Vietnamese missionary a father figure for abandoned children in Cambodia

Brother Tung wants his orphanage to be a model showing how Cambodians and ethnic Vietnamese people can peacefully coexist
Vietnamese missionary a father figure for abandoned children in Cambodia

Brother Joseph Nguyen Thanh Tung with some of the children under his care at Mekong Orphan Center based in Kandal province, Cambodia. (ucanews.com photo)

ucanews.com reporter, Phnom Penh
Cambodia
August 26, 2019
A couple of dozen children happily gathered around saying hello to Brother Joseph Nguyen Thanh Tung when he arrived at the orphanage he established in Cambodia’s southeast in 2013.

They offered him a chair to sit on while he offered them fruit and candy.

“He is our daddy. We love him because he brings us up well,” said Joseph Say Ha, 10, the first child to be taken care of by the Vietnamese brother from the Missionary Society of the Redeemer’s Mother.

Ten years ago, Joseph’s grandmother gave him up to Brother Tung when the boy was only 25 days old. Joseph’s mother had earlier abandoned him, and his father died of HIV/AIDS.

Brother Tung took responsibility for the baby who was then suffering from a skin ulcer which needed two weeks of hospital treatment. This all occurred not long after Brother Tung arrived in the country as a missionary.

Sign up to receive UCAN Daily Full Bulletin
Thank you. You are now signed up to our Daily Full Bulletin newsletter
Joseph is now in second grade and he speaks both Cambodian and Vietnamese languages. He is one of 24 orphans — from babies to young adults — who Brother Tung currently looks after at the Mekong Orphan Center in Leuk Dek district, Kandal province. The orphans come from either Cambodian or ethnic Vietnamese families.

Brother Tung said some of the orphans suffer physical disabilities.

Each of the children at the center is baptized and given birth certificates which allows them to enter public schools.

“I love them like my children and treat them humanely and kindly while they call me Ba [daddy],” Brother Tung said.

“We live together in perfect harmony here and treat one another like family members,” he said adding that there is no discrimination on the grounds of race at the orphan center.

He said the center aims at developing a model of peaceful coexistence for Cambodians and ethnic Vietnamese people in the country which has strained relationships between the two peoples.

Brother Tung said the center is based in a Cambodian majority area and it is supported by local people with whom he has good relationships.

Ethnic Vietnamese communities do not have Cambodian nationality. They are considered illegal migrants and are not granted personal papers although they have lived in the country for generations. They face barriers in accessing education, health care, formal employment and owning property.

They have to rent land from Cambodians to erect their houses, and their children are not admitted to public schools as they are not given birth certificates.

Ethnic Vietnamese are the largest minority group in Cambodia, accounting for about 180,000 people, according to government data. 

A visiting Dominican sister offers sweets to children at the center. (ucanews.com photo)

 

Saving homeless children

The most recent child to be taken in by Brother Tung’s center was a 2-month-old boy who was brought there by a government official earlier this year. The child’s 18-year-old Cambodian mother was abandoned by her boyfriend and she could not care for him.

Another case was that of Vincent Nguyen Van Nho who with his younger sister and brother were sent to Brother Tung in 2009. The children’s father drowned in a lake and their mother died from tuberculosis.

Nho, now 21, left the orphan center in 2014 but came back just last month after a terrible experience as a fisherman on Tonle Sap Lake where he was caught with others fishing in an off-limits area. Some of his coworkers were shot dead by police and he was detained, beaten and then held for ransom.

“I now feel lucky to be alive. God saved me,” he said.

“Now I’m trying to begin a new life here because I have no place to live and no one treats me as well as the people here,” Nho said.

“I will get vocational skills and live a good life. I’m grateful to Ba [Brother Tung],” he said.

Brother Tung, who also offers pastoral care to a parish with 300 ethnic Vietnamese Catholics, said he tries to care for children until they grow up, see to it that they have jobs and get married.

"I hope the children in my care will be integrated into the society and be in harmony with others," he said.

© Copyright 2019, UCANews.com All rights reserved
© Copyright 2019, Union of Catholic Asian News Limited. All rights reserved
Expect for any fair dealing permitted under the Hong Kong Copyright Ordinance.
No part of this publication may be reproduced by any means without prior permission.