Elderly couple overcomes hardships to raise orphan

By Minh Tam   April 18, 2023 | 05:17 am PT
A retired teacher and his wife have adopted a young girl after she was abandoned by her mother at age 3.

Every noon, at around 11 a.m., Chuong and his wife, Luon, prepare their snack trolley while their adopted granddaughter, Tuong Vy, helps them carry a bag of vegetables.

"She’s already eight and very thoughtful. She always helps us with small chores," said Nguyen Van Chuong, 70, said about Tuong Vy, who he adopted five years ago.

Nguyen Van Chuong and Tuong Vy, by their snack trolley on Le Duc Tho street in Go Vap District. Photo taken on April 9, by VnExpress/Minh Tam

Nguyen Van Chuong and Tuong Vy, by their snack trolley on Le Duc Tho street in Go Vap District, April 9, 2023. Photo by VnExpress/Minh Tam

Chuong used to be a teacher. After retiring, he started to assist his wife selling streetside snacks. While his wife cooks, he helps her prepare the ingredients and does the dishes.

One day around Christmas 2018, at around 2 p.m., a woman in floral patterned clothes took her approximately three-year-old daughter to their trolley. Chuong remembers the girl was skinny, had long hair, and a dirty face. As there were many customers who needed the elderly couple’s attention, they didn't pay much attention to the mother-and-daughter.

When Chuong finally remembered that the mother-and-daughter hadn’t paid for their food, he realised that the mother had gone. The child was left napping by the table. At first, the couple thought the mother would soon return to pick her daughter up.

But by the time the couple had cleaned up to go home, no one had come back yet.

"The girl looked at me and said "I’m so sleepy" before going back to her nap. When I asked her where her mother was, she shook her head," Luon recalled.

Luon took the girl to their home, helped her to shower and take a rest, while Chuong notified the head of their neighbourhood. They were approved to keep the child girl until her mother came to pick her up. Five years have passed since then, and the mother’s identity is still unknown.

The elderly couple, now the child girl’s legal guardians, call her their "grandchild" and named her Nguyen Ngoc Tuong Vy, hoping that the girl would grow up to be a pretty, clever, and happy woman.

When the couple first adopted Tuong Vy, they encountered many hardships, as Vy didn’t have good health and got sick easily. "There was this one time when she didn’t eat the congee I bought, and after drinking milk, she got diarrhoea and a fever. I was so scared I asked my son to bring her to the hospital to have a check-up. Only after the doctor said she simply had a viral fever, did I calm down," Luon told us.

Luon was also the one taking care of Tuong Vy when she was hospitalised. She stayed up all night to take care of Vy, and only left at 5a.m to go to the market to prepare ingredients for the snacks she sold. If there were not too many customers, Luon would ask her husband to take care of the trolley, so that she could come back to the hospital to take care of Vy. "I did so because I didn’t want to take days off. I needed to sell the snacks to have money for my grandchild," she said.

After recovering from the viral fever, Vy got sick several more times. There were times when Chuong’s pension and profits the couple made from their snack trolley were not even enough to pay for Vy’s medicines. Chuong had to borrow money from his acquaintances, which he had never done before. "I didn’t even think about my pride at that time, and was supported by my children, so I just did so," Chuong shared.

Being taken care of by the elderly couple, Vy got better after recovering from the illness. A lot of people visited Chuong and Luon offering to adopt the child. Luon still remembers an infertile couple who came twice, expressing their desire to adopt Vy.

"They said they would pay us an amount of money in exchange for the girl. We turned it down. If we did so, it would be human trafficking. We would never do that, no matter how hard it might be, we wanted to take care of Vy," she stated.

Luon teaches the alphabet to Vy in her free time. Photo taken on April 9, by VnExpress/Minh Tam

Luon teaches the alphabet to Vy in her free time, April 9, 2023. Photo by VnExpress/Minh Tam

Hong Phuong, owner of the trolley next to the elderly couple’s, told VnExpress: "Everyone in the neighbourhood knew about their deeds. They are old, but they are really kind. Raising a three-year-old child is not easy, just thinking about that makes me feel sad for them."

In 2019, the elderly couple even paid over VND 3 million a month to send Vy to a private kindergarten, as she didn’t have a birth certificate, and thus, couldn’t go to public schools. By the end of that year, representatives of ward 16, where they resided, helped the couple process their adoption paperwork, so that they could eventually send Vy to public schools.

Vy went to a public kindergarten for two months before having to take a break from school because of another illness. The elderly couple had to temporarily stop sending her to school to take care of her at home. Vy’s studies were suspended. When she finally recovered, she was late for the start of the academic year. Chuong has sent her to a teacher in the neighbourhood since then, for a fee of VND 500 thousand a month, as a temporary solution for Vy to study.

"I feel so bad for Vy’s situation," said Le Thi Tam, President of Ward 16 in Go Vap. "I promised to assist Chuong in helping Vy have a better future and continue her studies."

Tuong Vy helps her grandparents with their snack trolley. Photo taken on April 9, by VnExpress/Minh Tam

Tuong Vy helps her "grandparents" with their snack trolley, April 9, 2023. Photo by VnExpress/Minh Tam

Tuong Vy has now turned eight. Previously, she used to help clean the house while Chuong and Luon operated their snack trolley outside. Luon said Vy has always been considerate, kind, and never asked for anything. "We are supposed to raise her, but in fact, she prepares her own meals without our help," she stated.

Sometimes people who didn’t know about Vy’s background asked her about her mother. She would simply reply "She passed away," then she would look at the ground and stay silent. Since then, Luon has asked people not to mention Vy’s mother, so that she would not get sad.

Recently, after having a stroke, Luon’s health got worse, and she has often had to stay home. The couple’s snack trolley has been run by Chuong ever since. Their son moved out and rarely visits home as he has been busy with his work. Their daughter has been busy taking care of her own children. So Vy has been the one helping her "grandparents."

When asked about future plans for Vy, Chuong and Luon both said they were too old to think about that. All they wanted was that Vy could resume her studies and have a more prominent future.

"After we pass away, our children will take care of her," Luon stated with tears in her eyes.

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