Saigon shelter helps sexually abused children deal with trauma

For 10 years now, a house in Saigon’sDistrict 9 has been a haven for sexually abused children.

“Ngoi Nha Nhip Cau Hanh Phuc” (The Bridge toHappiness Shelter) is a campus that hosts children who were abused or at highrisk of becoming victims of sexual abuse.

It is housed in a spacious house with more than 10rooms, protected by a high and sturdy gate, located in an alley in Ho Chi MinhCity’s District 9.

Nguyen Yen Thao, 38, general manager of the center, istypically greeted by a dozen girls between the age of five to six years old inschool uniforms when she arrives for work. They show off the work they havedone and the marks they have received for it.

At first glance, it is hard to believe that suchinnocent girls have to be kept away from the outside world.

“No child wants to live far away from theirfamily. But since they were being abused by their own loved ones, we cannot leta child continue to live in such an environment,” Thao said.

Once they get information from the press or localauthorities, Thao and her colleagues visit the victim’s house and discussmoving them to the shelter.

One of the girls in the shelter is in the fifth gradewith a body so scrawny that she looks more like a second grade student. Sheused to live far away from her parents with her grandparents. She was abused byher own grandfather.

Upon discovering the abuse, her shocked grandmotherstruggled to find a place for the girl to stay. On the recommendation of localauthorities, she sent her granddaughter to the District 9 campus. Thegrandmother was heartbroken and in tears the day she took the little one to thecampus, but her own home was no longer a safe place.

Quynh Ngoc, a care giver at the center, said thechildren are usually taciturn and stiff when they first arrive, traumatized bythe abuse they have suffered. Some wake up in the middle of the night screamingand crying.

“We had a girl who ran to the river to commitsuicide, but we saw her in time and brought her back.

Yet another girl, who had been rescued afterbeing trafficked to Singapore, was so traumatized that she screamed often, hadnightmares and ran aimlessly back and forth around the house for a very longtime. It took years of treatment before the knowledge that she was loved healedher.

Sheis back with her family now, and happy.


Toavoid any disruption in the lives of the children that could trigger somedamage, the shelters has restrictions on outside visitors.

Organizationsand individuals wishing to visit must sign a written commitment on informationsecurity and to the shelter’s child protection policy. They cannot take photosor videos, disclose information, ask children questions on sensitive issues,and not prompt them to recall previous experiences.

Herethey can head to public school, where the school and the home room teacheralready talked previously to Thao about each student cases, and learn aboutlife skills at the center.

Twicea week, a psychologist spends some time with the children. In cases where thechildren have been severely traumatized, the expert will monitor the treatmentprocess far more closely.

“Psychologicaltreatment for children is a difficult process. It can’t be done in a day ortwo. We would do anything within our ability to support and give them a healthyliving environment,” Thao said.

Oncethey turn 18, the girls at the shelter undergo vocational training, or attendcolleges and universities depending on their ability, and learn to step outsideand make more friends.

Thechildren are allowed to go home on holidays. If any child wants to go home, orthe family requests it, the center and the family will discuss the visit basedon latest information and take a decision.

Theshelter was established in 2009 by an international non-governmentalorganization (INGO) run by overseas Vietnamese in the U.S. called One BodyVillage. The facility operates under the management of the Vietnam Associationof Psychology and Education (VAPE).

LyLe Hang, chief of office of VAPE for the southern region, said the facility hasprovided medical treatment, meals and learning opportunities for children formany years now. The center also provides financial support to needy familiesfrom out of town.

“Manyfamilies wouldn’t know where to take children if a place like this did notexist. I have attended the wedding of one of the girls who grew up here. Otherchildren often return to visit the shelter and help other children in theirsame situation.”

Source: VN Express