Volunteer photographers with Help-Portrait VietNam put on the final touches of make-up for young patients before a photo-taking session at the HCM City Oncology Hospital. — VNS Photo An Hiếu
by Gia Loc
HCM CITY (VNS) — An 18-month-old girl was lying on a mat in the corner of the hospital room, receiving treatment from an IV for a rare cancer found almost exclusively in children under five years old.
She had arrived with her father from the Central Highlands province of Dak Lak. Province to receive treatment for neuroblastoma, an extracranial tumour.
Because the paediatrics ward at the HCM City Oncology Hospital was often crowded and did not have enough beds, the young child had no choice but to sleep on the mat.
"Six months ago, my daughter was diagnosed and began treatment at the hospital, and now her health is improving," said Nguyen Khac Khanh, her father.
Little did Khanh or his daughter know they would receive a visit from photographers who offered to take the child's portrait for free.
The volunteers were from Help-Portrait Viet Nam, a local group which is part of the Help-Portrait "global movement of photographers, hair stylists and makeup artists whose mission is to use their time, tools and expertise to give back to those in need".
The Help-Portrait tasks, as outlined on its website, are simple and straightforward: "Find someone in need. Take their picture. Print their picture and deliver their picture. Find a local help portrait group. Start or lead a group."
When the volunteers at the HCM City Oncology Hospital visited the paediatrics ward, Khanh immediately agreed to their request and quickly put his daughter on his lap. Proud father and child posed for the photo.
The volunteer photographers were able to put the child at ease by clowning around and making faces.
"Thank you for bringing such a joyful atmosphere to the entire room. I'm very happy," Khanh said.
Like Khanh, smiles also appeared on the face of Ly Thi Thao, another parent from the Central Highlands province of Lam Dong, whose 12-year-old daughter was being treated to reduce the size of uterine fibroids.
After the fibroids become smaller, the girl will be transferred to the city Paediatrics Hospital No. 2 for surgery. Four years ago, the fibroids were diagnosed, but they had now spread to her abdomen.
Thao, who knew how much his daughter likes having her photo taken, took the initiative and asked the volunteers for a photo.
"Since she lost her hair because of the treatment, she wants to have synthetic hair so that her photos look more beautiful," she said.
In addition to patients and parents, the joy of giving and sharing could be seen on the faces of the Help-Portrait volunteers.
Tran Trung Hieu, a volunteer of the programme, who works in the construction field, was the photographer who took photos of the one-year-old girl with cancer from Dak Lak Province.
"Seeing children smile makes me happy. I try to find the best angle for a great portrait of a face radiant with a smile," Hieu said.
Because of his interest in taking photos and Help-Portrait Viet Nam's programme's goals, Hieu said that he did not hesitate to sign up as a volunteer.
At the Oncology Hospital, the volunteers have also tried to create a festive Christmas atmosphere by giving gifts to children from Santa Claus.
Luong Van Doan, a volunteer who has dressed up like Santa Claus to present gifts on three occasions, said: "The most memorable time was when we returned to the ward after the photos had been printed to give them to some children, but they had passed away. They had not been able to see their portraits."
"How sad it was!" he said, his voice cracking.
The volunteers also visit shelters for the elderly, as well as people who work in industrial parks and export processing zones.
Mai Ngoc Tuyet Van, the team leader of the Oncology Hospital's Help-Portrait group, said the programme was carried out the first week of December each year.
Portraits are also taken of others who might be involved, such as taxi motorbike drivers.
The volunteers often bring portable printers so they can give the photos to people as soon as possible.
This year, the programme is being offered at 68 sites in 13 provinces and cities in the country.
"The programme was set up for the simple reason of sharing joy. Many people may not have equipment to take or develop a portrait for themselves," Van said.
The non-profit Help-Portrait Viet Nam was established in 2010, mostly by people with an interest in photography.
This year, 11,291 photos were taken, raising the total to nearly 40,000 photos since 2010.
Ho Tan Dat, deputy head of the Viet Nam Youth Federation in HCM City, said the volunteers' helpful activities "had made life more beautiful".
In recent years, the city and local residents, especially youth, have taken part in many volunteer programmes to contribute to the social welfare of the disadvantaged, particularly in rural and mountainous areas, Dat said.
Volunteer programmes have received an enthusiastic response from society, he added. — VNS