A border guard officer on Phu Quoc Island off southern Vietnam has taken in the orphaned children of a comrade who fell victim to HIV.
Major Danh Truong Danh, deputy chief officer of Ganh Dau Border Post on Phu Quoc Island off Kien Giang Province, lives up to his reputation as an honest man with a rustic demeanor and calm, soothing voice.
With grey and black bristle hair betraying his old age, Danh shared that he and his wife consider their three children above all else as their most valuable treasures.
“The oldest is D.Q.B., the middle is D.K.C., and the youngest is Danh Bich Ngoc,” Danh said. “Ngoc was never bothered by the fact her sister is infected [with HIV].”
Of the three children, only the youngest, Bich Ngoc, is Danh’s biological daughter.
“The oldest two are the children of a comrade who died many years ago,” Danh explained.
“Their father was infected with HIV before spreading the virus to his wife while she was pregnant with C. When C. was three years old, they found out she also contracted the virus from her mother.”
The children’s father died in 2004 and their mother passed away two years later.
“Before his death, their father asked me to raise them to be good people,” Danh recalled. “When their mother died, my wife and I each carried one of the children back to our home from the funeral.”
Only three months after settling into her new home, C. began developing ulcers all over her body that bled and oozed pus, causing the little girl great pain.
“She would cry out ‘it hurts, daddy’ whenever the pain came, which hurt my heart greatly,” Danh said. “My wife and I couldn’t sleep for the first few months.”
On hot days, the foster parents resorted to hand fans, saving the family’s electronic fan to keep their daughter cool.
Every morning, the couple would wake up early to clean C.’s clothes with bleach and soap before sterilizing them with boiling water to remove bacteria that might devastate their daughter’s already diminishing health.
With only a meager military wage of only VND2.5 million (US$110) per month, Danh could hardly make ends meet for the family of five.
What goes around comes around
Following months of intensive care from her foster parents, C.’s ulcers gradually began to heal, and by the time she was seven, the girl was already well enough to go to school.
However, local schools were unwilling to admit C. out of fear she posed a risk of infesting other students.
It was not until a local HIV social worker stepped in that C. was finally able to find a school that would accept her.
Acceptance into school was only the first struggle. The young girl quickly became the target of relentless bullying due to her frowned-upon infection.
“She’s a studious girl,” Danh said. “She would have been in grade 10 by now had it not been for her illness. Math is her favorite subject.”
Her biological brother B., meanwhile, does not fit that same mould.
“We have been trying to encourage him to attend school but he insists that he can’t take in any more knowledge,” Danh said. “I cry thinking about him all the time.”
C. is now subject to annual tests and must refrain from activities that carry a risk of new infection, according to Danh’s wife, Bich.
“At first we had to keep reminding her to take her medication, but now she remembers on her own,” Bich said. “In the past, people were scared and said mean things to her, but now everyone can see she’s grown into a beautiful young girl.”
After dedicating so much time to raising the children of Danh’s comrade, it was not until 2006 that the couple finally decided to have children of their own.
“Now we divide everything in this house into three parts,” Danh said. “We raise all three of them as our own.”
According to Danh, C. is always careful not to infect her sister. She washes her hands whenever she wants to embrace Ngoc and avoids playing in a manner that might injure Ngoc.
“Looking at them three hanging around with each other, it’s nearly impossible to tell they’re not all related,” Danh said proudly.
To the couple, having the children was the best gift they could ever hoped for.
“What goes around comes around,” he said. “The good karma we get for doing good deeds is our three children.”