Tài Liệu

Pregnant Teenagers

Vietnam is an ancient country with thousand of years of culture and tradition. One of many traditions which have been safeguarded for centuries is the close ties within families.

 

Pregnant Teenagers

 

 

CHAPTER  8

 

Pregnant Teenagers

 

8.1      INTRODUCTION

 

            Vietnam is an ancient country with thousand of years of culture and tradition. One of many traditions which have been safeguarded for centuries is the close ties within families. Unlike in the United States of America where the children reach eighteen years of age and are considered as adults and can leave the comfort of their homes to attend college or work away from home, in Vietnam, grown children cannot leave their homes unless permission is granted by parents. Even after being married, the son and his wife must remain in his parents’ home until the parents give them permission to move out. This tradition holds true only if families are well to do and employment is readily available. On the other hand, if a family is poor then tradition plays second fiddle to survival and livelihood. Poverty has a tendency of stripping away tradition no matter how old or how sacred. Teenagers of poor families are forced to leave the comfort of their homes hoping to find employment in the big city and sending the needed money home to help their parents. Having never ventured outside of their own hometown and village, the teenagers did not know much about the ways of the world. Thus, they are easy preys to the predators in the big city laying traps and waiting for unsuspecting victims. These underworld predators turn these innocent and unsuspecting children into drug dealers and prostitutes. It only takes one mistake and the life of a teenager is ruined. It is especially true for teenage girls who are sexually abused and are pregnant. They are too ashamed to go back home, knowing their family would either reject them or even worst disown them. They are forced to face the difficulties of life on their own. This chapter will touch on the children being used as drug dealers and prostitutes which lead to teenage pregnancy and outbreak of abortions in Saigon, the response of Mother Teresa concerning teenage pregnancy and abortion, the works of the Missionaries of Christ’s Charity among pregnant teenagers, a personal interview with Sister Mary Martin Han Thi Thuy, director of Mother’s Love Home where pregnant teenagers reside, the sentiments from the teenage mothers in Mother’s Love Home, and the finally the good news of a wedding.

 

 

8.2      THE EPIDEMIC OF TEENAGE PREGNANCY AND ABORTION IN SAIGON

 

Before touching on the topic of teenage pregnancy and abortion which are the visible results, the root of the problems goes much deeper and it must first be probed and dealt with. The cause of the teenage pregnancy and abortion is largely due to child prostitution. Children are born to be loved but most children from poor families are not only neglected by their families but sometimes they have to face unimaginable difficulties such as poverty and abuse. Indeed, poverty is the root of the many problems which force the children into prostitution. As the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights & Labor reports, “Widespread, poverty contributed to continued child prostitution, particularly of girls but also of some boys, in major cities. Many prostitutes in Ho Chi Minh City were under 18 years of age. Some child prostitutes, such as those from abusive homes, were forced into prostitution for economic reasons. Some children were trafficked domestically, and others were trafficked to foreign destinations for the purpose of sexual exploitation.”[1] Sister Franklin who works among the street children in Vietnam observes there are at least 25,000 children living on the streets and this is a conservative estimate. The street children come mostly from the rural areas due to the high unemployment and overpopulation which forced them to move to big cities and led to the break up of families and the loss of role models for the children. As they moved into the big cities, these children get caught up in the underworld of drugs and prostitution. In some cases children ended up being abandoned or worst sold. The streets become their homes where they turn into scavengers, beggars, shoe-shiners, market laborers, carriers, dishwashers, and prostitutes.[2] It is heartbreaking enough to hear parents abandoned their children due to poverty. But it is unimaginable that parents can be so cruel and heartless when they force their own children to sell their bodies for a living. Radio Singapore Internal: Vietnam: Child Prostitution recounts a bone chilling case, “Nhung, which means ‘rabbit’ in Vietnamese, worked as a child prostitute since the age of 12. A daughter of one of Vietnam’s university’s cooks, she was the pride of her father, because she was able to earn more than anyone else in the neighborhood, working as a child prostitute.”[3]

            With prostitution running rampant, the logical consequences such as unplanned pregnancy and abortion are surely to follow. Hilary White reports on LifeSiteNews.com, “Abortion is running rampant in Vietnam. Recent statistics have shown that as many as 74,264 children were killed by abortion in Ho Chi Minh City alone in the first nine months of 2005.[4] The problem of abortion is not only the result of Communist rule but it is also the effect of the increasing secularist consumerism and individualism coming in through growing economic ties with the West that is increasing the abortion rate. Furthermore, with the break down of family ties due to migration, the pregnant children are facing a frightening and terrifying future. The local newspaper Labor reported, “One of every five Vietnamese women undergoing abortion is juvenile…Some 300,000 unmarried women, mainly youths, in Vietnam undergo abortion each year. About 20 percent of youths age 15-20 from the capital city engage in premarital sex, many of whom have experienced abortion.”[5] Teenage pregnancy and abortion are two problems but they stem from a same root being unloved and abused. Love is the only answer to the dilemma of teenage pregnancy and abortion.                   

