Christina Noble Talkasia Transcript
LH: Lorraine Hahn
LH: Hello and welcome to Talk Asia. I'm Lorraine Hahn. My guest this week is Christina Noble, outspoken defender of children's rights and the driving force behind the Christina Noble Children's foundation.
Born in Dublin in 1944 to an abusive father, Christina Noble was sent to an orphanage at the age of 10 when her mother died. She later lived on the streets of Ireland where she was gang-raped, impregnated and forced to give up the baby for adoption.
At 18, Christina moved to England where she got married and had three children, but it wasn't a happy time either. Her husband's violence led to Christina's mental breakdown and a long bout of depression. It was during this low era that she decided to help children in need, and followed her dream literally to Vietnam.
Christina, welcome to the program. Thank you very much for being here. Everything I hear and read about you makes me really think you are, to put it mildly, a very, very strong woman. (CN: Thank you Lorraine for having me here.)
LH: I wanted to start about, talking about the foundation itself. How did it begin, was it just a dream?
CN: The dream was of the children running in Vietnam from the war, from the bombing and the sky was blazing red and black. And I remember there were these three children up front. They were all girls, but two of them. I saw one hand come out in front of the other and the ground was sort of opening up underneath and I was desperately trying to get them, to stop them from falling into the ground. And I saw against the black and red blaze of the sky, the word Vietnam. I wasn't a traveler. I'd led a strange sort of life as a child and a teenager, so I didn't really know very much about the world at all. The dream I couldn't explain then, can't really explain now, but I was meant to have the dream.
LH: It must have been pretty difficult though, you didn't have that much money, you didn't know anybody in Vietnam, just to pack up and go there.
CN: It was very difficult. I had very little money. There were hardly any foreigners in Vietnam, at that time Vietnam wasn't Vietnam as it is today- developed and is developing further. It was difficult to get water; there was a lot of sickness, a lot of people sleeping on the streets at the time, homelessness, Saigon was carpeted with people at that time on the streets, disease, and it was hard but you see, I had lived a life in the West in the 40's. Similar, with a mother and father and had seven brothers and sisters, but two brothers died from diseases associated with poverty.
The war was just over. There were all kinds of things going on, and even though Ireland wasn't in the war, it suffered the effects of the war with the poverty. And so I understood poverty from a very early age. I understood sickness, I understood my mother's struggle with the children, and I understood there was something I felt inside of me which I cannot explain, I felt some sense of responsibility at a very early age.
LH: You mentioned that at that time in Vietnam, there were very few foreigners. You had no track record. How did you convince people that what you were doing was a good thing?
CN: It must have seemed almost crazy. They must have looked at me and thought maybe she must be dinki dau, you know, crazy lady. But I think what they, I've been talking to governments now in Hanoi.
I said I wanted to build a medical and social centre, I had a dream you know. I explained to them and I've been walking the streets and so many mums with babies, and the babies are sick. Mothers are sick. I want to build a medical and social centre.
I'm not a smart lady. I don't have real education and expertise. And they turned around and said, are you a rich lady from the west, you know, at that time, because Vietnam was close down. And I said no, I'm a very poor lady from the West but I have something. Something I want to share with you and negotiate with. And I put my hand down my bra which must have seemed even stranger, and I took like that out and put it on the table in the middle. I said, this is my heart, and this heart is bursting with so much love. And I want to help the children of Vietnam.
LH: And now from Vietnam to Mongolia, spreading the same message, helping the same children.
CN: Yeah, I went into Mongolia in 1997. I was walking across the kitchen in the little hut Saigon, and I don't know, something said to me, go to Mongolia. So off I went to Mongolia and that was April 97'. In September 97', the village was already built, it didn't take very long. You know, it doesn't take a lot to make things happen for children. If you really want to make it happen, you can make it happen. And you don't have to be the great big hero, you know, the big white westerner, I know more than you. It's about people, it's about human being, a world of human beings, it's about love and it's about passion and determination. And it's about believing in the rights of the child.
It's a big problem. I saw on CNN the news on the children in prison and I would like to say that we have been working with children in prison in Mongolia for several years. And we brought in a school. We have a school inside there with our teachers; we also have information technology, computer technology, teaching and training. There's also craft training.
