|Spiral Foundation's founder Marchia Simcik Arese and an interpreter work with Healing the Wounded Heart's chief technician Le Thi Uyen Phuong on a new design. — VNS Photo Phuoc Buu
by Phuoc Buu
THUA THIEN-HUE (VNS)— A shop in Hollywood, home of the stars, is a direct line of support for poor heart patients in far away Viet Nam.
Remarkably, the hand-made goods on sale are produced by a group of disabled artisans in the central city of Hue. They use their earnings to pay for heart surgery for the under privileged.
To parents of 13-year-old Tran Van Binh of Vinh Xuan Commune in central Thua Thien Hue Province, the artisans are saints.
The mother, Le Thi Dot, said the surgery provided by their efforts last October gave her son a new life. The mother said her son's ailment had been discovered even before birth. "But we did not have enough money to afford surgery," she added.
As the last of six children in a poor fisherman's family, Binh had a difficult life as he relied on others for daily activities. This included his parents or neighbours driving him to school every day.
The surgery that saved him was helped by a donation from the Office of Genetic Counselling and Disabled Children at Hue University of Medicine and Pharmacy. It freed him from 12 years of physical burden.
"Now I can drive my bike to school or take a bath by myself," said Binh.
Binh was one of 40 people who received free heart surgery from the office last year. The office funded 10 cases in the first three months of this year.
"The most amazing thing is that those who contribute to the funds are people with disabilities," said the office's director Professor Nguyen Viet Nhan.
"These people are sometimes considered a burden to their own families," Nhan said, "But here in the Healing the Wounded Heart project, the disabled donate part of their incomes to other disadvantaged groups."
The office opened the project in 2009, together with the US charity Spiral Foundation. It was based on an initiative by Marichia Simcik Arese, who started the foundation together with Pietro Sequi.
Arese, a retired Italian historian, recruited young people with disabilities and trained them to make gift items using handicrafts, such as handbags, tablecloths, fruit baskets and earrings at the project's workshop in Hue City.
The project is home to 19 staff and artisans, including 15 people who have hearing or speech problems. One is paralysed. The rest of the workers are normal people, but they come from disadvantaged families around Hue.
Every day, half of the group go to work in their workshop in Ba Trieu Street while the others take care of a shop in nearby Vo Thi Sau Street where tea is served to likely buyers.
"The people with disabilities quickly gain the necessary skills - and what they produce is so artistic," said Arese, whose ideas serve as the initial designs.
Arese's ideas are transformed by chief technician Le Thi Uyen Phuong, who is paralysed. She then asks the artisans to make the items.
Communication between staff and artisans is done through a type of sign language they created themselves.
"Every idea or design request is comprehended very well as everyone understands each other well. This is a family," said Arese. "An important fact is that all materials are recycled."
Discarded plastic bottles, old bicycle tyres, rice container bags, waste telephone wires, and aluminum cans are supplied to the project's workshop by families, restaurants, and schools in Hue and Ha Noi.
Revenue from the project's outlet in Hue is divided into three parts - 75 per cent for the payroll and 15 per cent for funding for free heart surgery. The remainder goes into a rainy-day fund.
"The products sell well because many Americans are still feeling bad about the war in Viet Nam, particularly Agent Orange," said Arese.
According to Arese, consumption of the products also empowering people with disabilities to lead their own lives.
"But they are not working for themselves only, but for other disadvantaged people in the country," she said.
Uyen Phuong, who is paralysed, said since joining the group she had been able to earn VND2 -2.5 million ($100-120) a month.
"Thanks to the job here, I found a husband and now have a 10-month baby," Phuong said, saying that no one paid attention to her before.
"I am so happy being able to live on my own now. The happiness is doubled when I visit heart patients receiving free surgery funded by our group," she said. — VNS