Hoi An is a small town in central Vietnam. During the Vietnam War, this was the region most heavily destroyed and affected. I used to work with disabled and disadvantaged people in Hoi An. I saw them struggle to make ends meet because they’re disabled, people look down on them, discriminate them, isolate them, laugh at them.
Because of diseases, accidents, war…, because of life, they became disabled, when they just can’t control fully their body. Some of them have to crawl to move. One lady, she’s paralyzed from her waist down and one of us staff needed to carry her back and forth from the office to the parking lot every day.
I saw them struggle with the simplest movements every day. But every day they went to work, they smiled, they thanked me for the smallest things, they made jokes and laughed, they said I smiled a lot.
When I was working with a school for hearing impaired kids, I was surprised to find out that there’s a high number to hearing impaired kids in Vietnam, especially the central regions, due to the lack of adequate equipment and technology to diagnose hearing impairments early, and the lack of awareness of impacts and consequences of medicines taken during pregnancy.
Only when the kids reach the ages of 2,3, when they just don’t react normally to sounds then their parents take them to the hospital and at that point, it’s too late for early intervention. The ages of the kids at the school I was working for ranged from 2 to 12. They all have hearing impairments at different levels.
Each of them has their own stories and family backgrounds. It was disheartening to see sometimes even the families reject their kids themselves. They’re ashamed of having a hearing impaired kid because people pointed fingers at their kids because people say it’s their bad karma to have a kid like that. Government systems don’t provide them with enough support. Sometimes, families turn their back on them.
I met this Singaporean lady who was working for a school for autistic kids also in Hoi An. She was telling me about how uninterested and disdainful Vietnamese organizations and people were when the school contacted them for help; or when they took the kids out on a bus, sometimes people didn’t even allow them on the bus.
I went to a public nursing home for mentally disabled and abandoned people and elders. Because they are disabled, they’re considered to be burdens of the society, of their families, etc. and they’re just left there…
Due to the lack of facilities, training for staff, they were all living in horrible conditions. Some were left in their beds covered in their own feces and urine, some chained to their beds. I’ve heard horrific stories about places like that, stories like the staff would come and steal whatever visitors have given the patients, from money to food, to clothes, to even books,…
It was during this time I realized how lucky I am, not because I was born in a privileged family, but first of all, because I have a functioning body which I have full control of. It was this time I witnessed firsthand the suffering of humans, the devastating consequences of wars.
The work of development, social and humanitarian workers is never easy. Working with people in crisis, with marginalized and vulnerable communities, you experience all kinds of emotions and face countless obstacles. But the rewards for you is the happiness and empowerment of people and communities. It is a difficult occupation but an incredibly meaningful and fulfilling one.
I have always loved working on grassroots projects and organizations despite the lack of resources and the obstacles. The connections I have made with people are incredible and the experiences I have had working with various communities are unique and precious to me.
Most of all, I have learned to be grateful for the things that I have in life and appreciate it when I see marginalized and vulnerable people who live difficult lives yet are so optimistic. They have taught me so much about life and it all has widened my mind immensely and helped me see things from a local viewpoint but think from a global perspective.