Life of children orphaned by Covid

By Hai Hien   September 29, 2021 | 04:56 am PT
For the past two weeks Tran Khoa Dang Truong has been again watching the movies he had seen with his deceased parents to ease his nostalgia.

"I try to perform the same daily activities my parents and I used to do together, but the feeling is not the same," the 10-year-old boy says.

After his parents succumbed to Covid-19 in late July, his house in HCMC's Binh Tan District is now left with only Truong and his older sister, Tran Thi Ngoc Tuyen.

All four got Covid. Their father became seriously ill first, and was admitted to Cho Ray Hospital for treatment. Then their mother and they were admitted to a Covid field hospital in Hoc Mon District. After nearly a week on ventilation support, their mother passed away.

"At that time I thought my mother was sleeping," Truong says.

Two weeks later the children found out that their father had died a day after her.

When they returned from the hospital, the shock was so great that Truong often mumbled incoherently in front of the altar. Sometimes he would sit holding and sniffing his mother's backpack and father's coat. The two shut all the doors and windows and made no contact with their neighbors.

Tran Khoa Dang Truong (L) and older sister, Tran Thi Ngoc Tuyen, in their house in HCMCs Binh Tan District on September 18. Photo by VnExpress/Anh Tu

Tran Khoa Dang Truong (L) and older sister Tran Thi Ngoc Tuyen at their house in HCMC's Binh Tan District on September 18. Photo by VnExpress/Anh Tu

In a matter of days their lives had been turned upside down by the pandemic.

Tuyen, who turned 18 a few days ago, is now both father and mother to her baby brother.

"For my brother’s sake, I have to be strong," she says.

She does not dare to cry because "If I cry, my brother will cry too."

During the day she cooks and helps her brother with school. At night she rubs his back to put him to sleep like her mother used to do, hoping he would be less afraid.

According to a study in British medical journal The Lancet on the secondary effects of Covid-19 published in July, the pandemic has dramatically and permanently changed the lives of orphans, who grow up with a profound sense of loss.

La Linh Nga, director of the Center For Research And Application Of Psychological Science In Education, says children who suddenly lose a loved one will experience despair, frustration and other negative psychological problems for two to four weeks, though for some they could last longer.

After Covid took away her parents and grandparents, Nguyen Thi Mai Khanh, 14, became more and more taciturn.

"When my father died, I thought at least my mother would still be with me. But then my mother also left. After a while, my grandparents also succumbed to Covid".

Her uncle, Nguyen Thanh Hung, has been bringing meals to her every day, sometimes staying back.

He says: "I tell her to come to my house to eat. But she refuses and just wants to eat in front of her parents’ altar."

Many times he has felt heartbroken seeing his niece wake up in the middle of the night and scream for her parents. She sometimes picks up the phone and calls her mother or father's number to chat as if they were on the line.

According to psychologist Linh Nga, adolescents like Truong and Khanh normally undergo many psychological changes, and the lack of affection from their parents now causes "a lot of difficulties."

"At this time children need companionship and support from society. If they have relatives or friends by their side to share and talk with, they will overcome their pain and accept the harsh reality easier".

Khanh’s uncle often tells her, "If you can't do anything to change your fate, you have to accept it".

So the quiet girl is learning to become more independent, learning how to wash clothes and cook by herself, and starting to open up more to her uncle. She is also careful about wearing masks and washing her hands.

In the empty house she has often cried in fear at night in the dark. But now she cries less, often mumbling a few familiar songs until she falls asleep.

More than 1,500 children in HCMC have lost their parents to Covid, the Department of Education and Training reported on September 14.

As of Wednesday morning the city had recorded over 377,171 cases in the current outbreak and 14,499 deaths.

Authorities are trying to make sure Tuyen, Truong, Khanh, and other orphans are not abandoned.

In September the city’s districts began to provide Covid orphans with necessities and financial aid worth VND3-5 million ($131-220) each.

The HCMC labor department has said it will provide VND2 million to those who have lost their parents to Covid from the National Fund For Vietnamese Children.

"Now my brother and I are living on the support from the government and the VND5 million left by our parents," Tuyen says.

The HCMC Women's Union and, in, many cases, neighbors also provide food and support to Covid orphans.

Due to their family circumstances, Tuyen had dropped out of school to give her brother the opportunity to continue studying.

Now she wants the pandemic to end quickly so that she can learn hairdressing soon to earn their living.

Truong says his dream is to go to medical school after finishing high school.

"I want to fulfill that dream so that my parents can be proud of me."

For the last month Khanh has received so much care from authorities, relatives and neighbors that she feels she is still surrounded by love.

Le Thi Cam Lien, chairwoman of the Women's Union in Tan Tuc Town in Binh Chanh District, says the locality plans to support Khanh after the epidemic ends. It will find a suitable vocational school for her to study and get a job when she grows up, she promises.

Khanh had long told her parents she wanted to learn how to do bridal makeup.

She is now learning to cook and clean the house, things she had rarely done before.

"I wish my parents could see me now," she says.

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