Tong Phuoc Phuoc Tam, 7, looks chubbier and yet exactly as beautiful as the last time I visited her in July this year. Her beauty reminds me of Love (with a capital “L”) and wickedly the 1.2 to 1.6 million abortions recorded throughout Vietnam each year.
An update on the child I adore and the Tong Phuoc Phuc Shelter
Phuoc Tam – as I’ve learned to love her just by the sound of her name – has lost two teeth, is in second grade and enjoys Mathematics lessons. Being an orphan in the sense that her birth parents abandoned her very early in life, Phuoc Tam still lives at the Tong Phuoc Phuc Shelter in Nha Trang—a coastal city so far from my home that I can’t afford to visit her as often as I wish.
The Shelter is fine and the kids’ conditions have improved a great deal, I heard. Since I came across Blush of Fruit (2012)—a film claimed to document the child abuses where Phuoc Tam lives—I haven’t been able to purchase a DVD or find a way to watch it. My emails to the documentary director have yielded no responses. I have no idea why he has dragged the film around the world, organized many screenings, received quite a few awards and yet shown it to no one in Vietnam.
Frankly, this is mental (which people with the mentality of a colonialist do a lot these days): The nearly two dozens of children at the Tong Phuoc Phuc Shelter, obviously the film’s subject, have never seen it. Tong Phuoc Phuc himself, accused of being an evil orphanage owner, has never seen it. The Vietnamese people, who are supposed to get involved and solve the problem right on their land, have never seen it.
Bearing both frustration and confusion, I consulted Catholic priest Joseph Le Quang Uy—a prominent figure among Saigon’s pro-life community members. At first I was upset because of his dry comment. “If you keep being skeptical and get trapped in investigating whether the shelter owner is good or evil, you’ll waste time helping no one,” Fr. Uy said.
“Here’s a tip,” he continued while my face lit up, “if the children feel at ease with the shelter owner, it should prove that he’s a good man. Kids don’t lie.” Somehow I became relieved; I’d seen the kids, including Phuoc Tam, give Mr. Phuc many kisses and hugs.
Mr. Phuc is still as determined as ever, when it comes to raising the children himself instead of having them adopted. If he let someone adopt—for example—Phuoc Tam, then one day when her birth mother wants to have her back, she wouldn’t have that chance. This idea, I’m very glad of, but it’s no easy task. Mr. Phuc has a new “hack” though, which he’s learned just recently, after ten years in the fight against abortion: If he succeeds in persuading the mother to breastfeed her baby for two months or more, she will likely bring the child home rather than abandon it.
Another update: Abortion
Five months ago, I learned that Vietnam is number one in Southeast Asia when it comes to abortion among minors. Now the country’s set a new record: It’s ranked first in Asia and fifth in the world for the number of abortions among both minors and adults.
A World Health Organization (May 2014) report estimates that each year in Vietnam, 40 percent of all pregnancies end up being terminated. According to Hanoi’s Central Obstetrics Hospital, of these abortions, up to two-thirds result reportedly from unwanted pregnancies. That means their mothers, fathers or who knows which connections, do not want them (!). That means the reason can be as simple as “too busy to raise a child” and has nothing to do with rape, incest, deformity or the health of the mother/fetus. That means 0.8 to 1.2 million Vietnamese babies are murdered each year for the mere reason that their supposedly loved ones think they’re unworthy of life.
First, it’s lame.
Second, it’s evil.
But throughout the country—believe it or not—the Tong Phuoc Phuc Shelter is the only non-State actor (thus the full name Cơ Sở Bảo Trợ Xã Hội Ngoài Công Lập Tống Phước Phúc) allowed to have some sort of organized work against abortion, including burying aborted fetuses, sheltering expectant mothers who are neglected by their families and of course raising unwanted and fantastic kids like Phuoc Tam.
