Handicapped people not always disabled
Nguyen Cong Hung was one of 10 people to win an inaugural Volunteer Award for his work on improving services for disabled people. Viet Nam News reporter Le Quynh Anh spoke to him at the awards ceremony last week on the occasion of International Volunteer Day.
Inner Sanctum: Can you tell us a little more about your life and the award?
I was born in a poor family in Nghi Loc Commune in the central province of Nghe An. While poverty was already a challenge, what struck me and my family the hardest was that I had polio as an infant and am nearly completely paralysed. The two organs that are still able to function properly are my brain and one finger. Despite all the difficulties, I managed to study until the seventh grade and then I had to leave school due to health concerns.
After dropping out, I was basically stuck inside the four walls of my home and watching TV seemed the only way for me to communicate with the outside world. I became interested in computers which I often saw on TV but knew little about. My parents finally bought me one. The moment I touched the finger I was sold, there was no turning back. And I am by no means exaggerating when Isay that the computer has transformed my life into an active person. It has empowered me not only to lead a better and meaningful life, but to help others who are also physically handicapped realise their full potentials of which even they may not be aware.
The Viet Nam Volunteer Award, as I am told, is the first of its kind to honour volunteers and their contributions to the country’s development. This is the first time in the country that volunteers have been formally recognised for their contributions in the form of an actual award.
Inner Sanctum: How have you been utilising information technology to help others?
Currently, I run a social enterprise called “The Will to Live” based in Nghe An and we have recently opened a branch in Ha Noi. Its aim is to assist the disabled in getting vocational training and finding work. Our courses cover English, web programming, and IT skills for the office as well as life skills. We have our training programmes tailored to our trainees’ initial knowledge and their type of impairment. The lengths of the course vary from three months to one year.
Thanks to the power of the media, the information about the centre has been able to reach the disabled community nationwide. I am very glad to find people from different provinces arriving at our centre. As of now, there are some 750 people who have graduated from our courses and half of them have already secured a job.
Apart from training, we run a business that provides a wide range of services; from web design, graphic design, gift printing to air ticket sales. The business not only generates jobs for the disabled but also brings in revenue which in turn helps sustain the operations of the training centre.
Inner Sanctum: You’re not only an entrepreneur, you’re also a guest speaker at many events. What is the message you want to get out?
What I have been doing is to prove that being handicapped does not necessarily mean that you are disabled. People with impairments are capable of accomplishing something as long as they are given the right training and employment opportunities.
However, if those people themselves don’t realise that, which is the situation in many cases, how can we convince society to change their misconceptions?
So first, I want to encourage those with impairments to start to believe in themselves and their capacity, and then society at large can create more opportunities for this very special group.
Inner Sanctum: We know that you’re busy running a business, managing the centre and working as a consultant for the Viet Nam Youths Information Technology Association. Nonetheless, you rarely miss the chance to attend events to help less privileged people. What part of volunteer work do you find the most challenging?
I have to admit that fund-raising nowadays is not easy. We all know any volunteer programme cannot last in the absence of strong financial support. The problem here is that volunteer programmes are mushrooming and most are not prepared to sustain the work in the long run. They often end up being prematurely terminated, which confuses donors and consequently, they question the efficiency of their donations. That’s why I think there should be an agency which acts as a focal point to monitor the operations of all volunteer programmes. For our part, apart from fund-raising activities, we set aside a certain part of our revenue to fund volunteer work. — VNS