For me, Da Nang, Vietnam conjures up one image – the smiling face of Anh.
In Da Nang I arranged to couchsurf with Phuong. But she told me I couldn’t stay in her home, but rather I’d stay with a friend of hers – the founder of an organization called Tam Thien that helps kids with disabilities.
Of course, I was in.
But what I found when I actually got here… Well, it’s amazing.
Anh is a bit disabled herself, having trouble walking and doing so on the sides of her feet. I never asked what her infirmity was. It doesn’t matter.
When I walked in I noticed the sewing machines and fabric. There isn’t a ton of equipment. Just a few tables and a some young people with clear disabilities working at them.
Phuong introduced me to Anh and then I started to learn what a hero she is.
She started this organization 20 years ago to help kids with disabilities learn a skill, regain their dignity, and be more financially self-sufficient.
20 years later, she’s had 100 kids pass through this modest workshop, many of whom have gone back to their villages and have become the tailor/clothes repairman for the town. Dignity restored and self-sustaining income.. Mission Accomplished, Anh!
Right now there are about eight kids in the workshop. Kids arrive by word of mouth and spend anywhere from months to years working here and honing their craft.
The kids have varying levels of disability (both physical and mental). Not being able to speak the language puts me at a disadvantage for spotting mental disability, but still, I could tell some were mentally impaired. Others had clear physical impairments, whether difficulty walking, difficulty with motor control, etc.
But the whole reason these kids show up here is because they are different. Many disabled people are resigned to the fact that they are different and can’t have a normal life like everyone else. These kids don’t fit that mold though. They want more out of their lives.
And in asking some why they came, many responded by saying they wanted to, for the first time, come to a place where they felt normal. And they wanted to learn a skill to make themselves productive citizens for the rest of their lives.
So they show up, Anh takes them under her wing, and they stay for as long as it takes to learn the craft. They work long hours, 7am-5:30pm six days a week. Anh has had to go out there and find contracts for the work they do. It hasn’t been easy, but she has the initiative and motivation to succeed.
The result has been 20 years of doing amazing things for her community and her fellow countrymen.
The part I love most about this story is that the people Anh takes in have mostly been written off by society. But she sees the ability in disABILITY.
Because of the language barrier, I couldn’t communicate with anyone there. But it was still definitely possible to trade laughs and smiles with everyone.
And it seemed like the people who seemed most disabled had the most smiles and the most personality shining through their disfigured bodies.
This guy in particular was a buddy of mine. We shook hands often, he went out of his way to make me feel at home, and is apparently a Chinese Checkers master.
Anh has a baby and somehow we connected from the start. He came home, saw me, and walked right over to me and sat on my lap. Supposedly he is shy, but it didn’t seem that way to me. Well, we were sitting and I gave my camera to Phuoc to capture this amazing, beautiful moment.
Then he started going crazy. It happened in an instant. He started crying, flailing his arms and legs, and I guess my face says it all..
Below are some pictures of the people of this organization. If you’d like to help them out in some way, contact me and I can put you in touch with Phuong.