The Side You Don’t See

By Brandon Ng
30-Hour Famine Advocate 2012

The next few days were a whirl of events. We interviewed three families, visited a school and a health station.

In the Tan Mai commune, one of the families we visited was Toan’s family.  The family works on a farm.  The plight of Toan and his family truly had a big impact on me. Toan is a 6 year old boy who walks at least 2km to and fro from school every day in the hot sun.

His younger brother, Tinh, recently underwent surgery at a hospital in Hanoi to treat his leg, suffering from muscle inflammation. Their parents had to borrow up to 20 million dong (approx. RM3,000) from relatives in order to treat Tinh’s leg. However, after the surgery, it was found that Tinh’s bone in the leg had not been rejoined properly, and was growing at an awkward angle.

The situation is quite dire and the parents are financially tight. Even as they struggle to pay the enormous debts they owe to their relatives, they have no idea where to get the money to be able to pay for Tinh’s second surgery.

They earn at most 17 million dong (RM 2,720) a year of which they spend at least 7.2 million dong (about RM450) at least on food – mainly rice and fish. They really want to send Tinh back for treatment but they have no means to. There is no more pain in the muscle but the bone is not fixed together properly after the surgery and that would affect Tinh’s development if it isn’t fixed soon.

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We also had the opportunity to visit the Toan’s parents’ farm. And boy was it difficult to reach. It was set on the mountain, and all of us had to hike up the mountain to get to the farm. Some of the people in our group couldn’t even make it to the top. This puts things into perspective. Day in day out, Toan’s parents have to climb all the way up the mountain to do their farming, with only very minimal yield, insufficient to sustain their daily needs.

I used to love to play games like Farmville, or Harvest Moon which simulates farming on as a video game but this; this was a totally different ball game. This was a huge reality check for me. In reality, farming was not an easy task, the uncertainty of the yield, the dependence on the weather. Farming as a job was just too unpredictable.

Another activity that we conducted was that we attended a primary school in the Pu Bin commune. I was in charge of the games and we played various games like “Eagle and Chick”, kite-flying, football, and a little bit of catching. We had a wonderful time with the children and I think they had fun too.

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I realised one thing through this activity, though — Football is in every little boy’s blood. While there was lukewarm response from the children in our efforts to fly the kites that we brought, the moment we took out the football and gave it to the children every boy came out and started chasing after the ball. And I mean every boy. The sight was incredible, how 30-40 boys were screaming and chasing after the ball.

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Children after an exciting game of football. From left, Jym from MY FM, Al from Says.com, Brandon the Famine Advocate, Michelle the Famine Advocate behind in blue and Kimberlylow.com at the far right.

In our sharing that night, Jym, from MY FM, said : “When I played with the children, I realised that happiness is shared by everyone. When we were playing we didn’t care who was black or brown or yellow or white, but we were all happy together. Even though there was a language barrier, where we couldn’t speak Vietnamese, we were all still able to enjoy a great time together.”

It was quite gratifying for me to see how even when living in such a poor state, the children were capable of being so happy. But I really believe, to the core of my heart; that these children deserve so much better. A better life, a better future, not to be stuck in this vicious cycle of poverty they’re in if WE DO NOT DO SOMETHING.

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