Women are inevitably more important than men, at least at the SOS Children’s Village Ca Mau in southern Vietnam.
Such villages have many homes, each of which is managed by a woman. She is called ‘mother’ by around 20 children. Only women are able to do the job.
More notably, those women are committed to leading a single life so that they can care for the kids at SOS Children’s Villages.
At any time, a mother has around 20 children to look after in her home, one of many houses belonging to the villages, although she has never experienced childbearing.
Mothers at SOS Children’s Village Ca Mau
The SOS Children’s Village Ca Mau, located in the southernmost Vietnamese province of Ca Mau, has 14 houses, each of which is named for a kind of flower.
Mother Pham Hong Tim, 57, manages the house named Hoa Mai (Apricot), home to children in the fourth and fifth grade.
The playing children all stood up, folded their arms, and greeted visitors one day.
Tim paused her cooking and welcomed the visitors with an explanation, “It is summer now and my children are enjoying their break. So the atmosphere is always exciting and noisy here all day round.”
Receiving visitors is part of the fundraising job of any SOS Children’s Village and the visitors are often guided to drop by its houses.
Decades ago, Tim worked for Minh Hai Hotel in Ca Mau and was courted by some young men then.
But she chose to study in Hanoi for a period and returned to manage a house at the SOS Children’s Village Ca Mau.
Since then, she has been called ‘Mom Tim.’
She said her working day starts at 4:00 am or 5:00 am with the preparation of breakfast for her children before they go to school.
Clean-up and preparing lunch and dinner follow.
After nearly 20 years of working for the village in Ca Mau, her hair has turned grey and Tim always has around 20 children to take care of at anytime.
When any of them reaches the age of 18 and leaves the house, Tim is given another child to replace.
“I am not someone of a rarity in SOS Children’s Villages. Every mom here has as many children as I do,” she said. “At anytime, a mom needs two family record books to write the names of all of her children.”
Currently, Tim has 18 children left since five have been taken back by their relatives.
Huu Thi Thu, 58, is another mother who is in charge of the Hoa Cuc (Daisy) house of the SOS Children’s Village Ca Mau. She is taking care of 23 children.
Pointing at a little boy at the kindergarten age who was slipping his head in the arms of mother Thu to ask to watch a cartoon, Thu said, “This is my youngest son. He was abandoned in Gia Rai Town [in neighboring Bac Lieu Province] four years ago. The mothers here gave him to me and named him Huu Duy Khang, for my family name of Huu.”
Thu turned to her son and said, “Please wait. I have guests now.”
In general, each mother has full rights and responsibilities to take care of her children in her family in her own way.
The SOS Children’s Village Ca Mau has many examples of children who grow up and succeed in life thanks to the care of the mothers.
Nguyen Ngoc Hi and Nguyen Thanh Thuy, who are sisters, are two among them.
They were born to a poor family in Dam Doi District in Ca Mau. Since divorcing her husband, their mother has suffered an illness that renders her unable to be aware of what she does and so she could not take care of them.
The two sisters were given to their grandmother and sent to the SOS Children’s Village Ca Mau soon after that.
Hi is now a doctor in a hospital in Can Tho City in the Mekong Delta and Thuy graduated from a university and works in the same hospital as her sister.
They have a regular income and have brought their ill mother to live with them.
Now, the SOS Children’s Village Ca Mau has some 30 college students of various majors.
Mother Thu said, “The biggest misery of a child is the feeling that he doesn’t belong to anyone.
“Having no food and no clothes is more acceptable to them than having no family relations and feeling lonely.
“So, the mothers here try their best to make them feel they are growing up as normally as other children.”
Those mothers are always committed to taking care of their children anytime.
But few people know that they will have to live in old people’s home of the village when they reach their old age.
The encouragement is their children regularly return to visit them even when they work far away.
The first SOS Children's Village was built in Imst in Austria in 1949 in the aftermath of World War II by Dr. Hermann Gmeiner. The SOS Children's Villages International is a secular and apolitical non-governmental organization, and it currently helps children in 133 countries. Established in Vietnam in 1987, the SOS Children's Villages Vietnam has 14 SOS Children’s Villages where more than 3,500 children are taken care of. More than 650 children have grown up and fully integrated into the Vietnamese society so far.