Sunday, July 30, 2017

Twins for Hope - June 2017 Mission (Part 1)

Twins for Hope went on its second official mission since its creation: Executive Director Johanne Wagner and Mai Nguyen, our Vietnamese representative, had a productive time from June 26 to July 4, 2017. They did what they love doing the most: helping children in Vietnam, while meeting new partners who share the very same passion.
Our adventures started in the province of BaRia: we secured a room in a hotel sitting on the beautiful coastline, in Vung Tau, by the East Sea. Twins for Hope supports two centres in Ba Ria province: a vocational centre in Long Hai where 160 children attend training, and a centre run by a congregation of sisters where they care for 60 youngsters, most of them suffering from disabilities. Twins for Hope offered 3 bicycles to 3 children in Long Hai: 



Thao (2001): Thao’s mom passed away and her father left. She lives with her uncle’s family and they are very poor. Thao has only completed a grade 5. She studies sewing.


Thuy (2005): Her father passed away and her mother left. Thuy lives with her 80-year-old grandma. She is in grade 1.


Tuan (2000): His father passed away. He lives with his mother who fishes. He is studying in grade 3 and is learning to fix motorbikes.



In Ba Ria, Mai and Johanne offered the sisters cooking seasonings, toothpaste, toothbrushes, Advil, dental floss, soap, cleaning products and diapers. We marveled at the great interactions between the children and their caregivers. Those sisters are totally dedicated to the well being of the residents and we were pleased to see how friendly everyone is.

 



 


Following those 2 visits in Ba Ria province, Mai and Johanne made their way back to Ho Chi Minh City to catch a flight to Pleiku, in Gia Lai province (700 m above sea level) where we met with two valuable partners who helped us access our destinations by way of motorbike. Over hills, then dodging livestock (chickens, water buffalos, cows, dogs, pigs, goats) on a dirt road filled with potholes, we made our way to Chư Sê (32 km) where we met a 56 year old man who takes care of 72 children who otherwise would have nowhere else to go.

A note on the Father:
About 10 years ago, he was in a village and saw a group of villagers trying to bury the corpse of a mother who had just died in labor. They believed it was the baby’s fault. They were going to bury both of them, the baby alive, stuffed in the mother’s tummy. Dad saw this, grabbed the baby and started running. The villagers caught up with him, but the man promised to raise the child, following her ancestors’ traditions.
As time went on he ended up with more and more kids under his care.


Over half of the children are homeschooled by the father while the other ones are able to attend some sort of education outside of the home. The oldest is even attending University, thanks to the help of benefactors who pay for her tuition! Number 72 of the children had arrived the day before our visit: abandoned and found in the woods nearby, he was brought over to the house. Newborn baby boy, maybe one week old at most, barely 2 kg, he had not been examined by anyone. Johanne, mom of 9, took a look at him, checking for the obvious, but her and Mai felt he should be seen by a health care professional. Twins for Hope paid for transportation of the man and the child to the nearest hospital and also paid for the medical consultation. The baby boy was found to be healthy, to everyone’s relief. Twins for Hope provided blankets for the household, as well as baby formula, diapers and baby wipes to help out with the new addition.








 



Running out of time on that day with several mechanical issues with a motorbike, the crew opted to postpone our scheduled visit to Kon Tum to the following day. Also, the weather seemed a bit too uncertain and we were concerned darkness would catch us.

 The next morning, we took a bus to Kon Tum (48 km) to go visit a colony for lepers and assess how we can help. The Sisters of Providence from France initially created the village when they decided to gather the lepers of the area and care for them. The village has 1000 people living in home settings where the 70 active lepers live with their families. The sisters cook meals for the lepers daily and they come to the central kitchen to get them. There are 150 children in the village, and add to that number several minority children from the surrounding areas who come to the village daily for schooling or childcare. Some of them come from families unable to care for them and they stay in dormitories in the camp where the sisters care for them. The conditions are extremely basic. We have offered the Sisters to help them with school supplies, over the counter medication for the children, tuition for older children who need to attend school outside the camp, and other necessities as the needs arise.


Yes, we did see lepers. No, we were not scared. Leprosy does not jump on you. We saw people with beautiful smiles, who were obviously happy to see people who care enough to go visit them. I can’t wait to bring over a group of people interested in volunteering for a set period of time. This day was a memorable one!











Part 2 coming very soon... Stay tuned!


You are enjoying our adventures and what we do? Please visit our ''It's Also Back to School in Vietnam'' fundraising campaign and help us reach our goal!


Saturday, April 29, 2017

Our New Website Was Born!

