Kindergarten teacher Lê Thị Hồng Thanh visits a baby at hospital. – Photo tuoitre.vn
By Trường Trung
QUẢNG NAM – In a cloud of red dust, a car stops in front of the emergency ward of the Đà Nẵng Paediatrics, Obstetrics and Gynaecology Hospital.
Kindergarten teacher Lê Thị Hồng Thanh steps out, holding a one-year-old child with a badly infected leg that smells and is oozing pus.
She has brought the child all the way from a remote area in Quảng Nam Province.
As many as ten people follow Thanh closely, as if they are afraid that they will lose her.
Thanh gives them careful instructions in their ethnic minority language. She tells them that they should sit quietly and wait for her.
Still holding Hồ Thị Như Cạnh in her arms, she goes into the doctor’s room to discuss the little one’s condition.
The child’s father, Hồ Văn Chình, belongs to the M’Nông ethnic minority. He lives with his family in Trà Nam Commune, Nam Trà My District, Quảng Nam Province,.
He said Cạnh had suffered burns several days earlier, but he and his wife had treated her with wild leaves.
“The longer we treated her with the leaves, the worse her leg became. The wounds began ulcerating and it smelt bad. We were scared that our daughter would lose her leg, so we asked the village patriarch for help, but he was helpless.
“Then we had only one option left. Ask teacher Thanh to help.”
The M’Nông and Xê Đăng minorities who reside in Nam Trà My District call 37-year-old Thanh the “Emergency Teacher.”
Thanh is the principal of Trà Nam Kindergarten. But that is her official designation and work. She is also the veritable Florence Nightingale for local ethnic minority residents, and is always on call, helping people suffering from different ailments, from broken legs to heart attacks.
Whenever a medical situation gets out of hand, the people turn to Thanh. If they cannot go to her, she goes to them.
After completing hospitalisation procedures for Cạnh, Thanh wipes off the sweat on her forehead and goes to another room to visit.
She is checking in on six-year-old Hồ Thị Yến Nhi, a M’Nông child, and 16-year-old Hồ Văn Gương, a Xê Đăng teenager.
Thanh had taken them to the hospital earlier, after Nhi broken her leg and Gương was found to have a tumour on his back.
Hồ Thị Gioi, Nhi’s grandmother, said that Nhi’s mother had eaten some poisonous leaves and died when the daughter was just one year old. Her father does not take very good care of Nhi, and her broken leg was the result of a dog bite.
Like other village residents, Gioi had also used wild leaves to treat Nhi’s injury.
Thanh had come across Nhi a week ago, crawling on the ground with her broken leg. She immediately rushed the girl to the hospital. Nhi’s leg is a little curved now because she was not treated in time. But Gioi considers it a great stroke of luck that her granddaughter has recovered and can walk again.
Gương had been having a tumor as big as a bowl on his back for five years. It had started bleeding blood and leaking pus when Thanh took him to the hospital three months ago on a very cold night.
Doctors have operated on Gương and removed the tumour. Furthermore, kind people have donated more than VNĐ100 million (US$4,400) so that he can be treated further for tuberculosis and a problem with his spinal column.
Thanh is now the most well known person in the mountainous district and even neighbouring areas. From far away communes like Trà Leng, Trà Vinh and Trà Mai, residents travel hundreds of kilometres looking for teacher Thanh whenever someone falls ill.
Over the last five years that she has been working in Trà Nam Commune, Thanh has been saddened by the sight of children going to school bareheaded and barefoot. Many of them cough badly, but they do not have medicines, and their parents usually do not have money.
A strong maternal instinct pushes Thanh to help them.
“The most difficult thing here is that local residents are too poor and they do not have money to go to hospital whenever they are ill. They just lie still when they fall ill, and continue to work in the field when they recover. Children grow naturally like wild plants,” she said.
Whenever she comes across a “tricky” case, Thanh takes photos and shares them on her Facebook page, calling or others to help.
“If they do not receive any donation, I use my money to take them to hospital,” said Thanh.
Trần Cao Thanh Bình, of the General Affairs Ward at the Đà Nẵng Paediatrics, Obstetrics and Gynaecology Hospital, said Thanh found it very hard when she first came to the hospital, because she could not take care of many sick children hospitalised at the same time.
Most local residents do not know the common Vietnamese language, and Thanh had to look after them as well.
“Sometimes two or three people are hospitalised, but in different hospitals, so Thanh has to travel a lot to take care of them,” said Bình.
Familiar with the work Thanh has been doing for the last two years, Bình and other donors are present at the emergency ward whenever the teacher turns up with a patient.
Thanh said she has seen many “strange cases” of residents responding to illnesses in the mountainous area.
Sometimes, parents do not take their sick children to the hospital because they have no one to take care of their oxen and cows. Then, there are times they do not want to go down into the plains, because they are afraid they will find nothing to eat.
Thanh has traveled through forests and crossed stream many times in just one day to convince local residents to go to the hospital.
Her house becomes a “transit shed” whenever residents go down the mountain.
Nguyễn Thành Phương, chairman of the Trà Nam Commune People’s Committee, said Thanh not only helped children with deadly diseases and disabilities, she also acted as a bridge connecting donors with local residents.
Thanks to Thanh’s reputation, residents have received help from social organisations and charities during the period between crops when they typically suffer hunger and other deprivations.
Apart from money to treat their illnesses and diseases, many residents have also received capital to invest in the household economy and reduce poverty. – VNS