by Thu Hien
HA NOI — Thirty-year-old Dang Tran Thanh in tight black jacket, khaki jeans and red scarf looks like a movie star. As the leader of Deaf Craft Five Colours Group, he is standing in a workshop with 26 other young deaf and dumb workers. It is his turn today to make them start the day with a smile.
|Le Thanh Nghi, a member of Dang Tran Thanh's Deaf Craft Five Colours Group, sells handicrafts on Ha Noi's Ma May Street. Members of the group, aged 18 to 25, make and sell their own products in the capital's Old Quarter.—VNS Photo Thu Hien
The youngsters, ranging in age from 18 to 25, make and sell their own handicrafts in Ha Noi's Old Quarter. Thanh says that offering smiles and correct information are the first lessons he teaches them.
He has trained them to design, produce and sell calendars, bookmarks, dolls, postcards, kitchen equipment and curiosities that bring each of them about VND3-4 million (US$143-190) per month.
Every day, 20 of his charges create handicrafts at the workshop in Hoang Hoa Tham Street while six others take a bus to the Old Quarter to sell them. The products, including designs from many ethnic minorities, are usually offered for sale outside the front of friendly hotels.
Le Thanh Lich, 20, writes her thoughts down: "I have sold handicrafts on Ma May Street for more than one year. Uncle Thanh always reminds me to be polite and honest with everyone I meet."
She says Thanh saved her from her drunk deaf-and-dumb father who used to beat her. Her mother left when she was one year old.
Most of the group's members come from poor families in Lang Son, Phu Tho, Tuyen Quang and Thai Nguyen provinces. When Uncle Thanh found them and took them to Ha Noi, their once difficult lives changed.
Thanh says: "Like me, they lived in their own world since they were born. Selling handicrafts is an effective way to help them communicate with other people and learn to gainfully use their surroundings.
To help them get a start, Thanh hires two tutors who teach new young workers to read and write, give them knowledge of Vietnamese culture and provide them with communication skills."
Stanislav Emelianov, a Russian tourist buying bookmarks on Ma May Street says: "Their wonderful handicrafts help me learn much about Vietnamese culture.
"Looking at her smile and gesture, gives me all the information I need and makes me feel comfortable. These youngsters are so different from others who follow us and pester us endlessly to buy their products."
Lich smiles and puts her hand on her chest to express her thanks for the Russian's words.
Thanh was born dumb and his parents tried many ways to teach him to speak like other children, without much success. They finally registered him at a school for deaf-and-dumb children - and even learned some sign language themselves. However, if they wanted him to do something, they wrote their requests on paper.
Thanh's life changed when he met the leaders of a handicraft centre who taught him to make handicrafts 12 years ago. Le Minh Hien, one of Thanh's two trainers says: "He spent hours every day researching Vietnamese culture and making handicraft models, largely inspired by ethnic designs. It took him one or two months to finish designing a product."
After four years, Thanh was given the responsibility of leading a six-member group at the centre. He says it was unbelievable because there were many other normal, well-qualified workers at the centre. But Hien said: "You can do much better. I have never forgotten her words"
Thanh's group started operating independently in 2008 and started recruiting more deaf members. "I wished to create chances for other deaf-and-dumb people and the Deaf Craft Five Colours Group was born."
Hien says: "He did not have any knowledge of management, finance or legal regulations. But he acquired it all after several months studying via the internet."
In the first few months of the venture, Thanh and other members cycled around the city selling their products and struggling to raise enough to pay production costs.
Linda McAuliffe, an American volunteer who has helped Thanh improve marketing opportunities for four years says: "He carries a lot of responsibilities. As the leader of 26 workers, he has to make sure orders are filled, product quality is consistent, harmony among workers is maintained, and bills and salaries are paid."
Now, regular orders come from such countries as Germany, Holland and Malaysia. Beside being sold in the old Quarter by group members, the handicrafts are also displayed at city museums and culture centres. Profits reach VND60-80 million ($2,860-3,810) a month.
Thanks to Thanh's help and experience, six other groups have now sprung up. More than 200 handicapped and underprivileged people are now in full time work.
Linda says: "Thanks to him, the workers become a very special group of young people who take pride in their work and enjoy their work as a ‘family'."
Thanh waits for his workers from the Old Quarter to return to their workshop and home at 6pm. The delicious smell of food also welcomes them.
Looking at young people busy chatting (by sign language) and eating, he says: "I always remind them to never give up."
"As handicapped people, if we give up, we become disabled." — VNS