 

 

8.3      MOTHER TERESA’S RESPONSE TO TEENAGE PREGNANCY AND  ABORTION

 

            In her works of charity among the poorest of the poor, Mother Teresa held the unborn children very close to her heart. She often reminded her sisters and any others who would care to listen, “Unborn children are among the poorest of the poor. They are close to God…I see God in the eyes of every child – every unwanted child is welcomed by us. We then find homes for these children through adoption.” [6] Mother Teresa was always able to see beyond what she was looking at in a child. She saw the importance of each child and went on to compare and contrast every child to St. John the Baptist, himself, “The first person in the world to welcome Jesus, to recognize him in the womb of his own mother, was a child: John the Baptist. It is wonderful; God chooses an unborn child to announce the coming of His redeeming Son.”[7] The children are always precious in Jesus’ eyes for Jesus calls all of us to become like little children, “Jesus entered the world from a mother’s womb, took children in His arms, and said that His kingdom belonged to those who would become little children. And from the beginning, Catholics took their Savior’s love for children and family life seriously.”[8] On February 3, 1994, Mother Teresa was invited to be the main speaker at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington D.C. There were many dignitaries in attendance including the then President Clinton and his wife Hillary. Mother Teresa did not mince her words when it came to the topic of abortion. She spoke bluntly to a captive yet stunned audience, “Any country that accepts abortion is teaching its people not to love, but to use violence to get what they want.”[9] On another occasion when she spoke to a less than receptive audience, she told them, “The greatest destroyer of peace in the world today is abortion because it is a war against a child, a direct killing of the innocent child, murder by the mother herself. And if we accept that a mother can kill even her own child, how can we tell other people not to kill each other?”[10] Mother Teresa’ stance on abortion is summed up in her often quoted statements, “It is a poverty to decide that a child must die so that you may live as you wish.”[11] Mother Teresa’s strategy in combating abortion is through adoption. She and the Missionaries of Charity would take care of the unwed mother and find loving foster families for her baby.

            In order to save the baby, Mother Teresa must first save the mother. Living and serving in Calcutta, Mother Teresa understood the Indian culture and tradition very well. She knew that it is a scandal for any Indian household to have an unmarried mother in the family. Thus she made it a point to talk to and convince the parents of the unmarried mother not to force the girl to have an abortion. Having accomplished this difficult task, the next step is to take the girl away from home so as to avoid scandal for the family. Once the baby is born the family can decide to take the baby home. If the baby is left behind, Mother Teresa would try to give the baby away to a good and loving family. Besides working with local families, Mother Teresa also wrote to local nursing homes (another name for abortion clinics) to tell them her Missionaries of Charity would take any unwanted baby no matter how sickly or handicapped the child is. She also sent letters to local gynecologists and hospitals to send any unmarried mothers who need help. They could go to any Missionaries of Charity’s facility and they would be looked after free of charge during the pregnancy and post-pregnancy until the child is weaned. In return, the mothers only need to help the sisters with the daily domestic chores.[12]

 

 

8.4      THE WORKS OF THE MISSIONARIES OF CHRIST’S CHARITY AMONG PREGNANT TEENAGERS IN SAIGON

 

Following the example of Mother Teresa, their spiritual mentor, the Missionaries of Christ’s Charity established two “Mother’s Love” homes in Saigon to assist the desperate pregnant teenagers. Through helping the young mothers, the sisters hope in a small way to stem the evil of abortion. Walking into one of the “Mai Am Tinh Me,” in Vietnamese it means, “Mother’s Love Home,” one cannot help but notice a rather big and bright banner with the slogan, “Pho Su Song Chong Pha Thai,” which translates, “Pro Life & Anti Abortion.” The “Mother’s Love Home,” is directed by Sister Mary Martin Han Le Thuy since its conception in 1996. For the last 11 years, the “Mother’s Love Home,” has been a loving refuge for over 700 pregnant teenagers who without it would have nowhere else to turn to. In reality, the “Mother’s Love Home” has not only given the 700 pregnant teenagers a second chance in life but also saved 700 unborn children from the cruelty of abortion. The number of pregnant teenager fluctuates each year. At the present moment, there are 30 pregnant teenagers living within the comfort of the “Mother’s Love Home.”[13] 

