Bui Van Chau, a 54-year-old man, runs an orphanage for children with physical and mental disabilities in Dong Nai Province near Ho Chi Minh City.
Mr. Chau starts his working day by taking care of orphans at his orphanage (Photo: Tuoi Tre)
Mr. Chau earns US$1 day by collecting leftover food at Song May industrial park (Photo: Tuoi Tre)
His day starts at 7am with a visit to the orphanage in Trang Bom District when he usually takes milk, clothes, and other necessities to the children.
Chau gently talks to each kid. “Did Huong sleep yesterday? How about Viet? Did Tho have a fever? After your bath, I will give you medicine.”
Of the 20 or 25 children there, only Viet can look at Chau, smile, and reply: “Yes I could sleep.” The others can just nod or shake their heads or give him helpless smiles.
After giving pills and occasionally shots to the kids, Chau goes to the backyard and tosses some rice to chickens in the garden, pumps water, feeds fish and frogs, and chooses some fat ones for lunch.
At lunch time, plastic bowls are laid on the table. But only 10 of the children can serve themselves.
Chau reaches for two bowls and sits down on the floor between two young children. He feeds Sang on the left and then Phuoc. Phuoc is a two-year-old boy who is learning to speak. He smiles all the time, showing off his chubby face. He is the only normal child there. Chau had found him under a tree with his umbilical cord still uncut.
Nine-year old Sang is not conscious of things, often smiles for no apparent reason, and sometimes puts his arms up to ask Chau to carry him. Smiling, Chau gently feeds the kids little by little.
At 2pm, after giving the children a bath and medicines, Chau starts off for his part-time job of collecting leftover food at the kitchen of Song May industrial park and selling them to local farms as animal feed.
Chau rides a tricycle filled with plastic buckets on the red mud road. When he arrives at the kitchen, he pours the leftovers from giant stainless steel pots into his buckets and carries them out to the tricycle. Then he rides off to local farms. That day he earns VND20,000 (USD1) from selling 15 buckets. Chau does this twice a day after the workers eat their lunch and dinner.
At 7pm Chau takes Phuoc home so that his wife can take care of him. He rushes into the bathroom to wash off the dirt and tiredness from a long day.
“From now on I am a teacher,” he says as he pulls on a long-sleeved shirt. Then he gets on his bike and rides to a house in Trang Bom town where a group of students are waiting to learn English.
At 9.30pm Chau returns home and is finally able to relax for a while. Sitting in his favorite chair, Chau has dinner and talks to his wife and sons, who have also just returned from school and work. Phuoc waits for Chau to play with him for a while before going to bed.
In 13 years of running the orphanage, Chau cannot remember how many scribbled notes were attached to babies brought by helpless mothers and fathers. They would promise to visit, to contribute, but never come back.
Chau remembers all the kids’ names and knows their habits. He takes care of them but has no hope that one day they will call him “Father.”
He says there was a time when he hoped to become a priest but failed. Religion’s loss turned out to be orphaned children’s gain.
After learning a little bit about medicine at a Catholic seminary in his native Nam Dinh province near Hanoi, Chau moved to Dong Nai at 19 to work in an infirmary. After years of community service and working with disabled youth, he opened his own orphanage. All the children bear his name, Bui, in their birth certificates.
Chau separates his two jobs clearly: money earned from selling the leftovers is used for the orphanage, the money from teaching English six days a week is meant for the household.
“My wife is very nice; she approves everything I do. She also loves the kids at the orphanage,” Chau says with a warm smile.
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