The very first time we saw the abuse and the beatings of the children and the sufferings of the children in the detention centre. We started the first human rights trial for children in prison and I told the children, you take him to the court that is your basic human right. You take him to the courts, you have to stand up for yourself. You take that platform, you're a child and you have the right to be heard. They did. There was a massive press conference, huge and the children sat and told their story.
LH: Does it ever overwhelm you, Christina?
CN: No, it doesn't overwhelm me. I get upset because in this day and age...2005 now yeah? My goodness and it seems like the plight of the children is escalating. The suffering, the abuse, the trafficking, the torture, child soldiers, it just goes on, homelessness, starvation, brothels; it just goes on and on and on. You know what I want to say to Lorraine, please because I think it's very important for the viewers, the listeners. You can change things for the children, you have to work with governments, you have to work with the officials, you have to work with the local authorities, the women's unions. Everybody has a heart, you can reach that heart, and together we can make a difference.
We have the most incredible medical and social centre. It's probably; it tops anything in the West. We did that and we rebuilt it again. The kids are having a fantastic time, kids who are born with some disabilities, some with no arms and legs and they have some brain damage, children born normal with everything. It's a fantastic place, and I will invite anyone to come and see it. It's an open door, you come and see it.
LH: Christina, thank you. We're just going to take a very short break. When we come back, we'll be talking to Christina Noble about her own difficult childhood and how she found the strength against all odds.
LH: Welcome back. With me today is Christina Noble, a woman that have been described as 'Mother Teresa with balls' for her extensive work with children and strong personality. Correct? (CN: Yes that's true) You have never been shy to talk about your old humble beginnings, your past, the gang rapes, the abuse, the poverty. Share some of those briefly with me, would you, the experiences.
CN: I will. I think the reason I haven't been shy is because I don't think we solve anything by sweeping it under the carpet or pretending it's never happened. To change things is to be able to say, these things happened to me and they shouldn't happen to other children. And it's a way for the big people to learn about the pain and the damage, and I know about all of that. When my mum died when I was 10 and my father was a lovely man when he was not drinking but unfortunately he was an alcoholic, so no sense of responsibility. Two brothers died as I said, and I have five brothers and sisters.
LH: Is the pain really, really over, or could it be that helping children in a way tackles your own demons?
CN: I hear what you're saying, I can understand why you would ask that question because a lot of people actually go into charities, put a lot of baggage and that's never going to help that and in fact, that could make things worse for the children. To have vision, a clear vision, to be able to be objective, and to know the people of the country, what is the best thing for the children, you have got to deal with your pain and your own demons, and goodness knows, I had a lot of them, and it took years of psychotherapy with an incredibly therapist- Madeline Hetherington, fantastic. My doctor Sean O'Connell, years and years of painstaking therapy to deal with all this.
LH: Life on the street. What was that really like?
CN: It was very hard. I slept in the Phoenix Park. I made what I call my den. The den is like where an animal goes to sleep. I dug down into the soil; I got newspapers and cardboard and made my den and covered myself up. I was afraid of the maggots and worms, they scared me. That was my home, that was my safety. I cried every night for my mother to come back, I believed she would come back. I believed my brothers and sisters would come back.
I lived on leaves of the trees, got sick sometimes, had crab apples, went down, when nobody was looking, by the ponds, where the ducks are, people throw the bread in, sometime they have lunch with them, and they leave the crust. And I had tremendous pride, so I'd wait till they'd gone and slide my hand down and pick it up put it up my sleeve and hold it, and wait till there was no one around . I cried every time I took a bite, I was hungry but I was crying. I was crying for my dignity, for my pride. I was crying for everything our mother brought us up to be, proud and dignified children.
But you know, Lorraine, I was born for a reason, and I'm here today. And the kids love me, I love the kids, my family loves the children.
It's not just looking after kids, it's not just, they're not numbers, we know their names, and they're fantastic kids. We know their birthdays, we have celebrations, we have tennis teams, football teams, gymnasium teams, swimming teams, academy of music. Our children, our beautiful children of Vietnam, our children of Mongolia, our children in the world. Ordinary people can make a difference.
