Children born with special needs in the Vietnamese countryside usually receive no therapeutic intervention. Government social services are not strong enough to provide therapists or therapy centers and families don’t have enough money to take their child to a larger city where therapy services are available. As a result, cerebral palsy children, for example, are often left alone for part of the day as both parents work. Such children receive no therapy and normally lie in bed all day with limbs increasingly drawn up and stiff. That’s just the way life is.

Burdened by their need, Orphan Voice opened a therapy center for the rural poor in a remote District. Since that time, over 20 children have learned to walk who did not walk before. Dozens others have gained developmental skills, such as learning to feed themselves (if you are a mom whose child had never eaten unless you feed her – and then she learns to feed herself – can you imagine your joy?). Others have poor neck strength, but gain the ability to hold their head steady. Still others are developmentally behind in many areas and yet “catch up.”

Orphan Voice’s ministry to special needs children has been so blessed that we are opening a second therapy center to serve 100 special needs children in another rural district. A licensed, U.S. trained therapist heads up this effort.

Fifty percent of Orphan Voice’s Phu Ninh Therapy Center children have gained significant, new life skills. The range of new skills runs from a child learning to feed themselves to learning to walk. For those children who have not made progress due to the severity of their condition, therapists work to make their lives more comfortable.

Currently, Orphan Voice serves 40 special needs children and their families at the Phu Ninh Therapy Center. Several children are diagnosed with cerebral palsy, but we also work with children who have limb impairments for various reasons.  The Therapy Center is open 5 days a week, 8 hours per day. Each child has an individual treatment plan and monthly evaluations on progress in that plan.

Participating families sign a pledge that the family will learn the needed therapy and continue it at home. We are so grateful to report that over 25 children/youth who could not walk before coming to the Center can now walk or have improved their walking ability significantly!

For 20 children who are non-ambulatory, lay therapists visit their homes and provide needed services.

In some cases, families do not have food security. In those cases, Orphan Voice steps in to provide emergency food (rice and noodles) for those who are in need.

Testimony by Jane Shamrock (PhD), Occupational Therapist

I have just spent three weeks with Ann Maree Chapman (occupational therapist) and Bill Chapman (engineer) at the Phu Ninh therapy centre in Vietnam.

Families with children with disabilities in Vietnam face extraordinary difficulties, with little outside help unless there is extended family nearby with time and the ability to help out, or unless there is an organisation such as Orphan Voice nearby.

Many disabled children are unable to move around unaided for a huge range of reasons such as poor balance, contractures, weakness or poor coordination. Many children and adults with disabilities spend their days lying on their backs on the floor or on a bed indoors. Where a single parent has to go to work and there are no grandparents, a disabled child or adult may be left alone and immobile in the house during the day.

We had thirty specially designed fully adjustable wheelchairs and our project was to modify them to fit severely disabled children especially selected by the local therapy staff at the Phu Ninh centre.  The first step was to learn to assemble the wheelchairs. Bill and his helpers began this task while Ann Maree and I began to  meet the disabled children and their parents and to take basic  measurements which would be used to custom-assemble each chair.

As the days progressed the chair assembly became more steam-lined and Ann Maree and I developed better strategies for  measuring the children. I am also an occupational therapist and I was humbled by Ann Marees skilful methods of handling the very disabled children and her sensible and compassionate style of communication  with the hopeful parents as she worked with the translators.

The period of fitting the child was often quite slow as every aspect of the chair was set to the child’s measurements, this allowed for the child’s problems such as spasticitiy or contractures. It was at times quite an ordeal but at the end there was always a very grateful, smiling parent.

Some children had the understanding and physical ability to operate the wheelchair themselves by pushing on the wheelrims. We then saw the joy of a child discovering that for the first time, he or she could move around, unaided.

In total we worked with thirty children and made up and gave out 26 wheelchairs. I loaned some of the parents small digital cameras so that they could take photos of their child at home so that we could see them in their own environment.

The photographs were a delight. They showed happy children sitting up, looking around and at last, participating in their world. We saw children out and about in their wheelchairs, playing with siblings or neighbors and going out in the local community with the family. At last these children could join in and do the simple things that we take for granted.

Ly: A Special Needs Success Story

Put yourself in the place of a young, farming couple who, in a good month, make $40. Life is difficult, but they love one another and good news comes that a baby is on the way!

When it came time for delivery of the farmers’  child, however, their hopes and dreams were shattered.  Something went wrong.  Ly, their newborn, was eventually diagnosed with cerebral palsy.

Heartbroken, Ly’s parents tried to return to normal, daily life, but “normal” seemed further and further away as their baby grew. Ly could not feed herself. She couldn’t do the simplest of chores to help her family on their parcel of land. No doctor could help them. It seemed that no one could help. Ly despaired. In a culture that places a high value on honor given to parents, she felt worthless to her family. Depression and guilt cast an inescapable darkness around her.

As Ly reached her teenage years, her thoughts turned to suicide. In an attempt to end her misery, she made her way to the rice paddy and drank rat poison! Thankfully, she was discovered, taken to the hospital and saved.

Somehow in this desperation, the family heard about Orphan Voice’s Phu Ninh Therapy Center.

Hope pierced the family’s despair. Ly dared to think: “Maybe they can help me get better.”

At the Phu Ninh Therapy Center, Ly found caring therapists who gave her hope for the future. Thought faint at first, the spark grew and gave Ly the will to live and try again. She worked hard each day to improve.

The results in Ly’s life have been, what her parents call, miraculous. First, she gained the ability to feed herself without mishap. Her steadiness in walking improved; she learned to walk well.  She eventually learned to feed and care for the family cow. From that, she graduated to learning to cook and clean the house. When she began to cook for her dad and brother at noon, it freed her mom to take outside work and make more money for the family.

Ly’s life has been transformed.  The farmers’ lives have been transformed.  The family is transformed!  That transformation happened because Orphan Voice partners invested a little to make a big difference.

You can change a life too!  We don’t get that opportunity every day.  If you would like to change the life of a special needs children, donate here.

Orphan Voice therapists have seen dozens of children gain significant, new life skills.  Bong (above) learned to hold his rice bowl and feed himself. Imagine the joy in a struggling mother’s heart to see that.

Over twenty five children  have learned to walk or learned to walk more steadily.  Now they go; they explore; they dream. They stride on a bigger stage. Can anyone put a monetary value on what that’s worth?

Your gift to Orphan Voice changes lives!

Thuy (above) has 30 percent vision. Here, with the help of a magnifying glass, she sees her finger more clearly than ever before. What is she thinking? “Look! It has lines on it! It moves when I tell it to. Wow!”

It’s a small thing, but for Thuy, the magnifying glass makes for a brighter and clearer world. Glasses help even more. Without Orphan Voice partners, Thuy would have neither.

A few dollars invested in these special needs children and their families each month produces a change–a before and after change as superior to day being superior to night.  Will you change the life of a special needs family?  If you would like to do so, visit our donate page.