by Gia Loc
HCM CITY (VNS) — A three-year-old girl with Down syndrome had been struggling for a few months to match the shape of a wooden cube to its proper hole in a toy used in psychomotor therapy. Then, one day, plop! It fell in. The girl was ecstatic, radiating joy and confidence.
The toy, which helps children learn about colour, shape and spatial perception as well as language, is used in an early intervention programme at the Tam Binh Children Protection and Nourishment Centre in HCM City's Thu Duc District.
Each day, the children spend one hour or more in such activities, according to Hoang Thi Linh, a nurse who has also been trained in physical therapy and child development.
Other children at the centre, which exclusively houses orphans, receive speech as well as psychomotor therapy. A five-year-old boy, for example, who has flaccid paralysis (very weak muscle tone) receives physiotherapy every day, and has recovered quite well.
"Early intervention, including physiotherapy and psychomotor skill training, helps the centre provide comprehensive-care services for children so they can have good health and integrate into society when they grow up," said Le Thi Thu Thuy, the centre's deputy head.
The early intervention programme is part of a larger project at the centre called Comprehensive Care for Orphans, Children and Adolescents with Disabilities and Special Needs.
The Worldwide Orphans Foundation, an international NGO, has funded the programme since 2012.
The centre in Tam Binh ward is one of 16 city-run centres for orphans aged 18 and under in HCM City.
Some of the centres are set up to care exclusively for children who have HIV/AIDS, while the remaining ones are for children who have physical and mental disabilities and for orphans who have no disability, according to Le Trung Giang, head of the social-assistance division under the city's Department of Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs.
The 7,500-sq.m Tam Binh centre, which opened in 1975, is home to 196 children, including 70 children with disabilities. Some have cerebral palsy, and others are either partially or completely paralysed.
The children, who have never been breast-fed (which can help build immunity to disease), receive vaccines against diptheria, tetantus, measles, polio and pertussis as part of the national expanded programme on free immunizations.
The centre also pays for vaccines (including one against diarrhea caused by rotavirus) which are not covered by the national programme.
City hospitals provide periodic health checkups to the centre's children as well.
The centre has nursery rooms and classrooms for people with disabilities, while preschool-aged children are enrolled in district schools. Most of the children have had good learning results. In addition, high school-aged children are given career counselling at the centre.
The centre also teaches music, dancing and aerobics. "This is a way to develop their physical and mental health. It is very important to create confidence in their abilities when they later integrate into society," Thuy said.
Pham Thi Be, head of the educational division at Thu Duc District's Linh Xuan Children with HIV/AIDS Care Centre, said activities at the centre were similar to those at the Tam Binh centre.
Be said many of the orphans at Linh Xuan were enrolled in district schools in normal classes with children who do not have disabilities.
The centre also provides psychological counselling for children, especially for teenagers. "At that age, they have faced problems in life and are aware of their health problems," she said.
A social worker at Binh Thanh District who works in an intervention programme for mothers with HIV at a local hospital said the centres for orphans had helped their development.
She said a mother with HIV from Dong Nai Province told her that she could not afford to bring up her daughter, so she contacted the city's AIDS Prevention Centre, which gave her information about the city's centres. The child then was referred to the Linh Xuan centre, where she continues to live. — VNS