As we strolled through Thachok Village, we noticed the village paths were tidy; a dozen six-foot tall bombshells rested on a backyard fence; homes were wooden and windowless with thatched roofs. Ragged clothed children were playing, chasing a runaway bicycle tire, dragging sticks on the dusty dirty ground, and giggling amongst themselves.
When we began to blow up balloons, they immediately stopped what they were doing. They ran to us with big smiles, politely standing in front of us with the hope of getting one. The word spread quickly and children emerged from all directions. After we gave one to each of the kids, we continued to walk.
In the distance, we saw children playing in front a home and three women chatting away. We approached the house to give the children balloons. The balloons as always created a lot of excitement and laughter. The front doorway was open. A little four-year old girl emerged from the home’s dark room to the doorway. She was on her knees crawling. Her face was dirty. She looked out, saw us, turned around and disappeared back into the darkness. A few moments later, she re-emerged and rested her hands on the wooden plank that framed the bottom of the front doorway. She was still on her knees. Something was wrong.
The little girl’s name was Yer Vue (Ja Vuh). The women were told us she could not walk. Yer Vue spent her daytime crawling on her relative’s uneven dirt floor, while her parents were working in their rice field. The women added that her affliction was bad luck to others in the village, so most villagers including the children avoided her. She looked like a little caged animal, pacing from the doorway into the house’s darkness and back for another dose of energizing sunlight.
We asked them if we could pick her up. Nurse Barbara sprung into action. She was appalled at how dirty the little girl was. But her focus was why this little girl was crawling. Immediately, she noticed Yer Vue’s knees were thickly calloused. Her hands, legs and feet were filthy from crawling. Her legs were twisted. Her feet were flat footed and contorted. She was crippled, incapable of walking!
Crippled as a child herself, Barbara checked Yer Vue and was convinced she could walk with physical therapy. We’re one hour away from Xieng Khouang’s capital Phonsavan and 9 hours from Vientiane. Where would we get physical therapy?
We learned from our good friend Mike Boddington in Vientiane that we could secure physical therapy, braces and other equipment at the rehabilitation center and COPE in Vientiane. We learned later that she should be able to get therapy in Phonsavan.
We developed a plan. We solicited donations. We worked through the logistics. One key challenge was to have someone take her to the rehabilitation/COPE center on a regular basis. Should she go to Vientiane of Phonsavan. Both her father and mother tended the rice fields. We knew that tending the rice field is critical to every household’s well being. If they don’t grow rice, they don’t eat.
Our longtime Give Children A Choice coordinator Thongchanh and our friend Long Vang helped us get through the logistics by taken Yer Vue and her father to the rehabilitation/COPE center for therapy in Phonsavan. It seemed more practical for everyone.
Fast Forward to December 2011
We drove to Thachok Village to check up on Yer Vue. We had two boxes filled with clothes and shoes, donated by compassionate supporters, including Vutiny and Mirra. Barbara couldn’t resist buying her a few things during our shopping visit to Tesco Lotus in Nong Khai, Thailand.
We were lost, looking for her house. Yer Vue’s father Mr. Vanou met us in the village. He was carrying Yer Vue. Our eye focused on her dirty legs and knees, which were calloused. Our heart began to sink. She wasn’t going to therapy? It didn’t matter. We were here and determined to work through whatever was required. Hopefully, it did not include convincing the parents of the importance of physical therapy.
Arriving at Yer Vue’s home, we became ecstatic. The father showed us Yer Vue’s rehabilitation progress. She was walking (albeit awkwardly and incorrectly). Both he and she beamed. We saw a miracle happening before our eyes. We learned that the Mr. Vanou and Yer Vue have gone to Phonsavan five times for physical therapy at the Friendship Hospital.
Yer Vue did not like her ill-fitted foot/ankle brace. They were sitting in a corner. Barbara sprung into action. She first washed her. She put new socks on and put her foot brace on. Yer Vue was happy! The brace was acceptably comfortable. She accepted the brace and again walked for us.
We visited the Friendship Hospital with Mr. Vanou and Yer Vue, 45 minutes away. We spoke with the therapist, who clearly cared very much for Yer Vue. While giving us a status, she was endearing to Yer Vue and Yer Vue equally responsive to her. Yer Vue was a very cooperative and excellent patient with a very strong desire to walk.
The hospital forgave the 10,000 kip patient fee ($1.25). Getting reimbursements for Mr. Vanou’s expenses by the Rehabilitation/COPE Center is still an issue, which we are getting addressed with the help of our good friend Mr. Boddington (founder of COPE). We developed a plan to continue therapy for Yer Vue even when the father begins to go to the rice field in February, preparing the field for the next growing season. Each trip costs Mr. Vanou only 70,000 kips or $9.00. But, when your income is $300 a year, 9,00 is a major expenditure.
The therapist offered to customize a walker for Yer Vue. In the meantime, a temporary walker was provided to her. The walker will be built in Vientiane and shipped to Phonsavan.
It was twilight. We drove Mr. Vanou and Yer Vue home. Yer Vue showed us how she could walk by herself with her walker. She fell twice as the walker got ahead of her pace. While helping her up, she was bursting with a wide smile. She is a determined girl.
We showered Yer Vue with clothes from our compassionate donors. Once viewed as bad luck, Yer Vue was the princess for the day and was the envy of her neighborhood. She showed us her new clothes. She glowed as she looked and admired her clothes. Her older brother picked up her new shoes. Yer Vue quietly told her brother, “Don’t touch my shoes. When I learn to walk, I am wearing those shoes.”
While we cannot save every Yer Vue in Lao, we will not look away from any child in need. We know that resources are limited in this country, but they do exist. When we find a child in need, we put our efforts to help them (with passion and commitment). We do depend on you, who can afford to provide some financial support to help the Yer Vue’s of Lao. Thank you Mirra and Vutiny for your passion and compassion.