Depending upon the type of special need, such children born in the Vietnamese countryside often receive no care or help. Government social or medical services are often not strong enough to provide therapists, therapy centers, deaf education, or cleft lip repair operations. In larger cities, where such services are available, families often don’t have enough money to access those services.
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. Deaf children may attend school, but there are not signing teachers and therefore no instruction for the deaf. Some cleft lips and palates are never closed. That’s just the way life is.
Burdened by these needs, Orphan Voice has responded in a variety of ways. It first re-open the Phu Ninh Therapy Center, a therapy center for the rural poor in a remote district that had previously been funded by a veteran group. The veterans' group had discontinued funding and the center had closed. Orphan Voice reopened the Phu Ninh Therapy Center.
Since the time of re-opening, many children have gained the ability to walk who could not walk before. Dozens of 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 have “caught up” to some degree.
Currently, the Phu Ninh Therapy Center serves 40 special needs children and their families.
Over time, other NGOs and even local Vietnamese have gathered around the Phu Ninh Therapy Center to help. Today, although the work of Phu Ninh Therapy Center is a team effort, Orphan Voice still provides the funds to pay salaries and utilities.
Orphan Voice opened a second therapy center in 2018 to minister to special needs children in a second, rural district. The Hope Therapy Center serves 30 children and families in Dien Ban District, mosts of who would not otherwise be served. A licensed, U.S. trained therapist heads up the ministry of Hope Therapy Center.
Hope Therapy Center is open 5 days a week, 8 hours per day. Each child has an individual treatment plan with monthly evaluations to assess progress.
When evaluating Phu Ninh District children for acceptance into the Phu Ninh Therapy Center some years ago, staff brought to my (Tony’s) attention that “this child is deaf.” Since my mind was on therapy and since therapy cannot help in the case of deafness, I never gave these reports much thought. Until one day, those same staff told me that the deaf children did not attend school. Why? Because it is normally the case in the countryside that government schools are not equipped with signing teachers. They cannot evaluate deaf children or even teach them sign language. Parents are too poor to send their deaf children to a larger city where deaf services are available. As a result, such children grow up unable to communicate with the larger community and are often taken advantage of because they cannot communicate or even read or do basic math. They grow up sullen, angry, and mistrustful.
After sending a staff person to learn sign language, Orphan Voice opened the New Beginnings School for the Deaf. There, students attend school until the 4th grade. Our goal is to teach them sign language, reading, writing, and basic math. New Beginnings is approved by the District government and, with two Christian teachers, that approval is unique in Vietnam.
“Why wasn’t your daughter’s cleft palate closed,” I asked the mother of a teenager whose daughter’s cleft lip had obviously been closed as a child. “The foreign doctors never came back,” was her reply. Thus was Orphan Voice introduced to children who need this help. Over the years, we have been able to help 50-60 such children and we are grateful.