Why this dumb situation? A reason is that Catholics are the most steadfast, among all Vietnamese populations that ever have a collective name, in combating abortion and yet—poor you Vietnam—they’re also a source of concern for the Party-State. It’s okay for individuals to do good here and there. But if you uphold a religious value, live in Vietnam and want to come together to do good? Forget it.
After over two decades of straight economic growth, Vietnam is pretty much stuck at the poverty rate of 17.2 percent (even at national poverty lines, as reported by the World Bank in 2012). Poor country, it is, definitely. But at least it has more than enough rice to feed some 90 million Vietnamese. A more rooted form of poverty is poverty of debate. Every default the law professes—even when it’s been written by a legislative body that has nothing other than a name and tangles with a downright corrupt government as well as a bleak judicial branch—we must obey. Whatever they say, we must hold as truth even though they’re too atheistic to be God and too confident to care if truth matters at all.
Soon the Vietnamese National Assembly will pass a law on population, replacing the 2003 Population Ordinance, just to confirm that abortion is legal and also legal when the pregnancy is up to 22 weeks old. That is, it’s fine to kill a human being 5.5 months old in case you simply don’t want him/her. Or is it because poverty is a crime? Aren’t we so poor that our right to debate is taken away? Let’s have the rich do the talking, take care of the superstructure and give us whatever they claim to be self-righteous, shall we? To abort or not to abort—we’re the infrastructure and therefore that’s not our question.
May the meaning of Charity not be corrupt
This week I touched base with Phuoc Tam, although only through a friend. In missing her and wanting to do something fun for her Christmas, I relapsed to the feeling of guilt. I wasn’t miserable, however, for I’ve come to accept that nobody is perfect and only God is.
Is it legitimate to love Phuoc Tam, who I’ve met in person only once? Mom has never protested in words, yet I know if I’d given what I spent on gifts for the girl to my relatives, Mom would be much happier. I don’t relate to any particular relatives and wouldn’t want to do anything for them, which is a shame. At the same time though, why must it always be that “charity begins at home”? Why don’t we instead reach beyond our family and show solidarity with a needy stranger? For this, I have a reason to spoil the little child, whose birth mother is in hiding.
What doesn’t seem right, still, is that I paid all my attention to Phuoc Tam while the other 17 kids at the Tong Phuoc Phuc Shelter share the same plight. What is even a bit wrong is that I only care for her in my free time and with my disposable income. It looks like giving others someone’s leftovers and that is by no means the Charity (with a capital “C”) taught by Jesus.
These days the meaning of charity has been distorted, so much so that it has come to describe the act of giving away material goods. It has even been contrasted with “philanthropy” and “social investment” all in an imaginary battle against things old-fashioned, stupid, unsustainable, unprofitable—you name it. We’re free to choose our word use, but need not downgrade charity, especially when Charity is a virtue at the very heart of the Catholic foundation. The Latin root of “Charity” is “Caritas,” which connotes a form of divine love infused into the soul urging it to make a commitment to doing good for others. In certain circumstances, Charity requires self-sacrifice, like Jesus dying on the Cross for the salvation of man.
I’m too human and have way too many shortfalls to earn the virtue of Charity the way Jesus preached and practiced it. Nonetheless, as I’m learning to choose reason over emotion, duty over inclination, and universalism over relativism, I hope people will stop the hype and take Charity for what God meant it to be.
If we really love someone, we’d better give them Faith
True Charity—I’m not yet qualified for it. In thinking how I could make up for my mundane act of giving Phuoc Tam just presents, I sent her what I expected to enrich her Faith.
Like Charity, Faith is a theological virtue. Moving forward, as long as I’m alive, I hold it ultimately true that if I love someone, I’d better help them find Faith. Okay to believe generally in goodness, but the best gift I believe one can ever send others is the Faith in a supreme, divine being who reigns over us.
All my life I’d invested heavily in my intellect, which came to the best fruition when a friend called me by my right name (although I’d never heard it before): “Daughter of God”.
I thus hope, the people I hold dearest to my heart will realize, if they haven’t, that they are all Children of God.