Just like any normal child would, children with birth defects also dream. The only difference is that these children never dare to dream it will become true one day.
The Angel Smile charity project makes these dreams come true and records the moments of happiness in a picture.
Despite being simple and naïve, such dreams as becoming teachers, doctors, policemen, or even brides, seem out of reach for autism, disabled and Agent Orange children.
Nguyen Viet Tuan, founder of Angel Smile, started making the children’s dreams come true even if it was just for one day and recorded the happiness on their faces through pictures.
Savoring the moment, savoring the dreams
Pictures have always been the best way to savor the most precious moments, which is why everyone is obsessed with taking photos today.
However, for the children at Angel Smile charity project, these photos mean so much more as they savor the only moment they were living their dreams.
Tuan started taking photos of disabled children so as to present them to the world in a new, friendly, and loving manner, while savoring the rare moments of happiness.
Tuan and his friends spent days and months with these children while learning about their dreams.
“Everyone has a dream but for children with special needs, it never occurred to them that it is possible,” he said.
As he knew of the dreams of each patient, Tuan took action to make these dreams come true.
He would contact hospitals and schools so as to bring children there, let them live their dream for just a day and capture these moments through his lenses.
Even though it might sound like a simple task, taking photos for these children is quite challenging as they have difficulties staying calm, being in one place, and are easily distracted.
Another challenge is to have the children open up and express themselves.
Hence, the 21-year-old benefactor always tries to get to know them as well as he can, including learning about each child’s hobby, preference, and frights so as to best record their characters through pictures.
“Many times the children got too excited and ceased to control their behavior, which resulted in broken camera lenses and electric devices, as well as other things surrounding them,” Tuan recalled with a smile, illustrating his happiness despite the challenges.
Hence, the photo-taking process is mainly about capturing the moments of sincere happiness on the children’s faces rather than asking them to pose before the camera.
A picture for immeasurable happiness
“I can still perfectly recall the surprise, happiness, and overwhelming expression on parents’ faces as they saw the photos for the first time.
“Some burst into tears of happiness, others looked at me speechlessly,” Tuan said proudly indicating one of the countless motivations for him to keep developing Angel Smile despite the hardship.
At first, Tuan set up the photo studio at his house as he started taking first photos of the children.
None of them were able to hide their excitement and happiness as they saw the pictures for the first time.
“When my child comes home, she keeps holding onto the picture frame even when she is going to bed,” Nguyen Thi Lai, mother of a child infected by Agent Orange since birth, said appreciatively
“I am so happy to see her being happy. I never thought I will have such a beautiful moment, and it never occurred to me to ask about her dream.”
|One of the pictures of an Agent Orange victim living her dream for a day. Photo: Supplied|
Soon, Tuan realized that due to the children’s health conditions, it is difficult for them to travel for long distances.
Hence, he set up the photo studio in the garden of Center for Agent Orange Victims in the central city of Da Nang, so as to make it convenient for these children.
At first, Angel Smile project mainly helped children with disability.
However, after Tuan saw all the positive effects and changes his actions could bring about, he decided to start helping children born with defects caused by Agent Orange, a herbicide and defoliant chemical used by the U.S. military during the war in Vietnam, as well.
Before getting to know the Agent Orange children, he was mainly concerned with getting close to them as he thought they will be self-conscious, indifferent and unfriendly.
He soon found out how mistaken that perception was.
“The first day I came to Center for Agent Orange Victims, a child came up to me, smiling, and asked ‘Hi, did you come here to play with us?’” Tuan recalled the very first moments of affection he felt for the children as he soon realized they are very warm-hearted people.
Having had stereotyped the Agent Orange victims, he was even more determined to show the world how beautiful, sweet, and friendly these children truly are.
Inspired by depression
“I had a long period of time during which I was severely depressed so I can understand how scary these children’s world of loneliness and lacking smiles can be,” the 32-year-old founder of the charity program explained.
Tuan, who is currently working at Danang University for Physical Education and Sports, spent several years studying Psychology at Shanghai Institute specializing in psychomotricity, controlling behavior and physical development of children with special needs.
Having had proper training, after doing his research, he realized many centers for these children have taken a wrong approach as each child has different challenges but they all receive the same treatment.
The ambitious young man designed his own program and started a pilot program with a group of eight children.
Despite the effort he put in, the children did not develop as well as expected so Tuan was obliged to give up the program.
The young benefactor did not give up and came up with another way of helping children – mentally encourage them.
For autistic children, mental health is the most important aspect, far more than any physical treatments, as positive attitude will significantly increase the effectiveness of any treatment, according to Tuan.
“We have to make them laugh, love the life, and be more self-confident, “Tuan said with determination.
“I will show you how beautiful and happy they can be.”
He soon succeeded as he beautifully recorded each child in a framed picture.
Angel Smile began with Tuan’s investment in a camera, lightning, and backdrop for a small photo studio at his own house, as well as support from parents and teachers.
However, Tuan not only takes photos for the children with special needs, he also puts effort in helping them blend in with community through various activities including dancing, basketball, and sports competitions.
“Psychomotricity is a special method Tuan is helping us implement in children’s treatment.
“It helps children develop positive emotions mentally, and is a good foundation for other forms of treatment.
“More importantly, for children with hyperactivity disorder [ADHD], being treated with this method significantly reduces the effects of the disorder as well as undesired behavior,” said Le Thi Kim Thu, vice director of Center for Special Education Studies and Development of Da Nang.
She is not the only one who recorded the efforts Nguyen Viet Tuan has been making for the children.
Bui Trung Hieu, vice director of Center for Agent Orange Victims, claims the significant changes his efforts made in the lives of these children.
“Tuan usually creates opportunities for children to go out and interact with the outside world and children at other units.”