As a youth, Huynh Tieu Huong struggled for survival alone on the streets of Ho Chi Minh City. Today, she provides homeless orphans a home and a family, so that they never have to endure what she went through. Darren Boon meets the woman who is a mother of 300.
THE ELFIN AND girlish-looking businesswoman has never met her parents nor does she have any recollection of them. Although 1968 is the year of birth written on her identity card, it is only a symbolic number. She has no idea how old she really is.
Huynh Tieu Huong is an orphan. She spent her vagrant youth living on trains and at train stations, and flitted through foster homes – some kind, others abusive.
During a gold rush, Huynh was employed by a slave-driver who once whipped her to unconsciousness. Frightened by the experience, she ran away escaping through a forest until she reached Ho Chi Minh City.
While roaming the streets, Huynh adopted her first child, a baby girl she named Anh Dao. Many a time when Huynh contemplated suicide, Anh Dao’s cries would save her because Huynh did not want her daughter to end up like her, alone and hungry all the time.
Huynh also learned Mandarin on the streets. This enabled her to befriend a Taiwanese man who was kind to her, and provided the mother and child with a place to stay.
Unfortunately, his kindness had an ulterior motive – he wanted her body. When Huynh threatened suicide he relented and, as a final gesture of kindness, left her 20 ounces of gold. She used this to buy a house which she later sold for a tidy profit.
Equipped with Mandarin and a strong business sense, Huynh worked as a real estate agent, and started her own rental car service. She used the money she earned to help more homeless children.
Huynh’s petite frame hides a big heart. If there is one thing that pains her, it is when she sees children being physically abused or being made to steal.
Eventually in 2001, the Que Huong Charity Centre, an aid association for disabled children and orphans in Vietnam received its official permit from the Vietnamese authorities. At present, there are 300 children living at the centre, all of whom regard Huynh as their mother.
Over the years, Huynh has cared for about 4,000 children – some handicapped – in over 60 provinces and towns.
Her wishes for her adopted children are simple: that they would be able to grow up with friends, brothers and sisters. She wants all of them to receive an education so that when they grow up they can contribute to society.
Some of these hopes have already come true as a number of the children she rescued and brought up have returned to help out in the charity centre.
Just as Huynh has been a blessing to so many children, so too have the children blessed her.
“Without the children, I have no family. I will feel lonely. So what if I have money?” she said in Mandarin. “With the children around, I can comfort them. When they are ill, I can nurse them, and I can hear them call me ‘Mummy’.”
Mary is her mummy
Just after the turn of the millennium, Huynh was diagnosed with cancer. One day, while lying in bed, she had a vision of Mary cradling a child.
“It’s not that I didn’t believe in God before; I just didn’t know about Him,” she said.
This experience led to her conversion and eventual baptism into the Catholic Church.
In October, Huynh came to Singapore to learn how to improve her charity centre. In her short stay, she attended ‘A Day With Mary’ at Church of the Holy Spirit on Oct 24 and visited the Maris Stella Kindergarten at Holland Road.
She also shared her story at the Opus Dei women’s centre at Hillcrest and to a group of nine-to-11-year-olds at Church of St. Ignatius.
Father Jose Lopez who accompanied Huynh at several of her activities, said he observed that whenever she sees a statue of Mary, Huynh would stop and pray.
“I love calling Mary ‘Mummy’. I like having a mummy. Wherever I go, Mary is on my mind, and I will always say, ‘Thank you, Mary’,” said Huynh.
Herman Rodrigues who volunteered to help drive Huynh around the island during her stay here, said his initial impression of her fell far from the image he thought a president of a charity centre would have.
Rodrigues said there did not seem to be anything special about Huynh. But after a few days’ interaction with her and having heard her life story, Rodrigues has learnt not to judge a person by her appearance.
“She has complete passion for her mission. She is always smiling and full of grace. The work she is doing is for the glory of God,” said Rodrigues.
Not many people understand her or what she does, Huynh told CatholicNews.
She sometimes has to take care of rescued new-born infants who weigh barely a kilogramme. Watching over the children when they fall ill is not easy, and every time a little one passes away, Huynh feels that a part of her also dies.
But God is there for her always, she said, adding that her belief that God and Mary love her gives her strength to carry on in her work.
As a doting mother who worries for her children’s future, Huynh’s main concern is ensuring that when she is no longer around, her children would continue to have a place to live.
And until that day comes, Huynh will continue to give herself completely to her children: “For as long as I am not dead, I must help the children and raise them.” n
Huynh welcomes volunteers to help out in the Que Huong Charity Centre. More information can be found at the centre’s website: www.huynhtieuhuong.org/eng