Officially in operation, here is our joy and pride, our new website!

http://twinsforhope.org

Our door is wide open, please pay us a visit!

Johanne, Kris and the Twins for Hope Team!

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Medicating or not: Only stubborn people never change their minds...

Growing up, I used to hide under my mom's skirt.  I was shy, obedient, quiet. I never spoke up. I actually was fearful of authority.

I remember looking at classmates who were misbehaved with total incomprehension. How could they  be so disrespectful? I felt bad for the poor teachers.

It never occurred to me that maybe some of those kids could not help themselves.

And then I became a teacher. I was comfortable with using a very conservative type of class management. I like to think of the analogy of the iron fist in the velvet glove approach. Naive and convinced that my imposed discipline would prevent students from being defiant and misbehaved, I quickly woke up to the reality of the then mid nineties. Teachers training ill-prepared future teachers to deal with the more challenging cases: that was the job of special ed teachers. I remember the Ritalin parades at lunch time, before the longer acting version of the medication came out. It seemed epidemic to me. How could parents in their right minds put their kids on medication at such a young age? Never would I do that to my kids. After all, when you're the perfect teacher who can control a class, why wouldn't you become a perfect parent?

It never occurred to me that maybe some of those kids could not help themselves.

And then I became a parent, blessed with ''healthy and normal'' kids at first. Kids who behaved reasonably well, except for the occasional bacon strip in public. The perfect kids for the perfect teacher, always aiming to be the best mother.

I will never forget the comment the director of the orphanage jokingly made when I picked up my little Toan, back in 2011: ''a little handful!'' What did she mean by that? Shy little one year old Toan extended his arms towards me when I bent over the crib to look at him. A true charmer. Obviously, love at first sight. The perfect pair, mom and son.  An inner promise that I would always be there for him, no matter what.

Initially believed to maybe suffer from cerebral palsy which was quickly refuted, Toan was a quiet little boy, most likely overwhelmed by the new environment presented to him. Instantly the youngest of 7, we felt lucky that he adapted quickly to his new life. But not without tears. I was his buoy and he felt safe and secure as long as I was in sight. We became medical appointments buddies as we tackled his many issues including malnutrition, cryptorchidism, ptosis, clasped thumbs, speech therapy, and trying to put a name on the package: I felt the need to sum it all up with a label. The diagnosis took 3 years to come to light through genetic testing: Noonan syndrome.

Easy. For the physical part of things. Growth hormonal therapy would ensure the maximum growth achievable for him.

Around the age of three, we noticed some withdrawal on his part. He would make eye contact but would often pay more attention to objects than people. He would often be found playing on his own, by choice, in spite of having so many siblings. He became a ''collector'', taking things that did not belong to him and hide them. The notion of Toan's secret stash became the running joke in the family.  He also showed on several occasions that he had zero filter, putting his mommy in very embarrassing situations...! He became very impolite and would lecture us on a regular basis.

We went through autism testing twice. To my greatest frustration, both evaluators were not able to put him anywhere on the ASD.

His behaviour at home worsened. Aggressive, obnoxious to everyone in the house, spiteful, vindictive. Fit upon fit. Some lasting longer than others. Everyone took turn getting upset with him. And all along, I knew it was affecting him. I could feel there was a tornado inside of him.

It did occur to me that maybe my little guy could not help himself.

His paediatrician is the first one who mentioned ODD to me: oppositional defiant disorder. With ADHD she believed. I went home with questionnaires for Michael, the teachers and myself to fill out. Filling them out, both Michael and I were in fits of laughter as it seemed to describe our little boy to a T. At school, it came out more as an attention deficit. Is this what could explain his learning challenges? How could my boy ''hold himself'' for a full day at school only to lash out as soon as he got home?

I had a long talk with the doctor about treatment. Ritalin was an indication to treat his ADHD and hopefully help with his ODD.

I would become one of those parents. Did this mean I was no longer the perfect mother?

Luckily, I did not dwell too long. You see, adoption has been a true blessing for me as it rid me of a lot of superficial worries and guilt. When you are in medical survival mode with special needs children, you quickly learn that there are many good alternatives for the sake of your child's well being. What I used to swear by with my ''perfect healthy children'' ceased to apply in the care of my special needs beauties. And I also believe age makes you wiser...

We decided to try Ritalin a little over a week ago. It was an overnight change. At school, Toan is more engaged in learning. At home, he is a joy to have around.  And I bet his self-esteem benefits from the treatment as everyone, including him, is happier and more positive.

It is when it gets better that you realize how difficult it was.