Two Ho Chi Minh City residents have spent the last decade doing their best to bring happiness to pediatric cancer patients at a local hospital.
After retiring from his job as an elementary school teacher in 2009, Dinh Thi Kim Phan took it upon himself to teach reading to children at the Ho Chi Minh City Oncology Hospital in 2009.
It took some persuading, but as time passed more and more parents let their children study with Phan.
Initially, the class was held every Friday and Saturday in the center of a treatment ward, surrounded by the cries of children in pain. Occasionally, a child would pass away just meters from where she was holding class.
The hospital eventually designated a small room packed with books, tables, playground toys, and teddies, where Phan has held her class sessions for nearly ten years.
|Dinh Thi Kim Phan dances with her students at the Ho Chi Minh City Oncology Hospital in Vietnam. Photo: Tuoi Tre|
|Dinh Thi Kim Phan sits with a cancer patient at the Ho Chi Minh City Oncology Hospital in Vietnam. Photo: Tuoi Tre|
|Dinh Thi Kim Phan takes pictures in a classroom at the Ho Chi Minh City Oncology Hospital in Vietnam. Photo: Tuoi Tre|
Now Phan sprinkles her lessons with a mixture of dancing, drawing, and writing, hoping to distill just a little bit of cheer into her student’s lives.
“Unhappiness chose them. That moves me to tears,” she said.
‘Birthday with love’
Le Van Hai, another Ho Chi Minh City resident, also dedicates his time to children at the Ho Chi Minh City Oncology Hospital.
|Le Van Hai, in red, talks with a child patient at the Ho Chi Minh City Oncology Hospital in Vietnam. Photo: Tuoi Tre|
The 44-year-old first started the ‘Birthday with Love’ program 11 years ago as a means to create a collective birthday party for the hospital’s pediatric patients, many of whom are from poor families or rural areas and have only seen birthday parties on television.
“I gave them birthday cakes, candles, and food. After they blow out the candles and sing songs, I ask them their wishes and try to give gifts they’ll like,” Hai said.
|A magician performs before children and mothers in a classroom at the Ho Chi Minh City Oncology Hospital in Vietnam. Photo: Tuoi Tre|
To add luster, Hai dons clown make-up and a costume while another volunteer in his group performs magic tricks for the children.
To Hai and Phan, their work is filled with important and emotional memories.
“One day, the children will leave this life. But memories, many memories, will still stay here because we have given them a smile and happiness,” Phan said.
“Even if they pass, I hope they’ve spent their short lives with some of the same happiness as ordinary children.”
Here are pictures of the children with Hai and Phan taken by Tuoi Tre: