|Children in the yard of the orphanage. VNS Photos Vân Nguyễn|
By Tricia Teo
*Additional reporting by Vân Nguyễn and Minh Phương
Over the past 25 years, Trần Thục Ninh has been ‘grandma’ to more than 170 children.
Although none of them are related to her, she loves and cares for each and every one of them as if they were her own.
Ninh runs Hà Cầu Orphanage in Hà Nội’s Hà Đông District where 33 children currently call it home.
Ninh said: “We are very proud to say that all of our children that have grown up and left this centre, have all found stable jobs, have no criminal record, and are good citizens that will leave a positive impact on our country and society.”
Children cared for at the centre have either lost one, or both parents and others are from underprivileged families that cannot afford to raise their child.
Those that have passed through the orphanage over the past two and half decades believe Ninh, and her volunteers affectionately known as ‘mothers’ have helped shape their lives for the better.
Like Đỗ Khắc Việt Anh, who at 21 years old is currently in his third year studying logistics at the University of Transport Technology and Communications.
His family were unable to provide for him and his older sister, so they were both sent to this centre when he was eight.
He is currently the eldest at the orphanage and has the largest share of responsibilities in household chores, especially after the pandemic caused the number of volunteer caretakers to dwindle.
“My life has changed since I came here,” said Anh.
“If I had stayed in my hometown, I may not have enjoyed good education like I do now. We have lots of people here taking care of us, including our grandma and mothers.”
Phùng Thị Hải Yến, 19, agreed, but admitted when she first arrived six years ago, she found the experience extremely daunting after both her parents died.
Yến, who is studying to be a preschool teacher, said: “I think without this place and the kindness of those who help us, I wouldn't be where I am today.
“If I had stayed with my family in the countryside, the conditions for my education could have been vastly different, and I might've left school to start working.
“This centre has a good dynamic that stresses the importance of considering one another as family members, which is different from other orphanages.
“I can say that I have a grandmother and multiple mothers, and I’ve never felt detached from my siblings, who always called me out to play and comfort me when I first came here.”
|Việt Anh helps other children with their studies. He will graduate next year and look for a job in the logistics sector. VNS Photo|
The centre is completely self-funded and relies on donations to operate. Every child is educated, cared for, loved, and has a stable place they can call home.
‘Grandma’ Ninh said: “We have managed to run for 25 years, thanks to the kindness of these donors.
“We usually accept children from three to primary school age, as this is a period where children need to receive attentive care so they can grow into healthy and happy adults.
“We support them by sending them to school, and if they can reach university then we will support them too. If not, then we send them to a vocational school.
“In the past 25 years, we have had 140 children depart our nest, all of whom have entered the adult world with stable jobs and a steady group of loved ones separate from our family here.”
As for the children who have grown up and left the centre, wherever they are living in Việt Nam, they make it their business to return to the orphanage at least twice a year.
“Each year, they return to this orphanage to revisit their first home during the Lunar New Year and our founding date towards the end of November,” said Ninh.
“All of them have travelled and found stable jobs all over the country, with most settling in the south of Việt Nam, so we don’t see them so often but definitely at least once a year. That is our proud accomplishment at this orphanage.”
Not only do the children have fun at the centre, they also learn how to be responsible. Each child has chores to take care of, and they even grow their own vegetables.
Older children take care of laundry and cooking, as well as helping and encouraging the younger ones with their homework and studies.
So while each child that has lived here may be missing a real family, instead they have the next best thing.
Brothers, sisters, and mothers they can each call their own. And at the top of the ‘family tree’ is grandma, whose selfless acts over the years have helped ensure all her ‘grandchildren’ have better lives. VNS