Friday, October 19, 2007


One of the biggest culture clashes that I have as a westerner living in Vietnam is to do with the issue of blame.

In Australia - as in many western countries - when something goes wrong, one of the first questions to be raised is: Whose fault is this?

Here in Vietnam, it's quite common for people to see a problem or some kind of wrong, and to accept it as part of fate.

As we walked downstairs from lunch on Wednesday, a 10 year old girl named Nga suddenly collapsed and started shaking violently. It was pretty obvious she was having a seizure.

One of our newest staff, a social worker named Huong, happened to be right there, and knew exactly what to do. Within a minute, Nga was laying on the staffroom floor with a cushion under her head and her throat cleared to prevent her swallowing her tongue.

Our plan was to wait for the seizure to end - epileptic fits are normally over in about 5 minutes - and to then take her to the hospital. Nga's brother Minh, who is about 14, was in our drop in center at the time, so came over to help.

As the seizure dragged on and on, we started to worry. This wasn't like anything we had heard of before. And then Minh came forward to tell us that this was, in fact, Nga's third seizure since last night.

Time to call the ambulance.

As we waited for the ambulance to arrive, Nga and Minh's older sister came. We haven't known this family very long; they have only been in Hanoi for a few weeks. All we knew up until now was that the two kids have serious problems with their eyesight and don't go to school.

But with the arrival of the sister, some more information came to light.

Nga and Minh have never been to school. And the parents? They're both in prison. I didn't ask why, but it's almost always drug related.

And, no, Nga hasn't been to hospital before. Can't afford it. But when she has her seizures, she sees a free doctor who gives Panadol and tells the family to turn the fans off when she's sick.

Looking through my western eyes, I want to know who has let these kids down so badly. All the problems that they face - and the best help they can get is a suggestion to turn the fans off. Why has nobody ever helped them go to school? Why haven't they had their eyes tested before? Why hasn't Nga been to hospital?

Who's to blame for this mess?

But the kids aren't asking these questions. They see it as their fate. They are far more accepting of their circumstances than I am.

It's difficult to be torn between these two contrasting views of the world. I know I can't resolve this conflict; but I can do something better. I can make sure that the circumstances of Nga and Minh change immediately. Starting today, they can have a new fate.


Mosher said...

Their fate was to be at BDCF when something happened, so that someone would see their problems and help them :)

Buddhist with an attitude said...

What blame can you attribute when the "crime" is to be poor and uneducated? The doctor gave the family the only advice he knew they could afford: turn off the fan. Had he told them to go to a specialist or to take such and such medecine, would they be able to do it? Can they afford it?