My name’s Thu Hien and I am 30 years old. I was born in Vung Tau, a city located 65 kilometers away from Saigon. I have two big brothers and a big sister. I never knew my father who died when I was a little girl. I don’t know how he died. We were living in the countryside. My mother and my brothers were working very hard in the fields to allow us to have something to eat.

But I couldn’t help them. I have been sick since I was born. I can stand up but I cannot walk a long time. We didn’t really know what it was. At that time, we didn’t go to the hospital. I was sick, that was all. I wasn’t born at the hospital but at home as it was common in the countryside. When I was ten, my mother died from ascites, an accumulation of fluid in the abdomen. Her belly was very bloated and one day, it exploded. As far as I remember, it was a terrifying scene.

I lived with my siblings until the age of fifteen. Then they got married and had children. It is at that time that things got really complicated. I had to go from house to house, to my brother, to my sister and after that to my other brother. I cannot help in the fields, but just by doing a little housework. But they made me feel that I was in the way. Finally, they drove me to a hospital supported by the French. My brother left me there alone. In Vietnam, the relatives of the patient should take care of their parents and bring them food. Left to myself, I had to manage on my own.

After two months, the doctor explained me that he couldn’t heal me, that I was suffering from a progressive muscular dystrophy and that there wasn’t any treatment available. But what could I do if I had to leave the hospital? I didn’t know where to go, nobody to call. I was afraid to find myself wandering on the street with nothing to eat. I begged the doctor to keep me longer; he gave me an extra week. At the end of the week, I finally called my brothers but they told me: “If you can go home by yourself, you can stay with us. If not, too bad for you!” It was clear that they didn’t longer want me. They knew perfectly that I would be unable to go home by myself.

But anyway, I thought that I would not like to go back to my brothers. I would have been useless…

When my brothers refused to pick me up, I was completely devastated. I could no longer stay at the hospital anymore but as I had nowhere else to go, I was hiding there. I slept on the floor in the room of the patients and hid in the toilets during the doctors’ visits three or four times a day. I managed to live like that for about two weeks. Relatives of other patients had taken pity on me and used to give me some rice.

A man who was often coming to the hospital to bring food and sometimes some money to the patients, wanted to help me. He proposed my services as a waitress to the lady who was selling coffee opposite the hospital. When she looked at me, I was standing up. She didn’t notice that I was disabled and agreed to hire me. Her house had three floors. I slept on the third one and had to serve coffee on the first floor. To go downstairs, I was crawling like a baby. I also had to go downstairs to go to the bathroom. It was a very painful ordeal and I managed to face it as little as possible.

I had to stay there for two or three months, I don’t remember exactly. The man came back to visit me and see if everything was going well. He found out about my trouble with the stairs and saw that my future there didn’t have much interest. He finally entrusted me to Catholic sisters also supported by the French. They welcomed and proposed trainings to orphans but not to disabled people. They finally welcomed me because, at least, I also was an orphan. There I learned how to sew, I took care of the small children and I helped the sisters as I could. But after a year, one of the sisters told me that their house was not suitable for a person like me and that I had to find another place to stay. She knew Tim and it was thanks to her that I arrived at Maison Chance in 1998.

The beginnings at Maison Chance were not easy. I was the only girl among all these men. I often felt alone and cried. And I had never met foreigners. I was puzzled by this young woman. At the beginning, she intimidated me a lot but she was so kind and thoughtful with everybody that she quickly became my second mother.

Hien and Tim at the sewing workshop in the Shelter

Hien works at Take Wing Centre

I can go to school, learn French and continue my sewing training. I also tried drawing and IT. But finally it was sewing that I liked the most. Today, I am in charge of the shop of Maison Chance products.

Before arriving at Maison Chance, how could I imagine than a man would love a person like me? I was resigned to remind single all my life. But at Maison Chance, I noticed that everything was possible. I met my husband there. He was helping the patients. We got married in 2004.

After the wedding, we rented a little apartment near Maison Chance. It was not ideal for me because there were steps and the ground floor was always flooded during the raining season. Once the adapted apartments were available at the Village Chance, we moved there. We now have two adorable girls, Hien Vy who is 9 years old and Hien Mai who is almost two years old. The second pregnancy caused me terrible back ache and I could not stand up anymore. I have to sit in a wheelchair since then.

Hien with her first daughter

Hien, her husband and her first daughter

I don’t keep any nostalgia form my old family. The children of my brothers, my nephews, tried to contact me when they came to study in Saigon. I agreed to meet them because I want that my daughters know their roots, but we are not close at all.

Today I am very happy at the Village Chance with my new family. A new life has begun for me. It is like the second page of a book to be written. Of course sometimes the life obliges us to face some ordeals, difficult choices but what a wonderful turning point was offered to mine!