American dedicates youth to caring for Vietnamese kids with disabilities

By Trong Nghia   October 20, 2019 | 05:31 am PT
After vacationing in Vietnam, a young American woman decided to stay back, leaving her family, to take care of disabled children.

Carly Placek is sweeping the yard when she hears someone coughing. She drops the broom and rushes in.

It is Mit, one of the children she helps look after at the Thuy An center for seniors and children with disabilities in Hanoi’s Ba Vi District.

The child clings to the 27-year-old American, not wanting to let go. Mit and more than 100 other children at the center have Down’s syndrome. 

Carly first met Mit in 2013 when her family was visiting Vietnam and decided to include some charity work during their stay here.

In the instant that Mit opened her arms to Carly, the American's life changed. 

Carly and Mit at Thuy An Disability Children And Older Nourishing Center. Photo by VnExpress/Trong Nghia.

Carly and Mit at Thuy An Disability Children and Older Nourishing Center. Photo by VnExpress/Trong Nghia.

She decided to quit her job in the U.S. and stay back in Vietnam to help take care of the children at the center.

Until then, the daughter of a construction business owner in Baltimore had been complaining about several things in Vietnam, including the state of transportation.

Such inconvenient irritations were replaced by greater frustrations as she tried to get used to life in rural Vietnam. She could not communicate easily, and could not do even simple things like use a broom properly. It was stressful, but she did not give up. After two years, things got better.

Once she was able to talk to locals, Carly's life in Vietnam improved considerably, although the challenges of taking care of children with disabilities remained.

Once, a kid peed on her head as she was bending low, cleaning the floor. That reminded her to put diapers on every incontinent kid at the center.

One thing helped her greatly – her previous experience in taking care of seniors and people with disabilities. Changing the kids' diapers and giving them a bath was no big deal.

Once, when a boy broke his leg, she quickly put it in a splint and took him to a nearby hospital, where she knows all the doctors and remembers their names, having been there many times.

Her Vietnamese colleagues are amazed at the transformation.

"I have worked at this center for 20 years, but Carly is more resourceful than me," said 50-year-old Hoang Thi Minh Hang, who is among those who helped the American learn Vietnamese. 

"She cares for the children like a mother," Hang added.

Formal work as a holiday

Carly does not get a salary, so she funds herself. Every four months, she returns to the U.S. for two months and works as a supermarket manager to earn enough to sustain her in Vietnam for the next four months.

Her parents have been hoping that she would take over the family business, but Carly has showed no interest so far. This disappointed them, but last year, things changed.

Her mother visited Vietnam and spent some time at the center. It changed her, too. She began to support Carly and even encouraged her to adopt a child.

Carly's commitment to the children and the adjustments she has made for doing so are remarkable.

In the U.S., Carly lives in relative luxury in a house in downtown Baltimore and even has a chauffeur to drive her around. In Vietnam, she pays less than VND1 million ($43.15) to rent an apartment and eats street food every day. This is not easy always since she is not yet used to some local greens and vegetables like bitter melon.

Despite all this, her saddest days are back home, when she misses Mit and other children. She invariably thinks of them every time she sees a child when she is in the US.

In August this year, she had to rush back to Vietnam after just two weeks because Mit had pneumonia and kept crying since Carly was not around. The child did not even let the doctor touch her, and might have been in danger if Carly had not returned.

Carly taking care of a child. Photo by VnExpress/Trong Nghia.

Carly feeds a disabled child at Ba Vi, Hanoi. Photo by VnExpress/Trong Nghia.

This meant that Carly could not bring back enough money, but instead of telling her family, she just became more frugal. She asked her landlord more time to pay her rent. She also began teaching English on Saturdays to earn some extra money and help the children at the center.

Do Duc Hong, director of the center, said: "Carly is spending her youth here. We will always be grateful for what she has done."

Carly sometimes looks at the photos of the children she takes and tears flow. She feels everyone deserves a fair break, and her heart breaks to see the children afflicted by illnesses not get proper care.

With November approaching, most Americans will think about returning home to their families for Thanksgiving, and then for Christmas and the New Year, but Carly is worried about being away from Mit and other children. 

Mit’s grandmother visits her sometimes. Her parents are divorced and cannot take care of their daughter. Carly wants to adopt the girl.

She said: "If I cannot adopt her, I will return to the U.S. in the next year or two. If I can adopt her, I will live in Vietnam my whole life." 

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