Monday, July 21, 2008

The story of Hung

Ten years ago, Hung was a 13 year old boy tending buffalo in the mountains that form the border between Vietnam and China. He had never been to school, but lived a simple life with his mother and younger sister.

One morning, Hung's attention strayed long enough for the buffalo to wander off and demolish a neighbour's rice field. Terrified of the trouble he was about to find himself in, Hung decided to run away rather than face the inevitable spanking.

As tends to happen to runaway boys, one thing lead to another and before he knew it several months had passed. Hung returned home, deeply sorry for what he had done and hoping to find forgiveness. But something terrible had happened: his mother and little sister were gone. They had been trafficked to China and nobody knew how to contact them. Hung would later learn that his mother was sold as a bride. All these years later, he still does not know the fate of his sister.

Although he had some relatives in the countryside, Hung knew that there was no place for him without his mother. So he headed to Hanoi and became a street kid, shining shoes and selling trinkets on the streets. Eventually he met Blue Dragon through our weekly soccer games; his group of friends became quite close to us, in a fairly short time, and things were starting to look good for Hung.

But then he vanished.

He was picked up on the streets as a vagrant, and spent some months - maybe a year - in a detention center. I have never been clear about where he was taken, or why. But while there, he contracted tuberculosis, and as his condition became more and more severe, no treatment was made available. Finally, when Hung seemed ready to die, he was released - presumably so that the center wouldn't have to report a death.

One of Hung's good friends stumbled upon him at Hoan Kiem lake and rang our staff to come and help. What we saw was truly shocking: Hung was disoriented, weak, and skeletal. He recognised us, but he couldn't remember any details of leaving the detention center and getting to the lake. His lower legs were swollen, but the rest of his body was thin and covered in sores.

Hung was on the verge of death. We took him straight to Hanoi Family Medical Clinic, who realised that he had tuberculosis, and although they sent us to the Hanoi TB hospital, they were very clear that his chances of survival were slim, if not nil.

Hung did survive, though. He spent months in the hospital, and we hired a carer to sit by his side making sure he was fed and bathed. When he was well enough, he came to live in one of our houses: but some months later, the TB returned, this time with meningitis. Hung's health spiralled downward, and he returned to the hospital. Once again, the prognosis was bleak.

And once again he survived. Since then, Hung has been living in a Blue Dragon shelter, recovering gradually. His lungs have been OK, but his mind and body have been weak. He's 23 now, so he doesn't fit in well with a children's foundation. However, there has been nowhere else for him to go. He has just been hanging out at the drop-in center, getting involved in small projects, and learning basic literacy with our teacher.

Last week, we finally took the step of travelling with Hung back to his countryside to meet his relatives. Our staff drove up to the border and then walked for 2 hours up a mountain just to find the house.

Hung is now living with some uncles, and although Blue Dragon will keep supporting him financially for another year, he's learning to live more independently. Hung will never recover fully - he will never be the young man he was shaping up to be. But now, 10 years since running away because of a buffalo, he at last has a home and some family to care for him.