Tucked away in a side street in Ho Chi Minh City is a happy place. A place where the forgotten children of Vietnam can laugh, love, and live a life they never thought possible.
It is the Christina Noble Children’s Foundation (CNCF), and it is much more than just an orphanage. It is a school, a hospital, and most importantly, it is a home.
Many of the children they care for were abandoned by their parents, often at birth. Some are disabled, others victims of abuse, and many deformed due to Agent Orange.
But other kids at the centre are just from extreme poverty, often given up by their parents not out of malice, but in the hope of a better life for their children. And that’s exactly what they get at the centre.
“Our work is sometimes quite challenging,” said Son Thu Trinh, CNCF Director of Operations.
“But what makes us stay and do our work is that we feel we can bring something different to the lives of the children we are working with.
“For education, we can help the children continue their study, or for healthcare projects, we can do something like life-saving to help a child patient whose parents cannot pay for hospital fees.
“We feel happy because we can make a difference in the lives of the children we are working with.”
Helping make that difference is the army of dedicated volunteers.
Alison Cox is one of them. The 27-year-old said she was inspired by the founder of the centre, Christina Noble, who is from Ireland, like herself.
“What motivates me are the kids in the centre,” said Alison, who is volunteering there for eight weeks.
“The kids are just absolutely phenomenal, these are the ones that make you get up in the morning and absolutely love what you do every single day. And I really say that from the heart.
“The kids here are from families that are most in need, and the CNCF helps them in every aspect of life – these are the reasons I get up every morning.
“It is challenging. I’ve been lucky enough to come from a background with children with disabilities but coming in here you have to take it every day as it comes and that’s exactly where Christina Noble came from herself.”
“The CNCF centre looks at the bigger picture but for us volunteers we take it hour by hour because that’s what is most important for the kids.
“You do see some sights and you do think about their future, but it’s about living in the moment with them because that’s exactly what they need right now.
“Vietnam is a beautiful place and we do get to see it but I think if you volunteer with the CNCF, this is what matters. This is what matters in Vietnam.”
Volunteers are crucial to the centre. Not just for providing a helping hand looking after the children, but their assistance goes much deeper.
Son added: “Apart from the daily needs, the basic needs we can provide the children, what I feel the children need is the love, the interaction.
“Social interaction is very important in child development. And that’s why the volunteers can help us, by interacting with the children, and taking them out for excursions.
“Of course they can do more than that. Sometimes they can provide professional help with their English, teaching English to the children or they can do art, music workshops or even just the different culture they bring here is also a very nice opportunity for the children to learn about another culture.”
Next year, the centre will celebrate 30 years of helping. Although the problems of child welfare haven’t changed, the circumstances which poor children find themselves in are getting worse.
“Just like 30 years ago, we are still working on education, healthcare and community development,” Son said.
“There are many problems the children in the old days didn’t face, problems that are now getting more serious than before – sex abuse, or child trafficking, or dropping out of school.
“They may be affected by the community in which they are living in or badly influenced by their peers, those who might convince them to drop out of school in order to work.”
As costs rise in all walks of life, sponsorship and funding is vital to the centre. Children who need help are never refused and although love might be free, everything else costs money. – Asia News Network/Viet Nam News/Paul Kennedy