One small step a giant leap for adopted Minh

MINH is just learning to walk and talk - huge milestones in any child’s life.

But he is nearly five years old, although he looks like he’s just two.

Minh, who has Down syndrome, has spent most of his life in a Vietnamese orphanage where he either lay on a cot or sat, in a ‘baby walker’, tied to the cot.

Just over two weeks ago, his new adoptive parent Sarah Finucane, a clinical psychologist, brought him home to Ireland.

Sarah recalled that when Minh left the orphanage nine months ago to live with her in Vietnam, he could not even sit up without support.

Now he can sit up, hold his weight on his legs and is trying to walk holding hands and clinging onto furniture.

“He has come an awful long way. If he keeps going like this I will be very happy. He is a different child now. He is more settled, calmer and happier,” Sarah said.

“As far as I am concerned I felt he was mine when I first met him three years ago. He is challenging but he makes me very, very happy. My family welcomed him with open arms and he has done the same with them.”

Sarah, 30, first met Minh, which means ‘Bright’ in Vietnamese, in December 2003, when she worked as a volunteer in a centre for malnourished orphans in Ho Chi Minh City.

There were about 40 children at the centre and some like Minh - abandoned by his natural parents at birth - had special needs.

“Because of my psychology background, I was concentrating on the children with special needs. Some of them had behaviour problems; some had attachment problems. A lot of the time you were just giving them a bit of attention,” Sarah said.

Minh had been sent to the centre from Tam Binh Orphanage in March 2003 because he was not eating well. He returned to the orphanage at the end of January 2004 but Sarah continued to visit him there on an almost daily basis.

“When I met him he was very withdrawn. He did not look at anybody. If you put a toy in his hand, he just dropped it. He couldn’t sit; he would just roll around the floor. He got very agitated when people picked him up because he was very unused to it and would just throw himself around in their arms.”

Sarah never planned to adopt a child. She had intended doing voluntary work for five months and then head home.

“I don’t know what drew me to Minh but it was pretty instant and within a few days, I knew I had to adopt him. I felt like I knew him already and I didn’t think I could leave him,” she said.

Minh, who will celebrate his fifth birthday on April 26, has a cataract in one eye and injured his other eye last March at the orphanage. He also has ear problems.

Sarah explained that she adopted Minh under Vietnamese law.

“Because I was not resident in Ireland, the Irish Adoption Board could not assess me under their current laws. They said I would have to return to Ireland, be resident here for one year before I was entitled to apply to go on the waiting list. I couldn’t do that because I could not leave Minh. We had become very attached and it would have been extremely cruel.”

The Vietnamese adoption process meant that Sarah had to live in the country for at least a year before she could apply.

While a special needs child like Minh gets priority in the adoption process, such adoptions are uncommon. The Irish Adoption Board has now recognised Minh’s adoption.

Sarah received a lot of assistance from Mylinh Soland, a Vietnamese-American who was the official facilitator for Irish adoptions at the time.

Future adoptions will be processed by an Irish mediation agency in Vietnam.

“It would have been far more complicated without the help of Ms Soland because she knew what she was doing,” said Sarah.

Arrangements have now been made for an early intervention team from St Michael’s House to visit Minh in his new Dublin home where he is being showered with love and is obviously thriving on it.

Sarah’s priority is to get medical help to improve Minh’s sight and has arranged for a meeting with a specialist in Temple Street Children’s Hospital. He also needs to have his hearing checked as it is common for children with Down syndrome to suffer some hearing loss.

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