LH: There are so many who are abused, around the world. Some of them don't survive, some of them don't pull through. You did, how did you do it, what makes you so different?
CN: Oh lord, I guess, something inside of me is, I'm stubborn, very stubborn woman you know. Quite a stubborn person. And I have tremendous, when the worse something gets, the more determination I have to fight back and win.
LH: Thank you. We're going to take another very short break. When we come back, we'll talk to Christina about singing for the children's supper, and other ways to raise awareness and funds.
LH: You're watching Talk Asia and my guest is Christina Noble. Christina, you have said "I'm not a nice woman; I don't want to be a nice woman." How can you not be a nice woman with all the things you've done. I mean surely a lot of people would say only good things about you.
CN: The point is you see, a nice woman like a real lady says all the right things. And I don't say all the right things, I say it as it is, and I say what I'm feeling.
LH: You speak to a lot of students, what is your main message to them?
CN: My main message to the students is to love the, to think about the children in the world, the new generations that are coming, to be a part of the new generation's lives, not be afraid to stand up and say we want a peaceful world, we want a better world, we want a world, also our environment shouldn't be getting destroyed like it is, and we want all the youth to stand together for the children's rights, because if all children have education, if all children have their basic human rights, we will have great communicators, less anger, you understand me? Less anger, less terrorism, because there will be less anger, there will be equality, and a greater understanding of cultures and religions.
LH: The nickname that has been given to you, a very affectionate name, Mama Tina, how did you get that?
CN: The children gave me that name because I used to say, Christina, my name Christina, I am a mama, so they wouldn't be afraid of me. I also have children, and mama. And the children put together Mama Tina. I won't sing that song now. (LH: Go on, just a few lines) Shall I sing it out? The children wrote the song. "In a dream long ago, Mama Tina found the way, to help the children find a brighter day, Mongolian and Vietnamese, these children had no means to live, to learn, and to play." (LH: It's beautiful.) Thank you.
LH: You've also written some books. Were they therapeutic in a way?
CN: Yes of' course if you write, "Bridge Across my Sorrows"- is biographical and then I followed it up with "Mama Tina", was more to do with the children.
"Bridge across my sorrows", it's true- every word of it, it's about love, it's about survival and it's about everything is possible, great things are possible. I want to say to you Lorraine, I know if you read my "Bridge across my sorrows", you will wonder how I did really survive, but I have had the most incredible journey of my life, and there were times when it was touch and go with the cancer and the various things that happened to me. But I wouldn't change anything for what we have today. What we have today is hundreds of thousands of lives (LH: Saved) who really got their life back. And children who have grown up, were married, children who are independent!
LH: Amazing. New projects you're working on?
CN: Well, we have 62 projects. Sunshine houses, all over the country, you know, in Mongolia also, two brand new children's dental clinics, 'cause you know the children used to pull their teeth out of each other down these man-holes. They've got the crème de la crème of children's dental clinics now. Top surgeons came from Ireland, and great builders came from Cork, and we'll also be working in the Gobi desert. So I will be there in the 35, 40, 50 minus during the massive winter distribution that we do every winter down at the Gobi desert. And we have to say, you have to sustain the projects you have. Don't believe in doing a three year project and saying bye-bye, we can get government money for those kinds of projects. Don't want that. I want to see the kids grow up and take their independent place in society, isn't that what it's about.
LH: You know the work that you do, seems to be very draining, at least to me. It's very intense. How do you switch off, and take time off?
CN: Well, I love music you see, I love singing. I meet people, I go theatre sometimes, I have friends, I don't want to push Bono or like anyone like that, he's a good guy you know, and then chat with them about things around the world. I know lots of people. I have incredible children myself and we talk about other things, I have great fun with my grandchildren.
LH: Christina, it's an honor to sit here and listen to you. I would have really wished we had much more time to talk with you. Good luck with all your foundation, and the work and the children. You are very special. Thank you.
And that is it for Talk Asia. My guest has been Christina Noble of the Christina Noble Children's Foundation.
I'm Lorraine Hahn, let's talk again next week.
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