Gasoline addict gets help

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Troubled Mekong Delta boy is brought to HCMC for testing and education

(L to R) Dr. Nguyen Ngoc Quang, Ho Van Thao, a deaf and dumb boy who recently grabbed national headlines for his habit of stealing and drinking gasoline, his grandmother Ho Thi Sau and Nguyen Trong Tuong, a Vietnamese-Australian businessman, in front of Thao's house. Quang and Tuong are instrumental to bringing Thao to Ho Chi Minh City for testing and treatment.

Last Saturday, I guided Nguyen Trong Tuong, the Vietnamese-Australian businessman, and Dr. Nguyen Ngoc Quang, director of the Ho Chi Minh City Mental Forensic Examination Center, to the home of 15-year-old Ho Van Thao.

The doctor and philanthropist braved 10 kilometers of muddy roads in Long An Province searching for Thao"” a deaf and dumb boy who recently grabbed national headlines for his habit of stealing and drinking gasoline.

After speaking with the boy's grandmother, the two men brought Thao to HCMC to conduct blood tests and a mental health examination at the center.

The pair are currently trying to find Thao a place in a school for handicapped children.

A rescue

After reading a May 30 article published in Thanh Nien, Tuong, who serves as the managing director of CMI Vietnam, persuaded his Viet kieu (overseas Vietnamese) friends to donate money for the poor boy's care and rehabilitation.

Quang read the same article and became determined to visit and treat the boy.

Last weekend, the pair traveled down a 10km dirt road to Binh Phong Thanh Commune in Long An Province. Heavy mud forced them to abandon their rented bike and walk barefoot across muddy roads and thick grass to Thao's isolated rice farm.

Thao was abandoned by his parents as an infant and currently lives with his 81-year-old grandmother, Ho Thi Sau, and six other relatives in a sparsely furnished home.

Much to their surprise, Thao's aunt, Dieu, said that Thao's grandmother had fled the house with the boy after hearing that doctors from HCMC had come to dissect Thao.


The gasoline thief

It took them a while to persuade Dieu to find Thao and Sau. While the two men waited, they cradled Dieu's crying baby in their arms.

Tuong and Quang toured the empty home, which housed at least six mentally retarded relatives, and wondered how people could survive under such conditions.

"I wonder what they eat because I can't see any food here," Tuong said.

After several hours, the wary grandmother returned with the boy.

Heading for the big city

In the end, Sau's neighbors successfully persuaded her and Thao to accompany the two visitors back to the big city.

Tuong bought new shoes and clothes for Thao and his grandmother. The old woman kept asking whether Thao would be detained or not and if she could always accompany him. 

"It seems we have two people who need to be taken care of," Quang said.

He added it would take a while for Thao to get used to the city as he had been familiar with rice paddies and green fields for a long time.

After they entered a coffee shop to discuss plans for Thao's treatment, the young man was instantly recognized by several waitresses and waiters, who referred to him "the gasoline boy."

The following day, Thao seemed very happy and active when he arrived at the Le Thi Rieng Park in District 10. He ran through the park and dashed across the crowded street, pointing at flickering taxis and buildings.

With his new shoes crammed onto the wrong feet, he curiously poked his head into roadside shops, particularly nail salons.

Thao and his grandmother are currently staying in Tuong's house.

Tuong said that the boy has followed most instructions, except for one occasion when he unintentionally broke a water pipe, causing a small flood in the house.

Early results

On July 7 Quang conducted blood and mental acuity tests on Thao and diagnosed the boy with "hyperkinetic disorder, moderate mental retardation and receptive language disorder."

The men are currently searching for a proper school to send him to.

An officer from the HCMC Department of Labor, War Invalids and Social Affairs told Thanh Nien that Thao should have been accepted to a center in Long An Province long ago, given his mental condition and acute poverty.

Thao never received any support from the provincial authorities, even after his story was published last May.

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