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|Tran Mai Anh is currently general manager of communications for Vietnam Airlines, commonly known as a marketing specialist and project consultant.
Hoang Thi Na Huong is deputy general director of US-invested Protec and also the operator of the Asian Injury Prevention Foundation.
The book A Journey of Love: The Story of Thien Nhan written by Tran Mai Anh and edited by Michael Arnold received numerous national honours and several media awards recognising Mai Anh’s charity work. Following the publication’s success, Mai Anh was recently named one of Vietnam’s most influential women by Forbes Magazine.
The book recounts Mai Anh’s efforts to seek specialist treatment for her adopted son Thien Nhan, visiting expert physicians in leg prosthetics and genital reconstructive surgery around the globe as well as providing an eyewitness account of his bravery and path to treatment. Their experiences led to the establishment of the Thien Nhan & Friends charity fund which now arranges surgeries for hundreds of Vietnamese children afflicted with genital and urological disorders.
The book and its moving stories remind of the strange relationship Tran Mai Anh and Hoang Thi Na Huong had with the “miracle boy” Thien Nhan, who seemed predestined to meet the two opposing women.
Thien Nhan’s journey began as a baby when he was left to die in a banana plantation in the central Vietnamese province of Quang Nam. Abandoned after birth, he was attacked by wild animals that devoured his right leg and genitals. Ants and insects sealed the wounds, and the dried blood all over his body was black and purple by the time he was discovered.
Mai Anh adopted Nhan after she found him, even though she already had two sons and a “very messy life”.
Na Huong has been with Mai Anh since the first days after Nhan’s discovery. Their love is founded on the love for Thien Nhan, and they have become each other’s supporting pillars in life. After witnessing Mai Anh’s hardship when taking care of three children herself, Na Huong could not help but to become an important part of the family.
“Mai Anh does everything for her children because she is a good person,” said Na Huong.
When mentioning the role of her companion Na Huong, who is also the director of Thien Nhan & Friends, Mai Anh said she always believed that there must be a clever arrangement from the creator to make the two women come together and build a large community.
The connecting part
At work, the two have a very clear division of roles. Mai Anh loves poetry and has a romantic spirit. She often appears in front of the media and at events to tell her touching journey as well as many interesting things that happened over the past 10 years working at Thien Nhan & Friends. Na Huong is the one behind the scenes, silently supporting both materially and spiritually, building the action plans to manage the fund effectively.
Although there is a clear assignment at work, Mai Anh admitted, in their family relationship, neither she nor Na Huong decides important things alone. Thien Nhan, with his intelligence and sophistication, does not only connect the two mothers, but is also the one who plans what each mother does.
Mai Anh described, “Huong and I often accompany Nhan when he has to go abroad for a surgery. Huong is younger and healthier than me, so she assumed the tasks of bathing, holding, and toileting him. Not only does he know how to allocate in the care but he even allocates the mothers’ finances. Nhan told Huong that she owned a factory, so of course she would have to spend more money than me. But knowing that the factory is affected by the pandemic, when Na Huong wants to buy him things, he will refuse. Nhan is willing to help me clean and cook when I am busy, but when he comes to Na Huong’s house, he assumes that it is a place to enjoy and relax.”
Na Huong often describes Nhan as “miraculous”. The boy is not only the one who connects her to Mai Anh, but also the core elements in all other relations. “It is a connection I cannot believe. Whenever Nhan comes, my house is always full of people. There are relatives who never appear at my house without Nhan,” she said.
Thien Nhan’s New Year
More than 15 years since Thien Nhan appeared and changed their lives, both Mai Anh and Na Huong are proud that they have created a broader definition of what family can mean. Thien Nhan’s family not only includes Mai Anh or Na Huong but also has members from many other countries around the world.
There is a team of eight famous doctors on urological and genital surgery from the United States, Italy, Russia, Belarus, and other countries that voluntarily go to Vietnam to provide free treatment for children with genital defects.
Thien Nhan’s family also includes thousands of children who are examined and operated every year. Donors have been supporting the programme for more than 10 years. All these people not only exchange work related things, but also share common things in life. “Thien Nhan’s family gives me a sense of completeness and I never feel lonely, it is even better than many families with normal children. This family has no limits, no borders, and we voluntarily reach out to each other,” shared Mai Anh.
Over the 10 years since the establishment of Thien Nhan & Friends, his family is growing stronger and creating a positive influence for the community. The foundation has supported surgeries for 497 children with genital anomalies, and examined another 1,700 children, with more than 1,000 currently on the waiting list.
For Na Huong, those figures are impressive, but not comparable with the awareness they have created in the community. 10 years ago, genital malformation was a very foreign concept to the vast majority of Vietnamese people and almost no one thought that such problems exist in the world.
At first, Na Huong and Mai Anh named the programme “Genital Reconstruction Programme for Unfortunate Children”. However, “genitals” is a sensitive word in East Asia, so they could not organise any promotion programmes.
“Thien Nhan & Friends was born from this stigma and we changed the name accordingly,” shared Na Huong.
Thien Nhan & Friends is currently the only fund in the world that work to support children with disabilities related to genitals. The successful surgeries organised by the fund also attracted the attention of many urologists in the world, who came to Vietnam to work with Dr. Roberto De Castro, who has been with the fund from the very beginning.
Mai Anh said that each year, Thien Nhan & Friends organises at least two surgeries. “Every surgery is also an opportunity for the members of Thien Nhan Family to reunite,” she said.