 

Sister Mary Martin went on to explain the difficulties and predicaments the pregnant teenagers have to face which often lead them to contemplate abortion. There is a great sense of shame and guilt within the culture and individual to be pregnant without the benefit of marriage. Traditionally, children cannot leave their homes until they are married. This practice might seem strange to foreigners but it serves as a great prevention of premarital sex and teenage pregnancy. The older generation such as grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles are not conditioned by the culture to understand or accept any family members having children outside of marriage. Consequently, upon hearing the news of their unmarried yet pregnant daughter, the family would either refuse to acknowledge the child within the womb or worst disown and banish the young mother from the family. More than often enough, parents would further humiliate their pregnant daughter by saying hurtful things such as, “Our daughter is dead. We don’t have an immoral daughter like you.” The unplanned pregnancy also prevents the teenage mother from continuing her work which can lead to a very difficult existence. If the teenager mother decides to keep the baby she would have neither the assistance of her immediate family nor the necessary finance to feed and care for the baby.[14]

With no one to turn to and nowhere to go, the only available options for the young mothers are either suicide or abortion. Either way, somebody would die or life would be lost. Understanding full well the dilemma faced by the young mothers, the sisters of the Missionaries of Christ’s Charity would roam the alleys and streets and frequent the abortion clinics and hospitals hoping to find the teenager mothers and offer them an alternative choice for life. The sisters also venture out at night to public parks and factories where they could invite the helpless teenager mothers to come to the Mother’ Love Home and give their babies a chance at life. Many pastors in the local parishes also refer teenager mothers to the sisters. Sometimes, the teenager mothers who had been through the Mother’s Love Home would recommend other pregnant teenagers to the home. “Our goal,” Sister Mary Martin says, “is to save lives. So we greet and welcome all and every pregnant teenagers regardless of their age, religion or color.” Once they arrived at the “Mother’s Love Home,” the pregnant teenagers are lovingly administered to by the sisters in four areas: physical, mental, spiritual and vocational. When the young mothers first arrive at the home they are usually very bewildered and untrusting for it was through lies and deceits that brought them to the present states. The sisters try to win their trust by merely being present to them, caring for them, living among them, eating with them and praying for them. The sisters, in their poverty, choose to live like the pregnant teenagers 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and 52 weeks a year. Physically, the sisters take care of every need for them from a place to sleep to the daily meal. Once the young mothers are stable enough and have settled in, the sister would work on their emotional states by talking to them about their pregnancy and the need to take care of themselves and of their unborn babies. They would get them to share with other young mothers about themselves and their families. Sharing the same fate, the young mothers formed a very special bond. When possible the sisters would act as mediators between daughter and parents to reconcile them to each other hoping the parents would allow their daughters to come home. Spiritually, for those who are Catholics, the sisters would call on their pastors to intercede between parents and their pregnant daughters. Besides all these, the young mothers are invited but not obligated to pray with the sisters in their daily Eucharist, Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and community prayers. Vocationally, the young mothers are also taught different trades such as embroidery or sewing, typing or computer skills so they can fend for themselves; thus, ridding themselves of the impulse to return to their former lives. Equipped with a new skill, the young mothers are much more employable. The sisters would solicit local Catholics employers to hire the young mothers. Surprisingly, the young mothers are working and adapting very well to their new-found lives.[15]

            Once the babies are carried to full term and delivered, the young mothers can decide to keep their babies or give them up for adoption. Prior to the year 2000, the sisters could not help the young mothers to raise their children due to government rules and regulations. If the young mothers decided to give up their children then the children would be transferred to the state’s orphanages. Mothers who left their children behind often suffered from separation anxiety which resulted from having to abandon their own children. These young mothers tried their best to go back home and resume their lives but they suffered greatly from depression. They often called the sisters and expressed their sorrows. Some of the young mothers would eventually find love and get married. Mysteriously, some of the young mothers could not conceive. So, they returned to the “Mother’s Love Home,” hoping to take back their children. Unfortunately, most of the children had already been transferred to the state’s orphanages. Sometimes, the father of these children who once did not want anything to do with them now returned to look up their children. They too found themselves in the same predicament. The pains of life continue for these unfortunate mothers.[16]

