|Cause for cheer: Swiss Senator Christian Lohr gives presents to the disabled in Tuyen Quang Province. — VNS Photo Ly Van Thinh
by Ha Nguyen
Although physically challenged himself, Swiss Senator Christian Lohr joined the Green Cross to fly thousands of kilometres to Ha Noi to meet a gathering of physically challenged Vietnamese recently.
His trip was aimed at helping and encouraging the disabled in the country to be more confident and to guide them in overcoming hardships and difficulties, while becoming active members of the community.
Lohr and the team from Green Cross exchanged their views with 125 patients, including children and adults with physical disabilities, at the Huong Sen Rehabilitation Hospital in the northern province of Tuyen Quang on Tuesday.
All the participants were very impressed and moved by Lohr's life story and his tremendous efforts in overcoming hardships.
Lohr told how he was born with a physical disability resulting from the effect of Thalidomide that his mother drank when she was pregnant with him 52 years ago.
The medicine had affected over 12,000 children in Switzerland during the 1952 to 1962 decade; he told the audience assembled at Vietcot.
Lohr quoted his mother as saying, who at the time of his birth: "We were all filled with terror when we saw a disabled child. I, myself became unconscious. "
He told the meeting: "At the time, my entire family were drowned in sorrow and felt isolated for a long time because they could not understand the reason for me being born with a disability. In addition, they also lacked support and knowledge about how to take care of someone with a disability like me."
Despite this, Lohr's family took very good care of him. They helped him undergo 12 operations during the first six years of life.
However, all the operations failed, despite the efforts made by Lohr's family members and doctors because, "after being equipped with prosthetics and orthopaedic devices, I did not feel like myself any longer. I told my parents and doctors that I would like to use my own limited physical capacities to manage my life."
"I told them I had to learn the hard way, for instance, how to use my little toes to eat. I could use chopsticks. I also thanked my teachers who gave me time and helped me learn how to write with my toes, he said."
"Even though my family members, including my parents, my younger brother, my nephews and nieces accepted my condition, they never gave up on me, and tried their utmost to help me.
"The family's role is extremely important in helping a person with disability, because without them, I might not have survived.
"During this time, I learnt to think of myself as an equal of any other normal person and that I have to try my best to learn everything, such as practising to eat and write with my little toes. My efforts have paid off, and I owe it to the encouragement of my family members. They always expressed their confidence in me," Lohr said.
Although disabled, Lohr said he attended school and was exposed to great learning. He later graduated from the Swiss National University of Economics.
At the meeting, which was attended by the Deputy Minister of Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs, Doan Mau Diep, Maria Vitagliano, director of the SOCMED programme at Swiss Green Cross, and many others, Lohr said disability and serious ailments were not only faced by the people who have these problems, but also their family and the entire society.
"My family has made countless good and valuable gestures for me and I too have done a lot of things to please them. For example, I spent more than three years learning how to swim. At first I was afraid of even being put in a pool by my parents, but then I tried repeatedly and bit by bit, I learnt how to swim."
"After the first few months, I felt more confident, and became more interested in swimming. Now I don't feel comfortable if I don't swim," he said.
He encouraged the people with disabilities, particularly the younger ones, that they should indulge in all sorts of exercises daily, such as physical therapy, to improve their health.
Lohr has always been part of and promoted campaigns and movements of the disabled. As a result, he was elected as Senator to the Swiss National Assembly in 2011. He is in charge of Physical Training and Sports, and Social Issues.
He urged people with disabilities to always strive for their interests.
"In Switzerland, people with disabilities actively participate in social events to support themselves and others."
Green Cross aid
The social and medical care and educational programme (SOCMED), funded by the Swiss Green Cross, was implemented in Viet Nam in 2008. The programme was established with the aim of improving the living conditions of physically handicapped children, youth and families, who became victims of Agent Orange during the Viet Nam war.
Owing to the programme, thousands of Vietnamese with disabilities have been provided with social medical services, such as rehabilitation and have been gifted prosthetic and orthopaedic devices.
Some have undergone orthopaedic operations, which have helped them reintegrate into the community and feel optimistic about their daily life, according to Nguyen Hai Thanh, director of Vietcot.
For instance, Ha Thi Dung, 29, a member of the Dao ethnic community, in the northern province of Tuyen Quang, was born with paralysis.
Her parents did not have the money to get their daughter treated. They continued to subsist in poverty until some seven years ago, when Dung was funded by the Green Cross and Vietcot, which helped her get free orthopaedic legs and allowed her to walk.
The two organizations also paid Dung VND120 million to help open a tailoring shop that also created jobs for other people with disabilities.
Dung told Viet Nam News that when she received the funds she paid them to learn tailoring for several months.
"I asked my parents to build a thatched cottage that would be used as a workshop for me and my 12 handicapped co-workers. We make uniforms for students."
She said the job was a reasonable on, although she was only busy before schools reopen every year.
"School year usually ends in May, but we haven't received payments for many of our uniforms. Several schools still owe us," Dung said.
Like Dung, Nguyen Hai Nam was also born with a congenital malformation in his legs.
His father did not have a stable job and his entire family's survival depended on his mother's low salary of VND3 million, less than US$150, earned from working in a paper factory.
Fortunately, he was invited to Vietcot for a medical check-up and the technicians there were able to fit him with orthopaedic limbs.
"Thanks to the centre, my son can now walk with the help of crutches. He can do many things by himself, which was not possible before," Nam's mother Luong Thi Van Hai, said.
"Nam is now studying in the Tran Hung Dao high school's 11th grade and is a good student,"she added.
SOCMED director Vitagliano said, "It is important that people who support us know how the money is invested and who are the beneficiaries.
"The presence of Senator Lohr is an important testimonial and motivation for people with disablities." — VNS