Unlike charitable people, who gift those in need with ‘fish,’ social workers, who have long been operating in many countries, give them the ‘fishing rod’ to help them stand on their own two feet.

Jolly angels

The youths from social group Happier were making their way awkwardly through the crowds of child patients and their relatives to the Burn-Orthopedics department at Ho Chi Minh City’s Pediatrics Hospital 1.

Though they knew what to expect here, they were still overwhelmed seeing the child patients writhe in pain from nasty wounds, their bodies and faces covered in bandages.

Several had their arms and legs bound to the bed to stop them from scratching their wounds.

One female member of the group was trying to soothe a sobbing 9-month-old infant, who had suffered serious burns from boiled water, with a comic book.

The group also had friendly chats with the relatives.

P. shared that his two children, who suffered burns in a fire, were being treated at the hospital. Their mother had also suffered serious burns over her entire body.

The group, founded at the hospital in April 2010, has 9 members who are social work majors at HCMC Open University.

Being treated in isolation rooms, the kids are also desperate for warmth and company.

The ‘angels’ then come to their bedside, chat, sing and paint with them, celebrate their birthdays, and hold small parties on Christmas or Mid-Autumn festival.

“T., 5, often sobbed noisily when having his bandage changed and so got scolded and hit by his mother. After we explained to her what to do in such cases, she now knows how to soothe him,” said Tien, a group member.

The group also sends the kids’ records to philanthropists and treatment fees have been paid for about 10 of them.

They are now collecting toys for the kids.

“I feel uneasy if I don’t visit them for one day,” Mai Anh, another member, shared.

The bonds between the members and the kids have grown so intimate that they part in tears whenever one of them is discharged from hospital.

Dedication, courage and respect for ‘clients’

“It takes knowledge, skills, courage and dedication to be a social worker,” said Tran Tuan Huy, head of the YMCA Life Skills Center, who was also a member of the HIV/AIDS approach team belonging to the UK’s Save The Children Fund (SCF).

From 1992 to 1998, some members of the 43-person team were trained in social work, while the rest were peer group educators.

According to Huy, his team then approached both ‘brothers’ (drug users) and ‘sisters’ (sex workers), so addressed to indicate the social workers’ acceptance and respect of their ‘clients.’

The members roamed many places, pretending to search for acquaintances or peddle condoms to penetrate ‘hot spots.’

“At first they all scolded and swore at us, blaming us for bringing bad luck to their ‘business,’” Huy recalled.

After successfully talking some sex workers into joining the team, including Truong Hong Tam, author of “Get Over Death – Tam Sida’s Biography” and still an active social worker, things got easier for the team.

Yet the next hurdle was dealing with procurers and pimps.

Once, Cuong, a male member dropped Hue, another member, at where she was supposed to approach the ‘sisters.’

Cuong later returned only to find Hue lying prostrate on the street, being hit hard with a log by the pimps.

She had to stay in hospital for 2 months, Huy recalled.

The male members even acted as clients and mingled in the brothels.

But this approach was risky and costly, thus the members talked the pimps into selling condoms to the prostitutes, and taking the women to hospitals for free treatment.

Later, they also managed to negotiate with the brothel owners to allow doctors to see to their sex workers right at the brothels and educate them on HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment, Huy recounted.

Some members were even apprehended by the police, Huy added.

After several years in operation, Huy’s team witnessed many heartrending stories.

A little girl, whose mother was a sex worker, told them she wished to be a prostitute just like her mother in the future.

A number of prostitutes also work as surrogate mothers, bearing children for infertile couples.

More than a few HIV-positive sex workers also took their revenge by asking their clients not to use condoms.

“Therefore our work never ends,” Huy noted.


The rewards for social workers arrive when the person they help successfully overcomes hurdles and has a fulfilling life, confided Tran Minh Hai, head of Tuong Lai Health Education and Public Promotion Center.

The success story of Phung Ngoc Phong, a street child who made his living by stealing, is one of the rewards.

Phong spent years doing miscellaneous jobs, learning to fix cars and taking classes at night.

A high school graduate, he now co-owns an automobile garage, is married and had reunited with his long-lost mother.

“I have never met such a determined street child,” Hai said.

Tuoi Tre News - December 21, 2012