​Vietnamese villagers tend woman with mental illness for three decades

The woman with paralyzed legs has no relatives, but it takes a village, literally, to help her survive the tough life

Ngo Quang Vien gives a bowl of food to Pham Thi Song in front of her house in Quang Nam Province, central Vietnam. Photo: Tuoi Tre

Female members of a village in central Vietnam have spent 30 years caring for a mentally deranged middle-aged woman with no kindred, indicating a long-standing kindness in a rural community.

Pham Thi Song has had mental illness since 1985, four years after her retarded father died, and her legs became permanently paralyzed in 1989.

People in her village in Nui Thanh District, Quang Nam Province, felt sorry for the woman who only several years earlier still managed to earn money for her incapacitated father.

“We must help her. Everyone here all has relatives. Only she doesn’t. Our Lam village can’t leave her uncared for. We must feed her,” Ngo Quang Vien, the village head, recalled what he said in days of yore.

The locals have been serious about that since 1989, when Song turned 30.

Members in the local women’s association have taken turns in providing two meals a day to Song, 59, who has lived alone without a family in a drab small brick house.

Song’s body and clothes are washed every three days – a job that falls on the person responsible for the feeding.

Vien gives her breakfast all year round as a helping hand to the women who tender Song.

“We’ve fed her for 30 years without failing to do it even in a single day. When it comes to one’s turn, she’ll try to provide Song with a decent meal,” said a woman who helps the single woman.

Serving the person with mental disorder does not seem to be easy, for her behavior may be unpredictable in changing weather, with her crying and shouting.  

In that case, other members from the women’s association and the village head, who lives near her, would come to calm her down.

“Many residents here said Song really has a good life because she’s served by many people,” Vien said half-jokingly.

The 50-year-old village head added that the neighborhood was filled with happiness when villagers managed to build the graves for Song’s parents in 2011.

“We were finally able to give complete help to a hapless family in the area,” he added.

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