|Illustration by Trịnh Lập|
by Nguyễn Mỹ Hà
It has been about a year since the Foster Mother Movement initiated by the Viêt Nam Women's Union tried to find mothers to care for children who lost their parents to the coronavirus pandemic during the worst wave last year.
The third wave swept across Hồ Chí Minh City and beyond, leaving more than 2,000 children losing one or both their parents. In some families, mothers that were previously housewives faced the daunting task of making ends meet to raise their children.
Lâm Quỳnh Hoa has been a women's union activist for some time. She was spreading messages about the Foster Mother programme when she decided to personally bring some children under her wing.
With two teenage children herself, it broke her heart to see children who were also her neighbours suffer from losing their parents so suddenly. Hoa has taken in five more children aged between 9 and 18.
All the children lived in a ward where Hoa was the chief woman in charge. She understands their circumstances well since when the pandemic hit her ward. She was there to deliver food aid, assist testing centres, and help others seek medical help. She was also there to witness the passing away of so many. When she reached out to help these families, it was natural and less shocking than if it had come from a complete stranger.
Hoa provided mental health services to help the teenage children gradually cope with their losses and helped their mothers to monitor family spending now that they have become the main bread earners of the households. She also helped older children get jobs to help their families.
Two related programmes are now running together in Hồ Chí Minh City, one by the city and another, the national Foster Mother project, that have reached out to help more than 1,020 children in deprived circumstances.
In Hồ Chí Minh City's District 3, the local women's union chapter launched its Foster Mother Club, which took in 50 children orphaned by COVID-19 who live in the district's neighbourhoods.
The District 10 women's union chapter has a 27-member club. In Tân Phú District, 33 female activists and policewomen registered to take part in the Foster Mother programme.
Foster mothers shall coordinate in a network to mobilise social funds to provide the children with and connect with mental health services and legal service providers. They voluntarily assist and care for children until they reach 18 years old.
The pandemic took away parents of 2,352 children, and now, the Women's Union has mobilised resources to help their lives return to normal. The initiative started with children losing one parent or both to COVID, but it could also extend to those losing parents for other reasons.
Foster mothers and female activists shall assist children in hospitals, nursing centres, or with their families. They also seek help from companies or take the responsibility to care for and help raise the children and try to provide them with the safe and best possible environment to grow up in.
Female activists often take children under their arms to provide direct aid, as with Hoa in HCM City, they also provide help by getting donations from companies and individuals to provide children's caretakers with means of support within a specific period of time or until they are 18 years of age.
This programme has always been based on voluntary grounds while respecting the legal rights of children. Aid should come close to a child's needs and let them live in the family, among relatives and the community. All donations need to be clearly stated, transparent and financially recorded by donors and end-receivers.
To date, 11,052 children have received foster aid, among which more than 2,000 due to the coronavirus.
Trương Thị Thu Thủy, head of the Family and Social Affairs Department of the Viêt Nam Women's Union Central Committee, told Việt Nam News: "This is the first time the Foster Mother programme was unrolled in all cities and provinces across the country."
"We have a strong network of local women and women in relevant ministries and agencies who have coordinated to provide aid and care for children living in their communities and with their close relatives. This programme encourages community mothers who live in the same neighbourhood to share and assist children daily."
She said that Thanh Hóa Province had many children who need help, but due to limited resources, they had to screen the neediest and help them first. Others had to wait.
Children grow up and change daily; if we can do something to help, we need to do it soon, as they cannot wait too long. The earlier they get guidance and support, the better. VNS