 

8.5      SENTIMENTS FROM THE TEENAGE MOTHERS

 

Out of the 700 young mothers who have been through the Mother’s Love Home, about 10% were Catholics. However through their daily contacts with the sisters either through praying or playing, sharing or grieving, about 50% of the young mothers expressed the desire to become Catholics. Some young mothers eventually found love in their new work place. The sisters, although foreign to marriage and wedding, would act as parents to give the young mothers away and plan wedding mass and reception for them. When the young mothers were able to stand on their own two feet and it was time for them to leave the comfort of the “Mother’s Love Home,” they often left behind sentiments in the form of notes and letters to comfort one another.

The first sentiment is from Thanh Nga addressed to Sister Mary Martin Thuy. “I was born into a farming family where we scraped out a living from the red clay. Our hands and feet are stained with the red color due to the residue from the clay. It was a hard and difficult life. I had often dreamed about doing something different to make money and help my family. After many months of planning, one day I took all my belongings and left my parents, brothers and sisters and even the red land that I have learned to tolerate. From a little village of Nghe An, I came to the big city of Ho Chi Minh (Saigon). Separated by thousands of kilometers and from all that I knew and loved, I was afraid and somewhat bewildered by the sights and sounds of the big and overcrowded city. Ho Chi Minh City was nothing like I had imagined. It was a brutal and vicious city where traps were laid in waiting on every street corner. In my quest for a better life for me and my family, I was quickly tricked and fell into the traps set by evil men. My world fell apart when I found out I was pregnant. Filled with shame and guilt, I thought the only way out was to kill myself. Knowing my family would never accept me back for I have brought shame on my family; I felt lost and alone. The only solution was death for there was nothing left for me in this world. But I could not have been more wrong for there were many caring people whose lives were dedicated to help pregnant teenagers like me. I realized that God had not abandoned me for He had always been at my side. The sisters of the Missionaries of Christ’s Charity had lovingly cared for me during the last four months of my pregnancy. Sister Mary Martin Thuy had personally cooked each meal for me and provided me a warm place to sleep. She was always there at my beck and call when I was overwhelmed with grief and needed someone to talk to. She took her time and explained to me the maze of life which I did not know existed. I could honestly say that Sister Mary Martin Thuy was like a mother and older sister to me. I will never forget her love and care which she had shown to me.”

            “To my adopted sisters, only two more days and I will have to take leave from all of you and this love-filled home. Although, we came from different parts of the country and backgrounds, we have become a close knit family for we shared a same fate. We all have our own difficulties to face and our own crosses to bear. There were times when I was very distraught by my problem. But after having shared with you, I was able to forgive myself. My dear sisters (young mothers), I hope you will have a safe and healthy delivery. Do not be anxious or worry too much so you will not affect the health of your unborn babies. During the last four months that I have been with you, if I have done anything wrong I would like to beg for your forgiveness. I would like to thank you for having cared for me for the last 15 days after the birth of my baby. There is not enough space on this paper to express my appreciation. I have only one request to ask from all of you. After the birth of your children, if you are able to care for your babies please take them with you and raise them. Our children should not have to suffer because of our mistakes. I do not have anything to give you except this picture of me when I was 5 months pregnant. Whenever you look at this picture please remember to pray for me. I pray that God will grant you the strength and patience to love each other like sisters of the same family.”[17]

            The second sentiment is from a young mother who wished to remain anonymous. “I was born in central Vietnam and grew up in Hue – an ancient royal city. Hue is different from all other cities in Vietnam. I left Hue to come to Ho Chi Minh City where I was all alone with no one to rely on or talk to. I was dying a silent death but no one knew or even cared. Whenever a stranger was kind enough to talk to me and ask me about my family, I could not gather enough strength to utter a single word. Tears would run down my face and I simply cried and cried and cried. I have finally decided to put it in writing about my unfortunate and ill – fated life. I was born into a very loving family where my parents loved and cared for me deeply. They worked hard to ensure me a good education. I was taught to help those who were in need and generally very trusting of people. So naïve, I used to think that life was filled with good and honest people. Little did I know that life was full of treacheries. I felt like an innocent grain of sand being tossed about in the midst of deceitful desert. I grew up in a family where my parents trusted me and I trusted them. But when they found out I was pregnant, my parents threw me out of the only home I have ever known and loved. They not only disowned me but maltreated me as though I was dead to them. They went as far as saying they wished they never had me as a daughter. My brothers and sisters joined in the chorus of abuse and attacked me. I thought long and hard about my situation and came to the conclusion that the only way out was death. But when I looked closer at the child growing within my womb, I did not have the courage to kill myself. My parents gave me two choices either get an abortion and be allowed to stay home or keep the child and leave. I was confused and did not know what to do. I asked myself if I brought my child into the world without the loving support of my family, would my baby and I survive? If I keep the baby, where could I go in this vast and hostile world? Who am I but a weak and frail teenager? My thoughts; however, would always return to my own death for I felt I was a burden to my family and society.”

