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August 19th 2010
Published: September 2nd 2010
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20 year old Mai was born on the Island of Cam Kim, near Hoi An. Four years ago the government gave his grandparents the money to build the house he is now living in. Sometimes the government will build a small house for very poor families.
Mai's mother passed away when he was two months old and his father left soon after her death leaving his auntie and grandmother to look after him. Mai's auntie is poor and doesn't have regular work, the family get by the best that they can. His father now has a new family and it is only this year that Mai has finally met his father. He actually had seen his father on several occasions over the years but no one had ever told him that this person was his father. Mai has never been helped financially by his father which left his auntie and grandmother struggling to take care of him.

Mai was born with Cerebral Palsy, which has mainly affected his lower body. He has an awkward gait and it hurts when he walks a long way. He also has problems with his eyesight. If he sits down for a long time his

Mai is pictured at the Lifestart Foundation workshop.
back really hurts.
Unfortunately Mai was never afforded the opportunity to attend school as people looked at his physical disability and assumed ( incorrectly ) that he also had an intellectual disability. He is really very bright. What a shame he didn't get to go to school and have the same opportunities afforded to him as other children!

A few years ago I met Mai via my then landlord. His auntie was working as a casual cleaner for my landlord at that time and asked if I could help her disabled nephew. I invited Mai to come to my house and we met and chatted, with Sinh my youngest adopted son translating. Mai said that he loved to paint. I sent him off with Sinh, already a wonderful artist to buy some paper, paints and brushes.
After stocking up on a good supply of art supplies I sent Mai home to do some paintings and invited him to bring his art back to show me when he had finished. Sinh then proceeded to take Mai under his wing and helped him a lot with his paintings. Read Sinh's blog here Sinh

Mai returned with several lovely traditional but

Mai pictured in his push me pull me.
childlike paintings, it was obvious though that he loved to paint. When I invited Mai to join the Lifestart Foundation Workshop he jumped at the opportunity ( well not quite!). The only problem was that he didn't have any transport and it was too far to come in from the island everyday to the workshop.
I asked my landlord if Mai could live with my two boys and myself until we could work something out. She agreed and we made up a little bed under the staircase for him. ( I didn't have any spare rooms ) After his temporary accommodation was all sorted Mai went home to the island and returned the next day with a small plastic bag. The plastic bag contained all that he owned in the world....very little.

After getting Mai the basics...soap, toothbrush, towel, bedding, a watch ( so he could get to workshop and classes on time ) and some clothes and shoes he was feeling like a prince.
He enjoyed the adventure of living with us especially being able to watch our little black and white TV of an evening with the boys, but home was with his grandmother and auntie on

Mai working on his beautiful painted hats.
the island.

Mai had never had transportation so Lifestart Foundation ordered him what I call a push me pull me ( it's like a self propelling wheel chair) from Saigon. Thank you to the generous Lifestart Foundation supporters who paid for this. He was thrilled to pieces when he got this as walking any distance was quite an effort. I thought that by having transport Mai may now be able to live back on the island with his family and he could commute to the workshop each day. In order for Mai to get to his island home it requires a boat trip and then his house is quite a distance from the dock on a dirt track. I then found out that Mai could not get the push me pull me onto the boat alone and no one would help him. We then made enquiries via the government and had special papers made for him which meant that the boat operators had to help him on and off of the boat. Mai lived with us for a month or so while this was all being negotiated. I am glad we had that time together as I realized after

Mai is pictured far right with his class mates and teacher Ruth
he had come out of his shell that he was quite bright despite not having attended school and he also had quite a good sense of humour.

Mai has joined English classes with Lifestart Foundation's long-term English teaching volunteer from the UK, Ruth. He is really enjoying the classes although finds learning the vocabulary and the pronunciation a little difficult.
I had offered for Mai to study Vietnamese reading and writing at the Lifestart Foundation Free School but he really wanted to learn conversation English first. Not the most conventional way to go about things but hey???

