has this. People, including the mass media and VNS, need to have respect for his privacy rather than drown him in compassion.

Psychologist Vu Kim Thanh says public concern has helped Nhan meet his adoptive mother, Mai Anh, who is very great. This has subsequently helped him receive donations from the community, and very expensive surgeries from US doctors. However, Thanh is a firm believer in the ancient adage, "Moderation in all things," including kindness.

"People don’t need to crowd round Nhan’s house, hoping to meet him and show how much pity they feel. A fund should be set up for him. People can send their donations to the fund if they truly want to help."

Nhan’s grandmother, Kim Anh, says that her family has thought of this but has not found the best way. "I worry about his future when he grows up; one click will show him all the information about his past. Is there any greater pain than being abandoned by one’s mother?"

Nhan survived great suffering as a newborn. Through acts of random kindness, he became a celebrity and is well underway to being healed. But no one knows what the future brings. Perhaps his name, Thien Nhan (charity and goodness) is an indication. — VNS

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