|Life's a breeze: Members of Chau Ngoc Long's family are happy in their work. — VNS Photos Phan Minh
|Food for thought: Hon Co islanders also raise other sea products like oysters. Aquaculture has brought about a better life for the residents.
The families of drug users find that rehabilition only works if the recovering addict can find work. An alternative is to move to an island, as Ngoc Nga
Nguyen Van Kiem and Nguyen Thi Yen's small raft on Hon Co Island in the northern province of Quang Ninh resounds with the happy laughter of children playing with their puppies. Slowly sipping his hot tea, Kiem says sombrely: "Just a few years ago, my family never dreamed of having such happiness."
Kiem used to be a soldier and his wife a primary school teacher. While the small family was living in harmony, their son, Tran Van Hung, was discovered to be a drug addict. Worse still, after returning from a rehabilitation centre, Hung was diagnosed with HIV. The old couple did not know what to do besides painfully observe their dear son's spirit gradually deteriorate. Then one member of the Van Hoa Club suggested they encourage their son to move to Hon Co Island to start over with life.
To support their son, Kiem and Yen closed their house on the mainland. At the age when they should be retired, they continued to accompany their son in making rafts to raise geoducks. The wind, waves and storm there do not frighten them as much as the "white storm" that used to sweep through their house on land.
Not wanting to let his parents down, Hung is dedicated to his work. The fruits of his labour is a property worth dozens of billion of dong. Everyday, Hung takes care of his geoducks, goes fishing and patiently undergoes treatment. Fortunately, his wife and child are not infected with HIV.
"The medicine has developed greatly. Who knows, one day I may recover completely," Hung says hopefully.
Kiem's family as well as other islanders are all members of the Van Hoa Club, an intervention project for HIV prevention in Quang Ninh Province. All are connected to someone who was once addicted to drugs.
"Not having stable jobs and being isolated, many relapse after rehabilitation," says Hoang Van Liem, chairman of the club.
In 2006, Chau Ngoc Long, a member of the club, discovered a water area surrounding Hon Co Island.
For years, Long's wife used to cry her eyes out when he would have a relapse of his addiction. Returning empty handed from the rehabilitation centre, having contracted the disease of the century, and being separated from his family, Long sailed his boat to the open sea to raise geoducks, aiming to find a way out. However, wherever he set his rafts, he found himself ostracised and driven away. Out of weariness, Long returned to the mainland with the thought of letting things run their course.
However, in passing by Hon Co Island, Long's boat broke down so he had to ask for help from the club's members. After dragging his boat in, they realised that the water area around the island was very suitable for raising geoducks. Therefore, they suggested Long try breeding geoducks on Hon Co Island.
They helped him to set up rafts there and even went to the central province of Khanh Hoa to purchase breeding geoducks. Hearing that Long was determined to redo his life, his wife and child also reunited to encourage him in getting over his difficulties. The whole family put all their hope into their geoduck breeding rafts.
A year later, Long's first yield was abundant. Other members from the club came to congratulate him on his happiness and discuss propositioning the local authorities to allocate water surrounding Hon Co Island for aqua culture.
"After several yield losses and lack of capital, we were discouraged and wanted to return to the mainland. However, whenever we think that passers-by dare not drop by our area, we encourage each other to continue working whole-heartedly so that people can understand that we are truly trying to do well," says Nguyen Xuan Tinh, one of the club's first members to arrive at the island.
On the island, all the men talk about their wives with deep gratitude because thanks to their love, they have recognised the need to lead a meaningful life. Women there have accepted to leave behind the mainland to serve as firm supporters of their husbands.
Nearly 60, Bui Huy Dong spent more than ten years wallowing in drugs. Only after realising that his wife had been suffering too much misery did he decide to move to the island to "spend the rest of his days compensating for my wife".
Dong's wife, Nguyen Thi Yen keeps shedding tears in happiness whenever she thinks about her husband's decision. Leaving for the island, the old couple had only the initial capital of VND2 million (US$100); however, all the geoducks that they raised died in the first harvest. Discouraged, Dong returned to the mainland, but Yen encouraged him to turn back to the island.
"Harmony between wife and husband always results in success," Dong recalls his wife saying. Their determination finally paid off and now they have thousands of cages of geoducks and earn billions of dong per year.
From the first seven families, 19 others have arrived to become Hon Co islanders. "Whenever there are new comers, we are ready to share our water area. Everyone gathers to help them tie rafts and drop cages. Because we all have the same plight, there are hardly any conflicts or disagreements among us," islander Tran Van Manh says.
During stormy days, Hon Co islanders anchor their rafts and boats close together to fight the fierce waves. People there tend to contact each other more often to see if anyone needs help when the sea is rough. Whenever a raft is sunk by strong winds, they will immediately urge one another to dive into the sea and re-anchor it. They even share with each other a bowl of fish sauce to drink during cold weather as well as food during long storms.
The deep affection among Hon Co islanders has helped them to get over the severity of the open sea and hold on to the island. But more importantly, they have helped each other to overcome the "drug storm" that used to sweep through their lives. Nowadays, the islanders need not sail their boats far away, as more and more people arrive to learn their experience in raising geoducks.
Early last March, an aqua cultural club was established on Hon Co Island. "Local people no longer hold discriminatory attitudes but more and more register for the club to learn the new aqua cultural experience," chairman Liem says. — VNS