February, 06 2013 11:13:00

Disabled activist makes difference

by Van Dat

HCM CITY — Her first club, named Doi Rat Dep (Life Is Very Beautiful), was a simple, thatched-roof structure, where people with disabilities would share jokes, sing and talk until the late hours.

It was set up on the grounds of the house where the NGO she founded, Disability Resources and Development, was located.

The patrons were young and old, rich and poor, artists and business types.

But then rent skyrocketed and the NGO had to move to another location down the street.

Now, Vo Thi Hoang Yen, who gets around in a wheelchair, has bigger plans for the city’s disabled: a cultural house where they can study, play games and feel at home.

So far, she has raised a grand total of US$5 from a foreign man who noticed a friend of Yen’s editing a video about the proposed cultural house on her laptop in a coffee shop.

He walked over and asked her about the video and then left the note.

“It was a small amount, but it was meaningful to me. I’m happy for that,” Yen recalled last week when we met her at her NGO’s office.

Still, long journeys begin with small steps, and Yen believes she can raise enough money from individuals, organisations and businesses to find a land plot and build a new house for the community’s disabled.

HCM City has no such building for the disabled, who often feel uncomfortable and awkward at other cultural houses in the city, according to Yen.

“They think they are a burden to society,” she said. “It’s difficult for the disabled to access facilities at the city’s cultural houses, so a new house for them would help them integrate with the community.”

Her idea is to build a space where people can relax, sing and talk. Another aim is to change society’s attitudes towards people with disabilities.

The cultural house would also offer health consultancies, job training and other services to people with disabilities.

Yen said that some businessmen who took part in a recent sing-a-long at her NGO had offered to help.

“But I told them to wait until I finish building our website, and then everybody can contribute,” she said, adding that the website would take donations online and via mobile phones.

“The idea is beautiful, as everybody says, but a suitable working space inevitably means an appropriate budget. By definition, a non-profit clubhouse can’t focus purely on income generation,” she said.

Since she founded her NGO five years ago, Yen has been actively campaigning for handicapped people’s benefits and rights.

“Their living conditions are not always the best, and in particular, they do not have easy access to buildings and public places,” Yen said. “For years, we’ve encouraged the disabled to integrate into society and asked others to help, but how is this possible when there are still so many barriers.” — VNS

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