“Sometimes I wonder: without maternal love, what path would have taken my life?” – Kim Van Phuoc begins our discussion with these words.
How my biological mother left me
Phuoc’s biological mother had mental problems and lived in the streets to earn money. He doesn’t know clearly who his father is. Phuoc was abandoned by his mother a few days after birth and never saw her again. He grew up with his maternal grandmother and his aunt in a difficult situation. At 6, his grandmother wanted to send him to school like the other kids but Phuoc refused and insisted on going begging on the streets.
So every day Phuoc was selling lottery tickets near the Ong Lanh Bridge (District 1, Ho Chi Minh City) and went back home at night to give his earnings to his aunt. Thanks to his skills, this little boy who could not write could sell more than 500 tickets per day.
One day, when he had fallen asleep from tiredness in a coffee shop, someone stole all his money and tickets. Exasperated, his uncle hit him very hardly and again the next day. Afraid of being hit again, Phuoc decided to leave the house.
Phuoc was now 7 and wandered on the street like dead leaves caught in a whirlpool. So when someone promised to give him a home and send him to school, Phuoc followed him immediately. But the reality was very different: Phuoc and a dozen other children had to polish shoes from dawn to dusk. They were beaten if they protested. After enduring this horrible life for over one year, Phuoc really wanted to come back to his family but he didn’t exactly remember their names and address. Fortunately, a kind-hearted lady gave some information that she received from Phuoc to the police and asked them to help him find his family.
Back in his family, Phuoc returned to sell lottery tickets. A few months later, under the influence of his friends, he used his money to play games and left home once again. On a rainy afternoon in 1993, Phuoc saw a foreign girl in a coffee shop on Pham Ngu Lao street. He approached her to beg for money but she said: “I do not have money for you but I can give you a family if you want”.
How I left my adoptive mother
This person was Tim Aline Rebeaud who had been helping hundreds of orphans, street children and disabled people for 20 years. Phuoc did not trust her because of his bad experiences but as he was cold and hungry, he agreed to follow her to a shelter located in an alley in Binh Hung Hoa. Phuoc explains: “When I arrived, there was a dozen children like me and disabled people living in this house. There were just a few beds for the disabled people. All the others, as well as Tim, had to sleep on the floor but the atmosphere was affectionate like in a family and I quickly felt attached to this place”.
At that time, the total cost for this dozen people was based on incomes from the sale of Tim Aline’s paintings and on a few commercials. Phuoc says: “Sometimes, Tim could not find any work and in the evening we only had white rice to eat. We, the children, caught fish in the flooded fields around. But even in the most difficult moments, Tim did not forget us. She hired a teacher to teach us how to write, she taught us to draw so that we could have a job while continuing to learn Vietnamese to understand each other. Thinking about it now, I deeply regret having disturbed her so much…”.
But attracted by the life on the streets, the indomitable Phuoc did not listen to the advice of his new mother. Shortly after his arrival, he left, forcing Tim to look for him everywhere. How many times did Tim pay for vocational training and how many times did Phuoc give up after only a few lessons, until the point where the unruly boy was dismissed by the direction of the shelter. But Tim fought for Phuoc to be able to stay. “Among all Tim’s children, I was probably the most unruly but she always was patient with me, guided by love. Once driven to desperation by my behavior, Tim slapped me and immediately burst into tears. This is the only time she hit me, but it woke me up because I know she was desperate by my attitude… “, confides Phuoc. From there, Phuoc learned a job in order to have a good life and to get out of maternal bosom. A few years later, Phuoc fell in love with a poor girl in the neighborhood. Tim, on behalf of the groom’s family, took care of all the expenses of the wedding for the young couple.
“When you agree to take charge of a human being, you cannot do things by halves. This is a long-term work to be carried through. I love Phuoc like my son and so I have enough faith, patience and love to help him staying alive. Phuoc has shown me that this is right because the little naughty imp became a man”. –Tim AlineRebeaud
Bringing together his two mothers
Phuoc had now his own happy family but he really wished to find his biological mother from who he had no news. After almost one year of fruitless searching, he finally learned that his mother was wandering in Long An province. Although they knew that it would not be easy to live with her, Phuoc and his wife decided to welcome her in their house. It is touching to see that after a few months living together, his mother regained consciousness and is now helping with household chores. Phuoc says: “My life has gone through many events, but I think that I am very lucky to have two mothers.”
Text and pictures: Huong Vu