(Warning: This article contains some graphic content)
This is the story of an orphaned boy suffering from a rare skin disease that earned him the name of “Ka” (which means fish) and an 84-year-old British lady who travels every year to Vietnam, since the past 20 years, to bring solace to this brave boy.
Min Anh is an orphan at the Tu Du Peace Village in Vietnam. He suffers from a genetic disease, ichthyosis, that makes his skin look like “fish” skin. He would be tied to his bed by the staff at the orphanage for hours together just because they couldn’t stop him from scratching his skin.
His disease certainly isolated him from other people and caused him much pain in itself. The staff of the orphanage didn’t know how to help him and maintained that he would have to live in the center all his life.
Fortunately for Min Anh, life took a surprising turn. On the other side of the world, a woman named Brenda Smith from Benfleet, Essex, had visited the center in Vietnam and met with him when he was just 3 years old.
On her very first trip, she and her husband became fascinated by Vietnam and they met children with severe disabilities and birth defects caused by chemicals left from the Vietnam War. Sadly, her husband passed away soon after. Brenda decided to return to Vietnam to help the children and that’s when she met Min Anh for the first time and fell in love with the child.
Brenda and Min Anh seemed to hit it off immediately.
“All he wanted to do was sit in my lap. I sat there for a couple of hours and didn’t want to move. I just fell in love with him and it’s been like that ever since,” said Brenda.
“When I first went to see him at Tu Du Hospital, he was tied up from morning to night, so he wouldn’t scratch himself. The staff didn’t know how to help him. I hated to see him like that, without any toys or amusement,” she said.
Fortunately, she found a way to bring some joy to Min Anh’s life. After persistent efforts by Brenda, the hospital’s staff let him go out with her for day trips around Ho Chi Min City. She found that the boy opened himself up to her and that all he needed was companionship.
Brenda said: “When I took him out for pizza, he ate normally. He just needs someone to spend time with him.
“Just walking around the supermarket is like a treat to Min Anh because the cold air soothes his skin,” she said. “When we got back to the ward, he’d walk back to his bed and tie himself up again because he was used to it.”
“When it was time to go back to England it was heartbreaking,” she said. Min Anh always said he loves me very much, and understands that I have to go home. But he’d be waiting for me. I knew if I could get him help, he wouldn’t be tied up anymore.”
Their moving story caught the attention of many and was filmed in a documentary called “A Boy They Call Fish” in 2012.
Victims of war are never just the people who witness it. The repercussions are carried over for many generations to come. Kindhearted people like Brenda are doing all they can to help bring normalcy back to such populations.
Watch the video below!
Visit Tu Du Peace village on their Facebook page. The Tu Du Peace Village is home to about sixty Vietnamese children who have been infected by “Agent Orange,” a herbicide and defoliant that was used in the Vietnam War to clear dense jungle terrain. The chemical exposure is alleged to have been the reason for birth defects in many children.