A reportage with NRK (Norway)
Currently, Sister Khiem is fairly old, her vision is not as good as when she was young, but her memory is still amazingly good. This morning, she was in Tan Mai Orphanage where she used to spend her childhood in, waiting for her children to come back from a very far country, more than half of the earth distance, after some 40 years ago living far away from the native land .
Mrs. Line Buer said while walking: “A lot of changes have taken place in landscape, greenery, houses, buildings…, all sweet and intimate images of the past are still vividly in my memory”. That was not her first visit to the orphanage, but this time, not like others she did not come back alone, but with former brotherly friends also living in the orphanage. The house was still there, despite many changes had taken place, it was still easy to read the title “Tan Mai – Bui Chu Orphanage”. The rooms still remained unchanged, so did the corridors, but now the orphanage has a new function of a kindergarten.
Sister Mung, a manager general of the kindergarten said, formerly this building was Tan Mai Orphanage belonging to Tan Mai Parish, and was used as the shelters of many orphans without family taking care, some of them were adopted by the Norwegian families in the period of 1968 – 1972. Although there were many changes in wartime, the sentiments of Sisters to the children still remained warm.
Luckily, we had a chance to meet an old Sister Maria Nguyen Thi Khiem aged 91 but was in good health. She still recognized many former orphan children living here. They came back to the homeland after more than 40 years. Sister Khiem called them only with former Vietnamese names as she remembered, like (Tran Van) Tien, (Le Thi Thanh) Hien, not with Norwegian names, like Terje Heide or Line Maria Buer. The reunion between far-away children and the kind godmother came up with unspeakable joyfulness. Though being quite old and the memory was not so clear, the images of a former child who was taken care by herself was unforgettable. Some cried, Sister Khiem also cried with tears of happy reunion after 40 years of separation, the former children coming back now, having wealth and happiness with their family and with their children.
“I often pray to God for my children, for their health, success and happiness. I know some of my children living at Bien Hoa City, also sometimes come here to see me, and others of my children living overseas, every one or two years they could come back here. I have really been longing for Lunar New Year Day (Tet) because only at this time, many children can come back to the orphanage and I can see them. I am always hoping that God Bless me and give me a healthy life, in order to pray for them” – Sister Khiem said.
She said a lot about the former times, when she and some of the Fathers had just started building the orphanage. “It was about 1950s, when this land was swamp and wasted, the Fathers and the Sisters had to both reclaim and buy construction materials to build up the Chapel and this orphanage”. And she said about the hard time, when Sisters had to go to Saigon or Bien Hoa to search food for the children. “That was the hardest time, but we were happy to care for the children, happy to see the orphanage becoming to real families with their children”.
“Now, I’m really happy to see them coming back, along with their whole family, their sons and daughters. They are wealthy, happy, and healthy. Most of what I have been praying for have come true. I’m so happy about them”.
Knowing that many things, say landscape, roads, and the buildings, will fade away as time goes by, the sentiments of far-away people coming back to the homeland still remain. Those olden orphanages like Tan Mai may pass away, and others like Sister Khiem, Sister Mung, but their sons, daughters and children will forever be the bridges connecting two countries Vietnam and Norway. The way back homeland is always open to her child.
DungTuanNguyen- FPC’s press officer