A moving report in the NY Times today about HIV-positive orphans in AN NHON TAY, Vietnam. Ignorance and fear keep these kids segregated from mainstream society. Local parents are unwilling to let the children attend school along with the orphans:
“The children were so excited,” said Sister Nguyen Thi Bao, who runs the orphanage and had been lobbying for three years to enroll them in the government school. “They had been wishing for this day to come.”
But when they arrived, they found an uprising by the parents of the other students, who refused to let their children enter the school together with the infected orphans. Some of the parents hastily backed away when the orphans walked past.
After a short standoff, the principal, who had agreed to accept the orphans, told Sister Bao that their papers were not in order and that they could not stay.
The children returned to the orphanage, just a short walk down a country road, where they continue to study in small classrooms, still exiled from the uninfected world.
“I was so happy to go to the school,” said a 12-year-old fourth grader for whom Sister Bao insisted on anonymity to keep her from the spotlight. “But then I saw that some parents wouldn’t let their children go to school with me because they are scared of my disease.”
I’m grateful that the Catholic church provides care for these children. It’s alarming to think what might happen to them otherwise. But I wonder how many of us would have the strength to take one of these beautiful children into our home, knowing what tragedy might be awaiting them in the future.
Children sometimes die prematurely and unexpectedly. It is a risk any parent faces. Yet few parents would regret the time they were able to live with and love their child, even if he or she were taken away prematurely. Why is it so much more difficult to imagine taking on a sick child when we know ahead of time that the risk of losing him or her is so high?
I would hope to have the strength to take on a child such as these – to assume the risk of heartbreak with such reckless abandon. The rewards would be greater than the eventual loss, I am certain. But I don’t know if I have that strength.