“One day, I found myself walking along the river banks when I met a woman who saw through my facade and recognized my suffering. Unlike people whom I had met in the past who tried to use me, she was very friendly and showed genuine concern for me. I talked freely to her about my past and she was very sympathetic. She then led me to a sacred place to pray. This place I have passed by many times but have never actually come inside. It was inside this sacred place that I met a sister. She invited me to her home and provided shelter for me when I had nowhere to lay my head. My new home is called “Mother’s Love” in Duc Tin. Life on the outside taught me to be cautious and vigilant, but in the Mother’s Love home I no longer had to put up my guard against abuse and mistreatment. There were many other pregnant teenagers who suffered from the same fate as I. Even though, we came from different backgrounds, we learned to trust each other. Trust slowly led to love and care for each other. This new found love I believed must have come from God and spread to everyone in the home. The sisters were amazing. They became one like us and lived with us in the same home. Reflecting on my situation, I realized I had to be here because I had nowhere else to go but the sisters chose to live here to share my fate. Day and night, the sisters loved and cared for me. The more love the sisters bestowed on me the sadder I became when I thought about my own family which rejected its own flesh and blood.”

“Finally, the day came for the birth of my baby; I thank God for my child. My baby became the source of my consolation and strength. Holding an infant in my arms, I have finally realized what it was like to be a mother. Since the first day of her birth, my baby had always been very sickly. I am eternally grateful to the sisters who spared no expense in their quest to get my baby healthier. Tears would run down my eyes each and every time I thought about what the sisters had done for me and my baby. I do not know how to repay the sisters for their love and the goodness they have shown to me except to pray for them. Even though I am not a believer, but I believe there is a God and I trust that God will bless the sisters for me. May God continue to sanctify your works among the poorest of the poor especially the unfortunate teenage mothers like me.”[18] 

 

 

8.6      CONCLUSION

 

            Cultures and traditions are preserved for the sole purpose of the survival of a race and country. Generations upon generations are able to flourish due to traditions. Today those traditions which were once held as sacred are threatened by the evil of poverty and the many problems stemming from it. It was poverty that prompted many unsuspecting and trusting teenagers to the big city hoping to find a better life. But what they found was heartache and shame. The very traditions that held families together now prevent the teenagers in trouble to come home. Rejected by their own families, the tortured teenagers often turn to suicide. Thankfully, there are people like Mother Teresa and the sisters of the Missionaries of Christ’s Charity who live her spirituality lovingly offer these poor teenage souls a way out of their troubled lives. Imitating the example of Christ who became flesh like us in order to save us; the sisters of Missionaries of Christ’s Charity choose to become like the young mothers to show them that God loves them. By sharing their lives with the troubled teenagers, the sisters are able to convey to them that they are important in God’s eyes. Even when they feel as though all is lost, God is always there at their side loving them and caring for them. They are, indeed, special in God’s eyes. Jesus emphasizes this fact by announcing that he has come to save not the righteous but sinners. The young mothers can take solace in the fact that Jesus loves them. Jesus also has a special love for their children many of whom would eventually become orphans which is the topic of the next chapter.

