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International Day of the Girl Child – 11 October 2019
Story of a Girl-Child
I am an 18-year-old Vietnamese girl-child living and studying in Singapore.
My earliest memory was aged 5 years old cutting out pictures from a magazine for a pre-school project. A family photo from the magazine caught my attention. I still remember vividly that the family photo featured an extended family. It stood out for me because it was the first time that I had realised that my family photo was different. In my family, there was only grandma, mom, aunt and I – there were no men in our family photo. I was curious and asked my grandmother about it. She briefly mentioned that the men in our family were far away. From the way she replied me, I understood that I should not ask further.
It was only when I went to primary school that I noticed that my classmates had their fathers who fetched them after school but I did not. I would call my father every now and then and he would always reply me that he would come to see me soon, but he never did. My mom told me that I was not supposed to tell anyone that my father no longer lived with us. I could sense that something bad happened but nobody explained anything to me. However, my grandma, aunt and my mom showered me with so much love that, to be honest, I did not feel any loss without the presence of my father.
My favourite memory of my childhood was celebration of festive occasions, particularly Lunar New Year. I still remember planting a little peach tree that blossomed. It was the season of my life where I felt the most carefree. I played a lot and life felt so happy with no problems.
When I was about 10 years old, my mother told me about her friend from Singapore who would come to stay with us and help us. Perhaps, she hinted, that he could become family. Though I did not know exactly what she meant, I thought it might be a good thing to have a father. I recalled our first meeting. My mother and I received him at the airport. He was tall and aloof. Gradually, he played with me and we had gotten friendly. For two years, we had regular contact. He was in and out of Vietnam. He would fetch me from school like how all the other fathers did. We spent Lunar New Year together, travelled around Vietnam and even visited water parks.
When I was about 12 years old, my mother asked me to think about studying in Singapore. I consented. And that was when my nightmare begun.
Looking back, I realised my stepfather had only wanted to bring my mother to Singapore. He had not expected my mother to bring me along. He turned aggressive and shouted at me the moment I arrived in Singapore. Though he had never laid hands on me, I was constantly worried and angry. I remember hiding in the toilet for 2 hours as he threw breakable items to intimidate me with the noise.
Needless to say, my mother and stepfather often quarreled because of me. To be honest, I felt that my stepfather was nice to my mother, but shouts would often ignite when I became the topic of their conversations. I felt burdened and lonely. I learned to get used to it and tell myself that I must not care. What anchored me to my sanity was the care and love from my mother and family back in Vietnam.
I have now been in Singapore for 6 years. I had experienced my mother’s mental breakdown, her admission to a mental institution. I had witnessed violence between my mother and stepfather. I was left homeless and at risk of not being able to complete my education. As a foreigner at age 17, I was told I was too old to be admitted to a children’s home and too young to be admitted to a women’s shelter. I am grateful to be admitted to Good Shepherd Centre, a women’s shelter who had made an exception to admit me. I had stayed in 3 places in Singapore – my stepfather’s home, a rented room together with my ex-sponsor and at Good Shepherd Centre. I must admit that Good Shepherd Centre is the only place I have lived in Singapore where I felt secure and safe; it was the only place where I did not have to worry. My hopes for the future would be to secure a job and to care for my mother. When I look back at my own life, I realised that I had experienced hardship earlier than my peers. There are many things I keep to myself as I do not think that my friends would understand.
Nevertheless, it is through these life experiences that I had learned to be independent, to shoulder my own problems. I also learned to be understanding and compassionate towards others.
My message to every girl-child is to focus our strength and energy to be the best person we can be because we only live this life once. At the same time, I also hope for all of us to be more compassionate and understanding towards other people.
6 August 2019 – Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord
Good Shepherd Centre