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Vietnamese kids grow up in strangers’ arms

Sunday, October 22, 2017, 18:15 GMT+7

Though parental love is out of reach for these two elementary school students, caring elders have stepped in to fill the role.

Nguyen Ngoc Huyen is a student of Nguyen Thi Minh Khai Elementary School in District 12, Ho Chi Minh City.

“I study hard so that I can be a good student, make my grandparents happy, and have a bright future,” Huyen said.

But Nguyen Van Tho, 66 years old, and his wife who care for the child are not actually her grandparents.

“I am not her grandpa, just her guardian,” said Tho.

“I used to look after kids. Back then, her father hired me to take care of her. He took her here in the morning and took her home in the evening,” Tho added.

“He used to pay me VND1 million [US$44] a month, but now he’s in jail and I don’t get paid anymore. I’m still looking after her. What else can I do?”

Tho and his wife have cared for Huyen for five years now.

Growing up in the arms of strangers, Huyen sometimes calls Tho “dad,” other times “grandpa.”

Huyen’s mother left when she was just four months old. When she was two years old, her father ran over a stranger by accident and was sentenced to seven years in prison for murder.

The 3rd grader says she cannot remember her parents’ faces. Though she has heard stories about her father, she has not had the chance to visit him.

Huyen does have one blood relative left, her grandmother, but she is simply too old to care for the girl.  Unfortunately, Tho and his wife are also quite old.

Tho’s wife weaves plastic bags, earning VND1,000 for every 40 bags. Huyen also helps her after school and makes VND4,000-5,000 a day.

The makeshift family’s low income means they can only afford half of Huyen’s school tuition.  

“I had to ask my daughter for money to help raise Huyen. My wife and I cannot do it on our own,” said Tho.

They have only one biological child, a 35-year-old daughter.

Tho shared that he hopes Huyen’s dad will be released soon. But even if that happens, he knows the father will have no money to look after her.

Dang Thi Bich Tuyen is another student at Nguyen Thi Minh Khai Elementary School that has been forced to grow up without parents. 

Dang Thi Bich Tuyen has lived with her grandfather since she was four. Photo: Tuoi Tre
Dang Thi Bich Tuyen has lived with her grandfather since she was four. Photo: Tuoi Tre

“I miss my dad a lot. I was small back then but I still remember. It’s sad to see my friends with their parents, but I cannot do anything. I just hope my grandpa stays well and takes care of with me,” Tuyen said.

Tuyen’s parents got divorced when she was just three. Her mother left and remarried while her father had a stroke and passed away.

With both her parents gone, Tuyen now lives with her grandfather and her great grandfather.

“I have taken care of her since she was four. I got divorced too, a long time ago. I work at construction sites to raise her,” said Dang Van Hoa, 60 years old.

Hoa is the family’s main breadwinner, though his job is completely dependent on whether a construction project needs workers.

“I made more than VND1 million last week. I planned to use it to pay the tuition but couldn’t because I had to pay the rent,” said Hoa.

Knowing that her grandpa works very hard, Tuyen hesitates to ask him for school fees.

“My teacher called my name in front of the class and told me to tell my grandpa to pay the tuition. I just told him that my grandpa hasn’t been paid yet,” Tuyen recalled.

Asked if she was embarrassed, she replied, “Sure, I was. But I was only warned once.”

Tuyen added that she loves going to school.

She is now in 5th grade, but weighs just 45 pounds.

“I usually have rice and soup. I only have meat when my grandpa has money,” Tuyen sobbed.

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