HOMELESS children are a problem most poorer countries have to deal with – and Vietnam is no exception.
In Ho Chi Minh City alone there are an estimated 25,000 children living on the streets.
Many of these children get caught up in the underworld of drugs and prostitution as they move into the bigger cities.
The Loreto Sisters, with the help of expatriates and supporters in Australia, are helping these children.
They are working to change the lives of many of these children through the Loreto Vietnam-Australia Program (LVAP).
Program founder and co-ordinator, Loreto Sister Trish Franklin, has been involved in the rescue and education of underprivileged children in Vietnam for eight years.
Sr Franklin was born in Ballarat and entered the Loreto Sisters in 1970, teaching in a number of Australian Loreto schools and colleges for 15 years.
When the Australian provincial of the Loreto order sent her to work in refugee camps in Thailand in 1985 she realised her dream to be among the poor.
She was sent to Vietnam in 1997 where she started the Loreto Vietnam-Australia Program.
She has a number of projects in the country including shelters for street children, a school for the blind and a school for intellectually and physically disabled children in Ho Chi Minh City and a number of rural school projects.
The program helps to maintain schools, build classrooms and motivate children to stay in school in rural and remote areas as well as supporting scholarship programs.
She was in Australia recently to thank her many donors and visited Loreto Mandeville Hall in Toorak, Victoria to brief senior students on how the program had helped more than 2000 blind, disabled and street children since it began operating in 1997.
She said poor and struggling families in rural and remote areas had low and unstable incomes, resulting in a high number of school drop-outs as the children were forced to look for work to feed their families.
She said the high unemployment and overpopulation in rural areas also forced many families to migrate to the big cities, which caused the break-up of families which, in turn, led to the absence of role models for the children.
In some cases children ended up being ‘sold’ or abandoned, she said.
‘They sleep on the streets and become scavengers, beggars, shoe-shiners, market labourers, carriers, dish washers and prostitutes,’ Sr Franklin said.
‘Apart from lacking self-esteem and security, they suffer from hunger and poor health, receive no schooling and have few values.’
She said this made them more vulnerable to drugs, alcohol, crime, sexual abuse and violence.
The program’s two shelters for street children in Ho Chi Minh City, Sunrise House for girls and Sunlight House for boys, takes in children from the streets or unhappy family situations and provides them with a safe home.
The program helps to put these children into neighbouring schools to learn to read and write or into vocational training centres, where they receive training for future employment.
In the shelters the children experience a sense of security and receive counselling about health issues such as drugs and sexual transmitted diseases like HIV/AIDS.
Many of the children also suffer from the legacy of chemical warfare, medical problems during pregnancy, hereditary traits and unhygenic living conditions.
There are about 70,000 children who are blind in Vietnam and of the 5.2 million disabled people, many who have lost arms or legs or both to the unexploded landmines left after the war, about 22,000 disabled children live in Ho Chi Minh City.
LVAP is involved in the Nguyen Dinh Chieu School where more than 200 blind children are taught English to help them increase their job prospects.
Sr Franklin said LVAP supplemented food, clothing, learning materials, braille paper and a ‘sound soccer’ team for these children.
‘The program also provides financial support for a music program and to train teachers,’ she said.
LVAP also supports the Sunrise Special School in Ho Chi Minh City to help train teachers in theory-based disability studies, participatory approaches for children’s learning and community based rehabilitation.
To help the work of the Loreto Sisters in Vietnam write to Loreto Vietnam-Australia Program, PO Box 74, Albert Park, Vic 3206.