Savior of the mentally ill
  • | Tuoi tre | November 18, 2011 11:03 PM

When Tu Phuoc brought home the first mentally ill person, everyone in Ia Rok Village of the central highland province Gia Lai expressed grave skepticism, then contempt. Yet when the ill people turned gentle after staying with him, every one realized that Phuoc had been doing something good.

 Tu Phuoc is feeding a mentally ill patient in his own nursery
Photo: Tuoi Tre

Seventeen mentally ill ‘children’

The tottering wooden house where Tu Phuoc and his wife live is tucked beneath a valley. A short distance from there is a rather spacious tiled house for the mad people. Hurrying in the twilight, Tu Phuoc brings a tray with 17 rice bowls prepared by his wife to the tiled house. It was dinner time.

His voice was a command, and 17 people lined up and sat down to savor the meal. The youngest patient, Cu Den, was spoon-fed by Phuoc. The house was never short on laughter, questions, and stories of the day. Tu Phuoc listened attentively, much like a father listening to the very first words spoken by his child.

By the time he returned to his wooden house, his old mother had gone to sleep, and his two children were doing homework. It was dinner time for him and his wife. Then he slept for two hours before checking in at the tiled house to see if the ‘children’ were fine.

This is a typical evening for Tu Phuoc ever since he took on his very first patient 10 years ago.

The fateful job

Tu Phuoc, born in 1966, is the youngest child from a poor family. He had to quit school at a young age to earn a living. After learning to drive trucks at 18, Phuoc started to go on long-distance trips, where he encountered numerous cases of destitute people.

Amid life’s rat race, Tu Phuoc always remembers the lessons of compassion he learned from Buddha and his benevolent mother. He will not turn a blind eye to injustice.

Once, on his way to Binh Dinh, he saw an unclaimed dead body by the roadside. He stopped and searched for the deceased’s family for nearly three days. It was that very kind act which won the heart of Huynh Thi Hac, who became his wife one year later.

Life seemed to be stable at this point, until one day Phuoc brought home a mentally ill person. It was Sau, a son of a family from Pleiku City, where Phuoc was working at the time. Sau’s parents had to lock him up due to his sudden outbursts of violence and self-harm.

Tu Phuoc, with his strong arms and gentle voice, managed to contain Sau’s rebellion, to the surprise of everyone. He promised to return an innocuous son to the parents after three months.

Phuoc kept his word, despite the initial skepticism of others. Since then, his wife Hac has seen her husband bring home a mentally ill person every once in a while. Some of them with torn clothes, some so aggressive that they have to be chained; these people are picked up during Phuoc’s drives, or sent by their families as a last resort.

The tiny wooden house with five people was already cramped, prompting Hac to oppose the idea. But upon seeing her husband’s sadness when he had to return the sick people due to limited space, she bit her tongue and accepted the situation.

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Tu Phuoc is talking with a mentally ill patient (Photo: Tuoi Tre)

Innocent kindness

After several years of saving money, Tu Phuoc and his wife decided to build a separate tiled house for the mentally ill. He then worked even harder than before, up to 12 hours a day, to feed his whole family and pay off debt.

People suspect Tu Phuoc has some kind of magic spell to command the mentally ill. He smiles: “I don’t have such witchcraft. Every new comer is violent. I have to lock them up and patiently wash them, change their clothes, feed and talk to them. After a few months, they will become harmless and listen to what I say”.

His experience builds from caring for the mentally unstable. He devises suitable healing methods based on the causes of abnormal behavior. For instance, Tu Phuoc takes those who go mad after business failures to the cemetery and whisper: “When people die they cannot take anything with them, money is not as important as inner peace”.

Tu Phuoc also teaches the mentally ill people to shower, clean up by themselves, to greet others and to not tear their own clothes.

After 10 years of helping the mentally ill, Tu Phuoc cannot remember how many have come and gone. He says: “My name means innocent kindness. So it does not matter how many people I have saved”.

Training to take care of the mentally ill

Tu Phuoc’s job has brought him quite a few problems. On many occasions when the authorities came by to inspect the house, he was ordered to stop at once and return the patients to specialized hospitals due to lack of facilities.

Phuoc would then go through the trouble of visiting all his patients in hospitals across Bien Hoa and Da Lat, where they cried, begging to come back.

Seeing his determination, villagers at Ia Rok wrote a petition to the authorities asking for permission for Phuoc to resume his work.

To make the argument more persuasive, Tu Phuoc voluntarily took up basic courses in healthcare for the mentally ill in Da Nang. Thanks to his efforts, the mentally ill people were allowed to return to his home.

Vo Quang Nhan, Head of the Labor, Invalids and Social Affairs Department of Pleiku City, says: “In terms of healthcare conditions, staff and facilities, Phuoc’s place is inadequate. But his kindness is priceless. The conditions of the mentally ill who come to him have improved markedly; so we are planning to help Phuoc meet the requirements for establishing his very own nursery”.

Dang Ngoc Thang, Chairman of Chu Hdrong Commune’s People’s Committee, says: “Phuoc’s work has gained the admiration of the people in the commune. Every week, the commune’s healthcare center sends someone down to help Phuoc take care of the mentally ill”.

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