 

CHAPTER  9

The Orphans

 

9.1      INTRODUCTION

 

            Among the poorest of the poor, the orphans are the most vulnerable and helpless. Unlike other poorest of the poor who can choose to go home or seek help from the many charitable organizations, the orphans are too young and too naïve to know any better. Children are born to love and be loved. They are totally dependent on their parents or guardians to care, feed and educate them. Jesus deems children important enough to become one like them, totally dependent on his earthly parents to care and protect him. During his ministry, Jesus is often found embracing the children and telling his listeners to become like children in order to enter into the Kingdom of Heaven. He also warns us not to harm the children or lead them astray for their guardian angels are constantly beholding the presence of God in heaven. Unfortunately, not all children are born into a loving and caring family. Due to certain circumstances beyond their parents’ ability, children are sometimes abused or abandoned. These abandoned children are dubbed as orphans. Orphans are more rampant among the developing countries in Asia. This chapter will highlight the conditions of the orphans in Saigon, take a closer look at the works of Mother Teresa among the orphans, examine the labor toward the orphans by the Missionaries of Christ’s Charity, and share a few sentiments from the orphans who were fortunate enough to live and grow up in the orphanages run by the Missionaries of Christ’s Charity.

 

 

9.2      THE CONDITIONS OF THE ORPHANS IN SAIGON

 

            Saigon is a hustling and bustling city which poor children from rural areas often dream about coming to as an escape from their wretched poverty. Waves upon waves of poor children migrate into the city everyday. Upon their arrival, many poor children are dismayed and disillusioned at the prospect of surviving in a big city of Saigon. If they thought life in the rural areas was tough, life in Saigon is even more brutal. In order to survive, the poor rural migrating children “tend to gather in groups staying together in cramped boarding houses.”[19] Some 15 or 20 children squeeze into a little room the size of our children’s bedroom. They stack up like sardines in a can at night during bed time. According to the Ministry Labor, it is estimated about 23,000 children live on the streets of Vietnam and nearly 9,000 struggling to survive in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City).[20] While the economy is steadily improving, Vietnam remains a very poor country. Orphaned and abandoned children abound. There are many orphans and abandoned children throughout the country but more so in Saigon. Most of them are too young to fend for themselves. If they are not fortunate enough to live in an orphanage where someone takes care of them then they either die or learn to live on the streets. Orphans and abandoned children come about from three unfortunate circumstances. The majority of the orphans and abandoned children come from poor rural areas seeking to make a living in the big city. Other orphans come from parents who have died or are simply too poor to feed them. Against their will, the parents heartbreakingly drop their children on the streets or in the alleys hoping someone else will pick them up and raise them. Lastly, the orphans are left behind by their teenage mothers who do not have the necessary means to keep their children. So many children abandoned by their parents are tricked into taking jobs under false pretenses, end up abused, begging, and often forced into prostitution. The problem of abandoned children and orphans is one of the most pressing social problems in Vietnam in general and Saigon in particular. The abandoned children and orphans have become a familiar sight in their plight trying to sell chewing gum in restaurants or shining shoes on street corners. They are often derogatively called names such as roaming kids or “dust of life.”[21] For those orphans who are fortunate enough to be picked up off the streets by charitable organizations, they are brought to the orphanages where they are fed, clothed and sent to school or given vocational training.

 

 

9.3      MOTHER TERESA’S WORKS AMONG THE ORPHANS

 

The situation in Saigon was not much different from what Mother Teresa experienced in Calcutta, India. The orphans came from not only the unmarried mothers but also from desperately poor families who could not afford to feed and care for their babies. The Missionaries of Charity would go out and look for the orphans and unwanted children on doorsteps and pavements, under trees and in front of police stations, in marshes and city hospitals and even in jails. Most people respect the charitable works performed by the Missionaries of Charity but the sisters cannot escape criticism from those who say there are already too many people and too many children in India and that saving a few children from death is meaningless and only adds to the population problem. To this Mother Teresa replied, “Yes, many would die, especially among those children that are unwanted. Quite possibly they would have been either thrown away or killed. But that way is not for us; our way is to preserve life, the life of Christ in the life of the child…I do not agree because God always provides. He provides for the flowers and the birds, for everything in the world that he has created. And those little children are his life. There can never be enough.”[22] Mother Teresa and the Missionaries of Charity have an open door policy in which any orphan sick or otherwise would be accepted. For the sickly orphans, the sisters try to bring them back to good health hoping they will be suitable for adoption. However, children who are too sick to be adopted will spend their life in the orphanage. The children when they are older or capable will be sent to school for higher education. For those children who are do not have the aptitude for higher learning receive an education in trades, so that they will be able to make a living for themselves.[23] When the children mature and are old enough to leave the orphanage, the sisters would take on the role of match-maker to arrange marriages for those who desired it and the part of parents to give the bride away in accordance with Indian custom and tradition.[24]

