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Two decades on, Vietnamese nurse recounts saving newborn from live burial

Saturday, February 23, 2019, 20:20 GMT+7
Two decades on, Vietnamese nurse recounts saving newborn from live burial
Nguyen Thanh Hai and his adopted daughter Nguyen Tran Thi Giang, who was saved from being buried alive at birth. Photo: Le Trung / Tuoi Tre

In 2000, a newborn girl in the central province of Quang Nam narrowly escaped being buried alive when the nurse who helped deliver her stepped in to save her from a traditional ethnic ritual.

In Tra Leng village, located in the mountainous district of Nam Tra My in Quang Nam Province, an ethnic minority group at that time still practiced the outdated tradition of burying the live babies of mothers who passed away during their deliveries.

As per tradition amongst the Mnong people, Nguyen Tran Thi Giang’s family and neighbors planned to bury her alive when her mother died giving birth to her.

Nearly two decades later, Nguyen Thanh Hai, the nurse who came to Giang’s rescue, recounted saving the young girl’s life during a discussion with Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper.

Almost buried alive

On the night of January 14, 2000, Hai was manning Tra Len Village’s medical station when he received an urgent cry for help: a Mnong ethnic woman was having trouble giving birth and needed professional aid.

Despite the pouring rain, the then 27-year-old nurse rushed to the 47-year-old woman’s side, only to find that she had lost a considerable amount of blood during the delivery process.

Hai eventually helped deliver a 1.9-kilogram baby girl, but was unable to save the mother’s life.

Gossip immediately swept through the village and a town meeting was called to discuss the newborn’s fate.  Mnong tradition dictated that the child of a mother who didn’t survive the delivery is bad luck for the village. So, in keeping with that tradition, the baby would need to be buried alive next to its mother in order protect the villagers, Hai recalled.

“Even the family wanted to bury the child alive,” he said.

“They said she was a forest ghost would only bring bad luck to those around her.”

Listening to the discussion, Hai realized the only way to save the baby would be to take her in and raise her as his own.

“I am going to adopt the child,” he announced to the village.

But his proposal was rejected.  As the villagers prepared to bury the child, Hai sprang into action. 

He took the baby into his arms and raced to the safety of the medical station where he wrapped the baby in his clothes and prepared to bring her to his 72-year-old mother in Bac Tra My District.  Together, they named the child Nguyen Tran Thi Giang.

Giang spent much of her childhood in poor health, but her adoptive father still managed to care for her with his meager salary of VND350,000 (US$15) a month.  He even managed to buy her milk - a luxury at the time.

It wasn’t always easy and he often found himself relying on friends for cash, but Hai knew raising the baby was the right thing to do.

Giang takes care of her old grandmother Nguyen Thi Nen, who raised her since she was an infant. Photo: Le Trung / Tuoi Tre
Giang takes care of her old grandmother Nguyen Thi Nen, who raised her since she was an infant. Photo: Le Trung / Tuoi Tre

Following her father’s footsteps

Giang is now a 19-year-old student at the Medical College of Quang Nam where she studies obstetrics and hopes to follow in her father’s footsteps and become a delivery nurse.

“My dad fought for my life and I am very grateful,” Giang said.

“I hope to work in mountainous villages after graduation so that I can help the ethnic people there, especially women and children,” Giang added.

Hai shared that he fully supports Giang’s future plans.

“I hope my daughter studies hard so that she has the opportunity to work in places where she can help impoverished villages improve their conditions,” he said.

Even though she has never known her birth mother or biological family, the love she’s received from Giang and her adoptive grandmother has given her a life free from self-pity.

After adopting to Giang, Hai went back to school at the University of Medicine and Pharmacy in Ho Chi Minh City.  He now serves as the doctor in charge of the medical station in Tra Van, another village in Nam Tra My District.

Nguyen Tran Thi Giang makes an effort to become a nurse to help people of her village. Photo: Le Trung / Tuoi Tre
Nguyen Tran Thi Giang makes an effort to become a nurse to help people of her village. Photo: Le Trung / Tuoi Tre

Nearly two decades after rescuing Giang, Hai’s efforts have not been forgotten.

“We are appreciative of Hai’s actions,” said Phan Quoc Cuong, head of Tra Leng village.

“Local authorities have shared Hai’s story with the ethnic community and have worked quite hard to put an end to such outdated customs.”

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Le Trung - Ha My

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