Hanoi exhibition sheds light on lives of homeless children

By Phan Duong   December 6, 2020 | 05:00 am PT
Vietnamese Women's Museum in Hanoi is showcasing the "24 Hours On The Street" exhibition to tell the visual stories of destitute children.

When a scared Giang A Trinh was discovered sleeping in an abandoned security shed on Hanoi's Thuy Khue Street, he did not believe anyone would ever help him.

"The male social worker came from Son La Province. I was afraid at the time but thought he wouldn't deceive me since we are from the same hometown," he recalled the rainy night two years ago when he was helped by a member of the nonprofit organization Blue Dragon Children's Foundation, a Hanoi-based charity assisting children in crises.

Trinh came from a mountain village in Son La. In 2014, the 10-year-old boy followed his father to Hanoi where he earned a living as a construction worker. His chain-smoking father had been abandoned by his mother while his brother got picked up by an uncle to live with him in northern Dien Bien Province.

"Four years ago, my father told me I needed to take care of myself since I was already old enough, resulting in me becoming homeless," the 16-year-old boy said.

Giang A Trinh stands next to photos taken by him and of him during the 24 Hours On The Sheet exhibition at the Vietnamese Womens Museum in Hanoi. Photo by VnExpress/Phan Duong.

Giang A Trinh at the "24 Hours On The Street" exhibition in Hanoi. Photo by VnExpress/Phan Duong.

He started wandering the streets around Thuy Khue in Tay Ho District, picking the trash for food. He slept in an abandoned security shed and opted for public benches on dry days.

When he was first rescued, Trinh was scared. Gradually, the care and attention of social workers made him believe he was in good hands. Here, he started making friends and learned to quit swearing.

"I am very happy I can go to school again after dropping out nine years ago," the current third-grader stated.

While many other students at school chose to learn to cook or edit photos, Trinh decided to focus on cooking along.

"My mother told me I wouldn't be the pillar of the company if I didn’t know how to cook. I also wanted to have a family one day so I chose to learn how to make food."

Back in school for only three months, he has learned to cook many dishes and boasts about his new passion. Along with studying culture and cooking, he also helps in the Blue Dragon kitchen and with newcomers to its premises.

Trinh's story is one of more than 20 about homeless children featured in the "24 Hours On The Street" exhibition currently on display until December 7 at Vietnamese Women's Museum in Hanoi.

Statistics from the Ministry of Labor, Invalids and Social Affairs show there are currently about 2.8 million orphaned, abandoned, disabled, or destitute children in the country.

Do Duy Vi, chief outreach officer at Blue Dragon, said: "Children often face many social problems like domestic violence, abuse, labor exploitation, a lack of food, lack of clothing, and no safe shelter, among others, which causes both long-term physical and emotional harm."

The more than 20 collected images tell the background stories of homeless children. Many photos on display were taken or recreated by the rescued children themselves to reveal their plight.

Among those photos is a picture of a boy enjoying a bowl of instant noodles.

Mai Anh Tai, 13, a native of northern Bac Kan Province, said: "I asked someone to take a photo of me eating a bowl of instant noodles. I can't forget the first dish I ate when I first went to the shelter. I was able to live until this day thanks to that bowl of noodle."

A photo of Mai Anh Tai eating a bowl of noodle. Photo courtesy of Vietnamese Womens Museum.

A photo of Mai Anh Tai eating a bowl of noodles. Photo courtesy of Vietnamese Women's Museum.

"I left home and wandered the streets," Tai said.

The boy traveled through many cities and provinces and ended up in Hanoi where he received help to attend a vocational school.

Phan Ninh, from northern Hoa Binh Province, chose to leave home rather than live with an addict father, or his newly married mother and her disapproving partner.

In Hanoi, Ninh slept under Chuong Duong Bridge. Once, falling asleep in front of a restaurant on Hang Thung Street, the owner decided to take him in and let him work as a waiter before he received help from Blue Dragon where he later learned photography and made new friends.

Thuy and her grandmother no longer have to live in a temporary hut by the river this winter. Her mother left when Thuy was born and her father passed away when she was four years old due to cancer. Having no money to rent a living space, the grandmother built a hut on the bank of the river and became a scrap collector in order to support Thuy.

Thuy and her grandmother living in a temporary hut on the street. Photo courtesy of Vietnamese Womens Museum.

Thuy and her grandmother in their temporary riverbank shelter. Photo courtesy of Vietnamese Women's Museum.

But due to old age, trying to make a living grew more difficult for the grandmother. Fortunately, the two were recently discovered and received helped. The grandmother opened a refreshing street stall while Thuy has started school.

"I joined the class called 'confident to shine for girls'. I also learned martial arts to protect myself," the 9-year-old girl boasted.

Vi shared the Covid-19 outbreak saw many freelance workers lose their incomes or jobs, while spur financial pressure and domestic violence, and an increase of homeless children.

Blue Dragon has helped over 150 destitute children over the past 10 months, Vi said.

The exhibition not only reflects hidden corners of danger that street children face, but also shows that dreams are being born.

Nguyen Thi Tuyet, deputy director of the museum, said: "The exhibition helps us to understand and sympathize with the disadvantaged fates of the children and see our role in raising and helping them feel safe in their own family and community."

*All subjects appear under aliases.

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