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Published: August 16th 2007
I'm busy preparing for my imminent trip to Hoi An, but before I go I want to tell you about an exciting new project involving Song and his friends! So I’ve asked Rachel, a supporter from England, to write up this blog for me, she was in Hoi An on my last trip and met many of those involved.
Basically this is the story of the most lovely group of people you could ever hope to meet! They all live in or near to Hoi An and they are all disabled in some way - some through accidents, some through cerebral palsy or polio….
Song is one of 65 members in the group, which meets regularly and is brilliantly organized with a president (…name?…….)and a vice president, (Nhat.)
On my last trip, Nhat asked if Tam and I could meet her and some of the members of the disabled group.
We had to meet in the Coffee Garden (which sounds romantic- but is actually a very busy, dusty, open, square in the middle of bustling Hoi An!). The reason we had to meet there is because there are no kerbs! It is one of the few cafes
and meeting places accessible if you are in a wheelchair.
When we got there it looked amazing! About 30 members of the disabled group had arrived before us, most in antiquated wheelchairs or on crutches. Somehow they had rearranged the café putting tables together in a long line. Obviously close (and excited!), they huddled together, talking animatedly in the candle light.
To kick off the meeting I asked a few fundamental questions:
“What help, support or grants were they getting?”
“Were they meeting to apply for help or sponsorship?”
(They looked at me in surprise. Asking for help didn’t seem to have occurred to them.)
There is no help for the disabled in Vietnam.
They met, not to raise support from outside, but to support one another the best they could, through friendship and mutual understanding.
Throughout our long meeting there was not one hint of complaint, of self pity, or the unfairness of it all.
We listened silently to their life stories.
All were very different - some had reached year twelve at school and dreamed of attending a computer course; others had never been able to go
to school at all.
They were so shy, so accepting and dignified. We were filled with awe at their strength and kindness to one another.
I really want to help them.
About 14 of their group are keen to train as tailors, embroiderers etc. If we could sell their goods, they could support themselves and other less able members of the group.
I offered through LifeStart to pay for training courses for all of the 14.
Some looked clearly overjoyed.
Some smiled wistfully, thanked me, but said they could not attend a training course.
They explained they had to work whenever they could (eg: selling newspapers) or they and their family would starve.
I stressed we would pay a food allowance to those on the training courses. They all stared at me in amazement. I think it was too much for them to take in.
Suddenly …(Than? Check name?)…. spoke. A small, smiling lady in a great big creaky wheelchair, one of her hands is severely crippled with cerebral palsy.
“Would we like to meet her in the morning to see some of her embroidery?”
Surprised that she could already embroider, we agreed.
Well, we may have been surprised the night before, but early the next morning we were totally amazed!
Not just Thanh(?) but about 10 of the disabled group had arrived long before us and set up beautiful displays of their work.
It was amazing. Gorgeous embroidered pictures, scarves, handmade cards, silk lanterns….
Surely they could sell these already?
“How many had they sold in the last few years?” We asked each of them.
“None” was the most common answer. Followed by “One “ and the odd “Two”.
It seems they hardly ever manage to sell anything.
Still they continue to make things - partly to pass the time and partly because they all dream of independence.
In the West “independence” is a complex concept - but in Vietnam it seems to translate more easily to “three bowls of rice a day”. Many of the disabled depend upon relatives or elderly parents for food and shelter. What will happen to them when their parents die? It’s a frightening thought.
Their dream is to be able to work to feed and support themselves. Surely a LifeStart vision and one I think we can help them
Included in this blog are some photos of the type of things they can make. Do you think we could sell some of these in Australia or the UK? The prices are incredibly reasonable and a little money will go a long way in Hoi An.
I’m keen to gauge interest before my next trip. So if you think you may be interested in buying anything in the future, or if you know anyone who might be able to sell these goods please send me a message using the facility below or an email to (address….)
A kind doctor and his wife are joining me on my next trip to assess the medical needs of all the members of this group. Many may have never seen a doctor about their condition. They all seem to passively accept it.
I suppose if you know you cannot afford any medical treatment there’s no point seeing if any is available.
If you are interested I can do more travel blogs letting you know how the doctor got on and also telling the stories of individual members of the group. Song, you already know about, but there’s many more…
All kind of goods can be produced
They could make things in any colour in any style. We just need to think what would sell well in Australia!
Charming Hip for example, the always smiling, would-be farmer, he owns some land and was desperately keen to grow vegetables - but could never afford the seed. Now - with his new seeding grant from LifeStart- he can!
Or lovely Hanh. When she was 18, she was helping her father push a brick cart when a lorry drove straight into her. She’s been completely paralysed from the waist down ever since...
Hanh has been busy knitting beautiful scarves for 3 years. Up until last month she had only ever sold two.
Helena, Rachel’s 9 year old daughter, did a travel blog on Hanh to her friends and family. In just one month Helena has already sold 30 of Hahn’s scarves!
With a little bit of help selling, Hanh’s dream of independence has started to come true.
But what of all the others?
Do you think we can help them?
Of all the people I have met in Hoi An - this group is the most in need of our help. Many scratch a living on the streets trying to feed not only themselves but their young children and elderly parents.
Their struggle to survive is
Hiep's very happy now he can start growing vegetables
Hiep has never learned to read or write. We will offer to pay for teaching for him and others in the group in a similar situation.
tremendous. Yet they cope with a quiet strength, dignity and grace. Their friendship, solidarity and support for one another is heartwarming. They do not expect anything and seem grateful and excited just to be listened to.
I think this may be the first time anyone has actually taken any interest in them.
In Vietnam, the disabled seem to have been completely overlooked.
I think we could change this… so I want to ask you opinion. If I were to bring back some of their work do you think it would sell? Would you (or your friends) be interested in buying this kind of goods, or do you know anyone who could help me sell it?
At this early stage I’m not looking for orders - just a measure of interest.
I don’t want to raise their hopes if I cannot deliver.
To help me judge the level of support please take a few seconds to send me a comment or private message below or email me on ………………..
With Love From
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