Nguyen Thi Nhiem has found and buried thousand of stillborn babies in Hanoi
A macabre story she heard as a child about hospitals and homes dumping stillborn and aborted babies on the street sent a Hanoi woman on a lifelong mission of finding and burying them.
Nguyen Thi Nhiem has built a cemetery on a part of her rice field in Doi Coc village in the capital's Soc Son District.
Ten years ago she began to look for babies' corpses, and cleaned them, put them in jars, and buried them.
The first one was from a local neighborhood and had been found by people on the road.
"I felt so sorry for it and I took it home," she says.
She kept the baby for a couple days "with a mixture of love and fear," she admits. She then decided to make her paddy field its final resting place.
Her altruistic mission was sparked by a story a stranger narrated many years ago.
"I was only 10. A man from nearby Phu Tho Province said he lived next to a hospital and saw people throwing away stillborn babies every day, and his family ended up burying them.
"I never knew if the story was real, but the idea of doing something similar has been in my head since."
She says it is natural for people to be scared to hold a dead baby, but she gradually trained herself not to be afraid.
Nhiem's cemetery for babies in Hanoi
"I love them. They were not allowed to live and be with their parents," says the woman who never married and has no child of her own.
Nhiem does not wait for people to find dead babies anymore, but instead goes to hospitals to ask for them.
She says the early days were hard. She does not ride a motorbike but sometimes had no money to take a bus to hospitals. And people doubted her motives, suspecting that she would sell the bodies for money. Dead fetuses could be used to make a Chinese tonic for sexual health, as rumors have it.
"So some people at hospitals even asked me to pay them for the babies."
But after a while people knew about her and handed over the cadavers.
There have been cases where she found babies still alive. She managed to save some of them, giving them into adoption or to charity centers.
But the one she remembers most clearly was a baby she named Tieu Duyen (Little fate). She took care of it for 19 days in November last year at a hospital but was eventually unable to save its life.
Nhiem says what she does brings peace of mind to her and the many people who help her.
But she wishes she does not have to do it any more.
Some estimate that 50,000 unfortunate children are buried in her cemetery.
"I hope no more babies will need me. Around 10 are brought here to the cemetery every day.
"It hurts me so much."
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