A LION-HEARTED humanitarian, who has been visiting Vietnam for the past 20 years to help orphaned and disabled children, has just returned from her most rewarding trip yet.
Brenda Smith, know as “Miss Lovely” to the hundreds of youngsters she has helped over the years through her self-funded visits – normally three months at a time – has also secured vital charity funding for one particular hospital which is close to her heart.
Since her very first trip to Vietnam, Brenda, from Benfleet, forged a special bond with one boy called Min - Anh, who has a condition which is known as “snake skin syndrome”, caused by the effects of herbicides used by US forces during the Vietnam war.
Because of his condition Min-Anh has spent his entire life in a hospital in Ho Chi Minh City, where he is often tied to his bed or chair.
But since Brenda’s visits his life has improved and in 2012 Min-Anh was the focus of a documentary called “The Boy They Call Fish.”
Brenda, who despite approaching 80, has no plans to put the brakes on her Vietnam adventures, said: “Because of the documentary and some amazing fundraisers from the charity Vietnam Volunteer Network we’ve been able to buy a special machine for the hospital where Min- Anh lives, which will help ease muscle pain in the children on his ward.
“On this last trip I got to go and buy the equipment and see it installed in the hospital, where it will make so much difference.
“Every time I got to Vietnam I see Min-Anh and every time I see him he lights up my life.
“This time we got to take Min-Anh out to the zoo and it was a wonderful day. He stared in wonder at the animals, he was so happy. He has touched so many hearts now that whatever he wanted in the gift shop people were buying him!”
Brenda has grown close to charity workers for the Vietnam Volunteer Network, who sought her out when they heard of her inspirational work in the country over the past two decades.
“There’s some amazing work going on out there now thanks to the charity. People have been so supportive in helping us raise funds,” she said.
Brenda travelled around the north of the country visiting hospitals and clinics where she got to meet Nguyen Duc Huynh, who has become know across the world as “the boy with no face”.
Now 24 years old and working to raise awareness of landmines, Huynh was left with unimaginable scars and wounds after a bomb exploded next to him when he was four.
Since Huynh’s family could not afford plastic surgery, his face remained covered in scars, rendering him unable to talk, eat or smile for many years.
Eventually a Swedish filmmaker came across his story, making a documentary about his plight which led to him getting life-changing plastic surgery in the US.
“He was such an amazing lad, I was thrilled to meet him,” said Brenda. “He has been through so much but he’s so happy.
“That’s what I love about Vietnam. The people are so happy, despite their problems.
“After going out there for so long they have become my family. I’m already planning my next trip. How could I ever give that up?”
Brenda wants to get the message out that she is happy to give talks about her Vietnam visits to local schools, clubs and organisations across south Essex.
For details about her work and fundraising, visit vietnam volunteernetwork.com