Old woman brings peace to aborted and deserted babies in Vietnam

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Pham Thi Cuong, 74, in Nam Dinh Province with a jar containing an aborted embryo she found while cleaning the street. She plans to bury it.

Nam Dinh Province does not keep official statistics on abortions or the number of babies abandoned there, but over the past decade, an old woman has found and buried more than 4,000 unwanted babies.

Pham Thi Cuong, 74, whose hair is silver and who has trouble breathing, pedals around ten kilometers each day on her bicycle searching for disregarded embryos from abortion procedures, and in some cases, the little bodies of babies who had been born and abandoned.

Many of them are put into plastic bags and thrown onto the sidewalk where they become prey for insects and other animals, making it difficult to identify them, she told news website VnExpress in a Thursday report.

Cuong cleans them and holds them to make them feel warm. Then she covers them cloth and places them in small jars, reciting prayers before giving them burials at a local public cemetery.

The woman said after ten years, she is still haunted by the first experience which made her decide to make the grim task a regular part of her life.

"Its body was black and blue and there were ants all over it. Such a painful sight," she told VnExpress.

Cuong said she was going to the market to sell some vegetables and saw a black plastic bag on the sidewalk surrounded by flies and bugs, the sight of which made her nauseous.

"There was something moving inside and I just figured a family had thrown out their dead animals, so I just kept going. But then I didn't feel right and felt the urge to go back.

"I was startled to find a newborn infant breathing with difficulty when I unfolded the bag."

Cuong took the baby around the neighborhood in search of a new mother capable of feeding it with breast milk, but the baby died before she managed to find one.

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After shedding many tears and contemplating the experience for several days, Cuong decided there must be other babies cast out under similar circumstances, which also needed proper burials, "so that their souls may find peace," she explained.

Every day, she leaves her vegetables at the market to a neighboring vendor and travels around Nghia Hung District, focusing on the plastic bags she sees on the street.

She said it is dismaying to see deformed babies who have been abandoned for quite some time, which she tends to find as they are being consumed by animals.

"It gives me the chills," she said.

"But then I thought about their really short life of being abandoned, not even having a place to rest when they died, I still tried to bring them home."

When she finds a baby, she gives it a proper burial before returning to her vegetables at the market.

Cuong said she has had to ignore a lot of criticism that she should  forget about these unwanted babies and concentrate on dealing with her own poverty.

But she has been lauded as well, with many people having come to consider her an archangel of abandoned newborns and aborted fetuses. They now inform her every time they see such babies.

Recently, a local elderly man, Vu Van Bao, has joined Cuong 's cause and now searches alongside her for babies in need of burial.

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