The Calcuttians (the natives of Calcutta) often tell a joke about Mother Teresa. And it goes something like this, “Mother Teresa talks a lot about natural contraception, but the number of children around her keeps increasing.[25] Mother Teresa had the ability to see Christ in every one she met young and old alike. She truly believed every human being has been created for a greater thing, to love and be loved. Each person is created with a purpose and without the existence of that individual the purpose would lessen and be incomplete. Mother Teresa went on to elaborate the ministry of the Missionaries of Charity among the poor was their way to evangelize, “We are not social workers, but missionaries. Nevertheless, we try to do evangelization exclusively through our work, allowing God to manifest Himself in it. We teach catechism to the children in our orphanages.[26]

 

 

9.4      THE MISSIONARIES OF CHRIST’S CHARITY’S WORK’S AMONG THE ORPHANS IN SAIGON

 

            Following the examples set forth by Mother Teresa’s and her Missionaries of Charity, the sisters of the Missionaries of Christ’s Charity in Saigon made their daily round along the alleys and streets at night hoping to find pregnant teenagers in distress. To their surprise, they also encountered many abandoned children and orphans whose parents had either died or simply too poor to feed them. These children would be taken to the two orphanages run by the sisters where they would be fed and clothed. The two orphanages were opened in 1997. Presently, there are 70 orphans who call the orphanages home. The reason there are only 70 orphans is because that is the maximum number of orphans the orphanages can hold at any given time. Of the 70 orphans, 47 children are at school age and 23 children are babies and toddlers with ages ranging from 1 month to 3 years old.  Only a small percentage of the orphans in the orphanages come from the streets. If the truth is told, the majority of the orphans come from teenage mothers who are too young and too poor to care for and raise their own children. Prior to the year 2000, the government would not allow private charitable organizations to keep and retain the orphans; thus, all orphans had to be turned over to the government’s orphanages. However, since 2000 the government has eased the restrictions and allowed private charitable organizations to keep and raise as many orphans as possible. Today, the government continues to allow the sisters to keep and care for the orphans. However, the sisters are not allowed to be involved with or initiate any adoption process. At the same time, the government insists all orphans’ records should be thoroughly kept for future reference. All adoption has to go through the government since it is a lucrative business.[27]

            During the ten years of the orphanages existence, the Missionaries of Christ’s Charity have cared for almost 100 orphans. Due to the lack of space and funds, most of the orphans had to be sent to the states’ orphanages, except for orphans who are physically too sick to be adopted. Only orphans rejected by the government are allowed to be retained by the sisters and cared for. With a lot of love and affection, the children responded miraculously and grew up to be healthy and strong. When the orphans reached school age, they were sent to public schools. Those who show promise in schools are encouraged to higher learning with tuition paid for by the sisters. Two orphans have graduated and become engineers in the local firms in Saigon. Those who are not inclined to higher learning are taught trades to support themselves. Since the sisters live, eat and pray with them day and night, some of the orphans have expressed desires to become religious sisters or priests. Presently, there are two young men who are of age studying in the seminary to become priests and 11 young ladies joining the Postulate to become religious sisters. The sisters of the Missionaries of Christ’s Charity have indeed touched not only bodily needs but also spiritual desires of the orphans.[28]

9.5      SENTIMENTS FROM THE ORPHANS

 

