Nguyen Van Hoai

There’s no one in the world as good as a Mother;
the heavy burden of life couldn’t weigh on anyone more than a Father.
Vast oceans could not be used to measure a Mother’s love;
billowing clouds could not cover a Father’s heart.
Working tirelessly from dawn to dust, a Mother raises her child to adulthood.
With his thin body, a father protects those of his children.
For those who are lucky to still have their mother, please don’t make her cry.
Don’t let it be regret once she is gone.

My parents are the two people I love and respect most in the world. Those words, the poem, caused a stir in my emotion. Who could understand my situation? Night after night, I had to face the facts of my life, shedding tears of sadness over losing my mother and sadness over my “disabled body.”

As a young child, unfortunately growing up without a mother’s warmth and love, I often wished that I could be held in my mother’s warm embrace, to experience my mother’s love. But my mother was gone forever. My life is to be without a mother. Sad.

When I was six years old, I was a very curious and naïve child. I asked my father many times: “Father, why can’t I see my mother? Where is she? And why can’t I walk like the others?” My father would say: “You are very smart, my son. The others can’t compare to you. My son, you have to be different from the others.” That made me very happy and proud.

But as time passed, I felt increasingly more uncomfortable and uneasy with the differences I saw between myself and the others. At seven years old, I realized the truth; I was a child without a mother, and a child with disability. I was not better than the others, for which I had been lead to believe and was so proud. That thought made me feel so unhappy and uneasy.

I began to hide from everyone. I was ashamed of my fate. I was a prisoner in my own life. I did not leave my house; all day, I only wandered around my house. If someone came to my house, I would find a corner and hide. No one knew, but sometimes I would stay inside the whole day.

One day, I saw kids my age pass by my house on their way to school, my heart vibrated with excitement and happiness. I wanted to go to school. Perhaps a flame inside of me was burning, a very strong fire forcing me to look forward into my future. Regardless of the obstacles, I just wanted to go to school. When kids teased me or made fun of me, I did not get mad at them. I let go of self-pity the very first day I arrived at school. After a while, everyone got used to my presence and said nothing more. I used to tell myself: “Use the pain of losing Mother as hope and fight for a better future, so that in Heaven, she can look down and smile. Use other’s pity and contempt as courage.” Since then, my life gradually became better and happier. The thirst for knowledge became stronger as I studied harder and tried to become a better person. I received many compliments from my teachers and friends.

After the 5th grade graduation, I wanted to continue to go to school, but my house was too far from school. I was very sad because I couldn’t stand and walk, but could only crawl. I started to practice walking with a stick, but would fall repeatedly, only after 2-3 steps. But I persisted, and I finally succeeded. The happiness that came with this achievement only made me more determined to rise above all challenges. There is one more thing that I would like to share. I was very afraid of swimming, because I couldn’t swim. One time, I fell into the river while riding in a little canoe, going to school. If someone didn’t rescue me, I would have died. So I thought I should learn to swim. Of course, it was very difficult, but I also succeeded.

I have come up with a motto that has accompanied me on my life’s journey: “People with arms and legs use their extremities to help them get around more comfortably. I have 2 arms, no legs, but a strong brain. If one can’t use one thing then one uses something else. Success doesn’t require speed, but patience and perseverance.”

From 6th to 9th grade, I continually received excellent grades and received many honors. But what brought me the most happiness was the care, support and love I received from my teachers, my friends, my father, brothers, sisters and my neighbors. My family was very poor; there are 5 of us (brothers, sisters and myself). My brothers and sisters all worked as hired day laborers. I was the only one who could go to school. I used to cry and feel sorry for my siblings. The more I loved and thought of them, the harder I tried in school.

From 10th to 12th grade, I had to stay in my school dormitory. My family was very poor, so I couldn’t afford many necessities for school. But I had to live. Many times, I ate instant noodles instead of rice, drank water and went to sleep to forget my hunger. I didn’t want to complain to my family. I had to be strong for myself. Unfortunately, I had a lot of illnesses which affected my studies. But the love for learning continued to give me strength.

Oh, I still haven’t shared the happy news of my dreams. That is the scholarships from VNSF. Although it is not the money I made myself, but I know it’s from all of your hearts and your love for me. When receiving the scholarships, my heart wanted to cry. Oh, how can a heart cry? But I felt a strange feeling in my heart that I could not describe. I was so happy and nothing else could make me happier.

I am in college now. I know there will be more challenges and difficulties ahead. But I hope to overcome them all. I am full of confidence and faith. I am “disabled” but not “useless.” That is the lesson I have learned. I will continue to learn and practice this lesson for the rest of my life.

This letter I present to VNSF. This is not all that I want to say. There are many more things in my heart that I would like to express. I want to share all my happiness, my joyful heart with all of you. In ending, I would like to say that life is a vast sky but our knowledge is limited. I will continue to fight and persevere so as not to disappoint the love and faith you all presented me. Most importantly, I will be sure not break my promise to myself!

Nguyen Van Hoai
Vi Thanh, January 10, 2008

Translated by Oanh Trinh, Hia Tran, Duong Nguyen, Gwen Vu

Original letter in Vietnamese

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