Since being a member of the Lifestart Foundation Workshop and ESL classes I have witnessed Mai come completely out of his shell and blossom. He is enthusiastic, loves to try out his English phrases( even if they are in the wrong order !) and he seems to be happy all of the time. It's so lovely to witness these changes in people who have been outcast and isolated all of their lives.

Mai zips around using his push me pull me and has now become something of an expert! He is a kind young man, always happy

Mai has never attended school. It is a great opportunity for him to attend English classes with Miss Ruth.
to help others. When we had an elderly lady with only one leg, Lieu, who needed to learn to drive one that Lifestart had provided her he was an excellent teacher!

Once at the Lifestart Foundation Workshop he makes hand-painted traditional conical hats depicting traditional symbols. Each one is painted free-hand and has to be just perfect, his mentor Sinh checks each hat before it is put on the shelf for sale. It is really important to him to be able to help his family financially as they have supported him for so long. He also worries about his health in the future and really wants to be able to save for when he gets older.

Mai's sales of his conical hats are steadily building up, next trip we will work on a new product together and I hope that with in 12 month's he will have achieved a sustainable income stream via the sales of his products.
If you are visiting Hoi An please pop in and visit Mai and the other makers at the Lifestart Foundation Workshop.

When asked what his dream is he says he would like to be able to buy enough

Teacher Mai, giving elderly Lieu a lesson on her new push me pull me provided by Lifestart Foundation.
food ( at the moment Lifestart gives Mai money for food ) and a door for their house to protect them when the storms come ( at the moment the house just has walls and a roof with no doors and windows ). Lifestart will help support Mai with enough money for food and medical expenses until he can fully support himself. I know many of you will ask "how much will a front door for their house cost?" so I have had a quote for 2 doors and 4 windows made of steel and the cost is $300 aud.

Some of you may wonder why I chose to get Mai into a push me pull me and not a three wheel motor bike.
Given his age and lack of experience on the roads I thought it safest for him to develop his road sense on something slow first. He is definitely on my list for a three wheel motor bike which will make an enormous difference to his life but I will 1. wait until we think he is safe to ride one 2. he has enough income to pay for petrol and 3. we have enough money or a sponsor who will help with the cost of a three wheel motor bike for him.( between $1,500 & $2,000 aud )

I am happy to start a fund for a three wheel motorbike for Mai if any of our supporters would like to help with this.
Why a three wheel motorbike? Read more here WHAT A DIFFERENCE A THREE WHEEL MOTORBIKE MAKES!

With a smile Mai says he would like to have a family of his own in the future. He has a girlfriend in the nearest city, Da Nang ( I am still trying to work out how he orchestrated that...), and is exited about his possibilities for the future!

Read more about the Lifestart Workshop: LIFESTART FOUNDATION WORKSHOP

Lots of Love from Karen

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Additional photos below
Photos: 17, Displayed: 17



Mai at home on the island with his Auntie and Grandmother.

Mai is very proud of his display at the workshop.
The design includes traditional symbolsThe design includes traditional symbols
The design includes traditional symbols

Each hat either depicts love, happiness, tranquility, truth or hope.

Mai loves to try out his English with our volunteers and visitors to the workshop in between painting his hats.

Classes and Classmates for the first time!

2nd September 2010

Mai's story
My partner & I stumbled across Karen's shop in April this year. We met Mai & bought one of his exquisite hats, which people commented on during the remainder of our trip. It now is a feature on the wall in our living area. You do such great work for the community Karen. Go Mai - your story is inspiring!
5th September 2010

Mai's Story
Thank you for sharing this story with us. I stumbled across your blogs and this was a fascinating read. Your organization is doing great work. Keep it up!
13th December 2011

Thanks for the art work
Mai, thanks for the art work. I will pass them on. I enjoyed our time together, and we look forward to meeting up again next year. Take Care David

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