            Most parents would agree that in raising the children it is much easier to feed than to educate and teach them manners especially in the area of honor and respect. Imagine the difficult task the sisters have to deal with 70 orphans. But the sisters seem to have a profound influence on them. The orphans somehow are more reflective than normal children who live with their own parents. These are just a few sentiments written by the orphans about their growing up in the orphanages. The first sentiment is from an eighth grader. “My name is Maria Nguyen Thi Thuy Tram. I was born on May 22, 1992. Like other poor children, my life was a difficult one. My family was very poor. We lived from day to day and mouth to mouth. My parents were blessed with six children. I remember when I was five years old my family was not doing so badly. We were not rich but we were not in need of anything. Then all of a sudden, my younger sister who was two at the time got very sick. My parents exhausted everything we had to get her better. But she never did. Then my father became ill and was unable to work to support his family. We fell into poverty. We did not know where our next meal was going to come from. For months, we did not even have a morsel of meat to eat. Life was really difficult and hard. My older brothers and sisters education was cut short. None of them studied past fifth grade because my parents did not have money to pay for their school tuition. In the mean-time, the house we lived in was falling apart. It was okay on sunny day but when it rained the house would be flooded under a few feet of water. We ate maybe one meal a day. Grudgingly, my parents had to drop me and my younger sisters on the streets hoping that someone would give us a home. Fortunately, the sisters of the Missionaries of Christ’s Charity gave us a home. I have been in the orphanage for 7 years. Presently, I am studying in the eighth grade. I feel loved by the sisters and they take really good care of me. The sisters are very patient in teaching me the virtues of life. When I am happy, the sisters are happy but when I am sick they are very concerned until I am well again. The sisters are like my older sisters who are always there to listen to what I have to say. Although the sisters did not give birth to me, they teach me more about love than my own mother. Their love is deeply imprinted in my heart. Still, there are times I disappoint them when I argue or fight with other orphans. When I reflect on it, I feel embarrassed and ashamed because I have failed them. But the sisters are always ready to forgive; they simply and gently remind me of the need to love and encourage me to live in peace among other orphans. At this time, I would like to say what I have always felt in my heart. I would like to thank the sisters for all that they have done for me. I love you very much. (It is not easy to say “I love you” in Vietnamese for Vietnamese are usually not vocally expressive). I would like to ask for your forgiveness for the many times I have done wrong. To mother superior, you are like an angel who has rescued me from the dungeon of darkness. I promise to be more studious in school and more loving in my daily life. I will choose to see goodness in others and do good deeds to others so as to repay your goodness to me. Now, I simply want to shout out for all to hear, ‘My life is so beautiful!’ I feel more fortunate than most other orphans. Once again, I would like to thank you for having given me a new life, ‘a happy and peaceful life in family of the Missionaries of Christ’s Charity.’”[29]

             The second sentiment is written by a thirteen year old orphan. “My name is Peter Hoang Van Hung. I am presently in the eighth grade. I was born into an unhappy family. My parents had already separated when I was born. Soon after that my mother remarried and left all four of us children with our grandmother. We lived in Thanh Hoa, North Vietnam where life was very difficult. When my older brother was 8 years old, he left for Saigon which was thousand of kilometers from home. He found out that life in Saigon was not much better than home either. In order to survive, he had to sell lottery tickets for food and he slept on street corners at night. One day, the sisters found him sleeping on the streets. He was fortunate enough to be picked up by the sisters to live in the orphanage. With the help of some good people, my older brother came back to North Vietnam and took me with him because my grandmother was too weak and poor to care for all of us. I was 5 years old at the time. For the first time in my life, I truly felt loved at the orphanage. I was able to attend school with the normal children. Although the sisters did not give birth to me, they are like my mothers. They taught me good manners such as how to walk, to talking and to eat. When I was sick, they would stay up all night by my side. When my illness worsened, the sisters would take me to the hospital and have me treated. All the worries and all the love the sisters have reserved for me, I will forever treasure them in my heart. I am thankful to God for His love which he has bestowed on me through the sisters. Yet at times, I fail to show my gratitude by being hard headed and refusing to listen to the sisters. I know my actions sadden the sisters and for that I am truly sorry. I hope to change my behavior so that I will become a better person. I promise to be more studious in school so as not to disappoint the sisters. I am often reminded by the sisters that God loves me and I need to return God’s love by loving and helping others especially other orphans.[30]  

 

9.6      CONCLUSION

 

            Children are indeed created to love and be loved. All parents instinctively love their children. But poverty can dull all natural instincts including the parental natural desire to love and care for their children. Not having enough to feed themselves, parents are often forced to abandon their own flesh and blood with the hope that some good Samaritans might feed and clothe them. Such Samaritans do exist in the person of Mother Teresa and her Missionaries of Charity and the Missionaries of Christ’s Charity in Saigon Vietnam. The sisters would go out in search for the orphans in the alleys and street corners to give them food and shelter. They assist in the orphans’ education and vocational training to better their lives. Even though rejected by society and abandoned by their own parents, the orphans show great resilience and intelligence. The good works of the Mother Teresa and the sisters of Missionaries of Christ’s Charity are paying off through the orphans’ dedication in schools and religious vocation. The orphans who live in the orphanages are the few fortunate ones. Many other orphans are not so lucky for they fall prey to the enticements and temptations of the underworld where they are forced into sex and drugs rings. As a result, these unfortunate abandoned children and orphans are further inflicted with the deadly virus of HIV/AIDS. The next chapter will focus on the spread of HIV/AIDS in Vietnam and what Mother Teresa and the Missionaries of Christ’s Charity do to ease the problem of HIV/AIDS.

 

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