The ageless love and care of a Cần Thơ couple for Agent Orange affected children

September 24, 2022 - 08:16
Trần Thị Hoàng and Nguyễn Ngọc Hiền were blessed with two children, but the blessing soon turned to a curse because of birth defects from Agent Orange.
Hiền and Hoàng, pictured with their second-born son Khải. — Photo

CẦN THƠ — Trần Thị Hoàng and Nguyễn Ngọc Hiền in Trường Long Commune in the Mekong Delta's Cần Thơ City were blessed with two children, but the blessing soon turned to a curse as birth defects from Agent Orange reared their head.

The septuagenarians' sons, Nguyễn Thanh Sơn, 43, and Nguyễn Ngọc Khải, 33, are both mentally underdeveloped. Although they are technically of adult age, the brothers' minds are childlike.

"We love football and we named them after two of our favourite footballers (Nguyễn Hồng Sơn and Đỗ Khải)," said Hoàng. "At Sơn's birth, everything seemed to be normal, but when he reached age one, he was badly ill. He couldn't even walk or talk at age three."

"We knew that something was not right, so we worked hard to get enough money for diagnostics and treatment. The long treatment ended but instead of getting good news, we learnt that Sơn was contaminated with Agent Orange and can't be cured," recalled Hoàng.

According to Hiền, when the reason for Sơn's conditions had not been found, he was sure that it was not hereditary, as no family relatives had similar conditions.  

Hiền and Hoàng waited ten more years to have another child with hope that luck would come their way. But when Khải was born, his condition was even worse than his older brother's. Not only his mind was underdeveloped, but also his body.

Despite the rumours and murmurs from neighbours, the old couple did not give up nor leave their kids behind.

"We will do anything possible to make up for their miserable lives," said Hoàng.

According to Hoàng, although taking care of two underdeveloped people is a lot of work, it also brought joy. Although not so bright, Sơn and Khải had their cute way of showing love to their parents.

"Sơn always pats on my back and smiles, and Khải loves it when he hugs me and sleeps," Hoàng told Thanh Niên reporters. "Outsiders might see them as burdens, but for us they are still our precious little children. We love them so much and we could not bear letting them live without us."

Both aged 70, Hoàng and Hiền are now at the time when most of their peers have already retired, with grandchildren by their side. But Sơn and Khải are different, and most of their daily routines cannot be handled on their own, rather, they need help from their parents.

In 2017, after 40 years of being a bricklayer, Hiền finally retired because no firm would hire him due to his old age. The loss of Hiền's job ultimately led to the family's financial downfall.

Outside of taking care of her children, Hoàng also does cleaning jobs for people in Trường Long market. The wages were minimal, but it got the small family through the day.

"To be able to go to work, we had to tie the brothers to a pole so that they don't run away," said Hoàng. "It hurts us so much but if we cannot go to work, how can we feed our family?"

In their shelter built from charity, everything is gifted by benefactors. All of Hoàng and Hiền's money was used to buy 20 ducks, which they hope will help them get more income.

"We all admire Hoàng and Hiền's perseverance and resolve," said Lê Văn Tùng, a neighbour. "They always try to make ends meet to feed their family, and we always try to help them in any way we can, whether through donations, or jobs."

"We have many families affected by AO here in the commune, but Hoàng's family is one of the poorest," said Lê Văn Ảnh, Deputy Chairman of Trường Long Commune People's Committee. "They do get social allowances but it cannot help much, and benefactors' gifts only come on holidays."

Although the kids are bringing some little joy to their lives, the worries of tomorrow are still haunting Hiền and Hoàng every day, especially Hiền who usually gets sick.

"Every time I go to sleep, I think if something bad were to happen to me, what would become of our children," said Hiền. — VNS