Safe cocoons protect children orphaned by Covid-19
Most of the 1,500 orphaned COVID-19 youngsters are living in families of freelance workers in HCM City. Without financial or spiritual assistance, the previously limited path to these children's future has become even more bleak.
Our issue is to enable that path.
Orphaned within nine days
The four sisters gathered when they saw their mother's video call. When the second screen appeared, Nhi noticed her mother panting. The heart rate monitor beside her was beeping... Nhi could only yell “Mom fighting”, but her mother waved goodbye and hung up.
The medical personnel called the four sisters a few hours later, warning them to expect the worst. Nhi sobbed as she embraced her younger siblings.
Nhi and her siblings remained awake that night, hoping for her mother's safety. The hospital phone rang again at 6 am. After a few seconds of quiet, the other end of the line spoke words of condolences. In agony, the four sisters screamed out for their mother.
It was August 27. Pham Cong Su, 43, the father, remained homebound due to Covid-19 infection. He slumped and became depressed after learning of his wife's death, causing his sickness to deteriorate and necessitating treatment at Ho Chi Minh City's District 12 Hospital. He then was sent to Nguyen Trai Hospital for further treatment.
"My father grasped my hand and said, 'sweetheart, help me,' before the hospital transfer." Vy, the second daughter, cried. But the 16-year-old girl could only cry and clasp his hand. From then on, the four girls only heard from their father via hospital nurses.
On the same day the sisters received their mother's ashes, they learned of their father's death. In nine days, Yen Vy's four sisters lost both parents. "Dad is gone too," Vy said, concealing her emotions beneath her sister's blouse.
Her three younger siblings rely solely on Yen Nhi, 20. With her mother's remarks before she closed her eyes, Nhi sobbed alone in a District 12 boarding house. Nhi and the kids had mentally prepared for the day they would say goodbye to their mother, who had terminal cancer. But they didn't expect it to happen so quickly.
Nhi's mother, Lam Yen Nga, 42, may have contracted Covid-19 while receiving cancer therapy. “My mother was transported to the Oncology Hospital on the day of her sickness. We can only see our mum via video calls, we can't follow,” Nhi added.
Nhi recently reassured herself that she would help her father raise the children after losing her mother. But now, she is alone and must cope with the forthcoming terror.
The money their family once made was barely enough to live on. After their mother's cancer diagnosis, Nhi and Vy both quit school and worked part-time to help support their mother. They have been jobless for months. Neighbors help out with food. The youngest kids have not stopped crying since their parents' deaths. That coziness of a family meal without parents more often than not makes them tear up.
Lost mother twice
Kha Han was born in 2014. Her biological father remains a mystery as Han's mother died when she was a year old, sealing the secret. Han resided in Saigon with her grandparents and great-grandmother.
In early August 2021, Mr. Bui Van Chi, 56, Han's grandfather, and his entire family got sick with Covid-19. Due to her age and failing health, Han's great-grandmother succumbed to the sickness. Han's grandmother was brought to the hospital a few days after her great-grandmother died. Police found Mr. Chi and baby Han and took them to isolation. Mr. Chi soon learned that his wife had not survived.
"I was stunned when my wife died and kept it from Han. She's worn out after all she's been through, I'm afraid. Her granny is very special to her. Therefore, to give her peace of mind could, I just cooked up grandma doing okay and shortly to be released."
Mr. Chi was still being treated for Covid-19 on Kha Han's release day. He had to send Han to his relatives in the countryside since he had none here. He also warned others not to discuss his wife's death. After saying final farewells to her grandfather, Han refused to go. The doctors and nurses all had to encourage Han to get into the car.
Han misses his grandparents back home. Oddly, he was the only one who called Han every day. Grandma made no effort to be in touch. Something was wrong, the kid realized. "I overheard my grandfather crying in the hospital. I saw him sad, with red eyes at times. To avoid upsetting him, I ceased the inquiries concerning my grandmother,” Han said.
When Han's rural relatives saw her grandson's sad face, they knew they had to inform her that her grandmother had died. The sensitive seven-year-old burst into rage-filled tears. Han was silent for a while. To the girl, her grandmother is her mother. The harsh upbringing may have made her more mature than ordinary 7-year-olds.
“No more crying because grandpa would be sad,” Han said, her voice innocent yet firm. I want to grow up fast so I can take care of my grandfather and ease his worries about me.
‘Will we see him once we pass away?’
Nhat Hao, 17, and Dan Thanh, 10, were sleeping upstairs on the night of their father's death. They heard their mother sprinting up, knocking on their door.
“When we went down, dad was no longer breathing. He was a guy of honor and love. I aspire to be a man like my father. He always travelled to Tay Ninh to spend Tet with us, regardless of how far he was. Family time was brief yet joyful. But those times will never be the same,” Hao said.
“When Dad was sick, I wanted to touch him but he wouldn't let me get close,” Dan Thanh recalled, almost crying. “I just dared to peek up at him from the top of the steps. That was when my father died. Mum encouraged me not to cry since this will make dad sad,” trying to smile through her tears. "I won't cry anymore; I'll be good to make you happy.”
“Mr. Phu Hieu especially adored little Thanh when he was alive. He attempted calling the baby from wherever he was. Thanh wept a lot upon his death. She even blamed herself for his illness. She came in with a sore throat and a cough. She is fine thanks to the meds I bought. But she was convinced she was infected,” mother Ngoc Ha (38) said.
The youngster feared Hieu and urged him not to go near to him for fear of getting sick and infecting him. "I told you not to come close me," the infant sobbed as he died.
The youngster repeatedly urged her father not to get close for fear of infecting him. In his final moments, the little girl cried out, "I told you not to come near me, what did you do?" It took days for baby Thanh to stop crying and blame herself. She misses Hieu and sobs at his photo. She often told her mum she hoped she could trade places with her father.
“Will we be able to see him once we pass away?” The question made Ha's heart ache. She could only console her child by embracing her. As a parting gift, Mr. Hieu left his family an unfinished house in District 12.
Nguyen Thao - Thanh Ha - Vu Lua - Ho Van
(To be continued....)
As many as 2,093 children, including more than 1,500 in Ho Chi Minh City, have fallen victims to the latest COVID-19 outbreak after their parents died of the virus.
Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh has asked the Ministry of Labor, War Invalids and Social Affairs and local authorities to count the number of children who became orphans in the Covid-19 epidemic and propose policies to support them.