|Huỳnh and her adopted daughter, Thương, who was saved from the backward custom, are now living together in a small house by Tung Ke Mountain in Ayun Commune. — Photo thanhnien.vn
GIA LAI — Đinh Nay Huỳnh, head of Ayun Commune’s women association in Gia Lai Province’s Chư Sê District, first saved a newborn’s life 14 years ago.
The mother of the baby had fallen pregnant while unmarried after her first husband passed away.
Relatives of the first husband planned to kill the newborn to punish the woman, a backward practice that had persisted among the Bana ethnic minority group in the Central Highlands province for generations.
When the woman went into labour, a crowd surrounded her to watch, without helping her.
Huỳnh was the only one who helped the mother and welcomed the baby when she came out, then brought the newborn to a local clinic, leaving behind a crowd still chasing after her to kill the infant.
Holding the newborn in her arms for the first time, she did not know the baby would be with her for the rest of her life because she then adopted the child, as the mother didn’t want to raise a child born out of wedlock.
At that time, the Bana people had maintained the practice of burying some newborns alive, including those born out of wedlock and those where the mother died during labour.
They believe that these infants bring bad luck to villagers and if the child dies with the mother, the mother’s soul will rest in peace and she will have a good afterlife.
After seeing an innocent newborn stoned to death in 2001, Huỳnh thought she had to do something to fight this backward custom.
“I could not do anything for the child. When I arrived, they were putting the little baby into a jute bag for the burial.
“I could not sleep for many nights. I was obsessed by the blood from the baby’s mouth,” she said.
Huỳnh and local authorities then came to each Bana house to persuade locals not to follow the backward custom.
Persuading ethnic minority villagers to give up a custom passed on by their ancestors for hundreds of years was not an easy task.
Huỳnh tries to save every innocent but ill-fated newborn that she comes across, two of whom have become her adopted children.
In 2012, Đinh Hem, who lived next door to Huỳnh, fainted while working in the fields due to pesticide inhalation and would have been thought to be dead and then buried with her seven-month-old unborn baby if Huỳnh did not intervene.
Huỳnh helped Hem give early birth to the baby although she was not in a good condition.
Luckily, the baby was born safe and sound despite being “as tiny as a mouse,” as described by Huỳnh but the mother died after labour, putting the infant in danger of being buried with her mother.
Huỳnh committed herself to not letting anymore innocent children die and did not allow anyone to touch the infant.
The baby had became Huỳnh’s second adopted child and was named Thương which means “to love”, hoping that she would be loved and no one would hurt her for the rest of her life.
Towards the end of 2012, Huỳnh saved the child of an unmarried couple by persuading villagers not to force the mother to abandon the pregnancy. Huỳnh then became the baby’s godmother.
Saving three children from these customs has helped villagers understand the practice’s backwardness, and more and more people see the harm of killing the children.
Nguyễn Văn Thanh, chairman of Ayun Commune’s People’s Committee told Thanh Niên (Young People) newspaper “Huỳnh made such important contribution to persuading villagers to stop the backward custom. Now it has been totally discarded. It is such an enormous and heroic effort of local authorities and residents.”
Huỳnh, now 59, lives with her two adopted children. She hopes ill-fated children born in the village will no longer suffer from inequality and have good lives, at least better than their parents. —VNS