|Powerful bond: The staff at Ánh Dương blind massage centre are a close-knit family. They eat, travel and joke with each other. They all have one thing in common: blindness. VNS Photo Nguyễn Đạt|
by Nguyễn Toàn
One day Nguyễn Ngọc Hiếu woke up to complete darkness. The many strange noises and the perpetual darkness would terrify him.
Years later, those days are a thing of the past. The 30-year-old is now the director of two massage parlours in HCM City, creating jobs for some 30 people who share his plight.
Hiếu was among the many children born into a poor family in the southern province of Tiền Giang. His father was a drunkard, while his mother had to work hard to make ends meet. Feeling pity for his mother, Hiếu stopped studying at the age of 12 and made his way to HCM City, seeking a bright future.
“On selling my mother’s chicken, I earned VNĐ70,000 (US$3) and caught a coach to the city. I asked for work everywhere but no one accepted me as I was too tiny,” he recalls.
“Fortunately, a plastic company on Lò Gốm Street offered me a job on a daily salary of VNĐ15,000 and one free meal. One day, the director asked me why I never went home. When I told him I had nowhere to go, he allowed me to stay in the warehouse,” he says.
Thanks to his diligence, Hiếu earned the love and trust of the director’s family. They even encouraged him to attend a continuation class.
Hiếu believed that only education could help change the future. He started faring well in his studies, and so started attending a regular training course. After graduating from the National College for Education, HCM City, he got a job as a physical education teacher in the Lê Hồng Phong Secondary School in Vũng Tàu City in the southern province of Bà Rịa-Vũng Tàu.
|Leading: Nguyễn Ngọc Hiếu (left) is now the manager of two blind massage centres in HCM CIty. VNS Photo Nguyễn Đạt|
Blind teacher selling fruits
He continued to work in the city for three years and was planning to get married. Sadly, fate had other plans. Hiếu suddenly contracted a strange disease.
By the end of July 2007, he was down with high fever and was rushed to the hospital, but the disease could not be diagnosed.
He was then admitted to HCM City’s Hospital for Tropical Diseases as he had become very weak, being unable to eat or drink. Doctors had to use a feeding tube to feed him.
His fiancé would work during the day and take care of him at night those days.
After three months of treatment, his health gradually improved, but his eyesight was lost forever.
The fear of living in darkness and being unable to do anything, compelled him to attempt suicide, but he was saved.
“After leaving the hospital, I quit my teaching job and started selling fruits on the pavement. Everyone living on Nguyễn Đình Chi Street of District 6 knew the blind physical education teacher selling fruits. I would quote the price to the buyers. They would weigh the fruits themselves and give me the money,” Hiếu says.
Though his girlfriend kept visiting to take care of him, he asked her to leave him.
“I did not want her to suffer. I was blind and was staring at a gloomy future. If she had married me, she would have been miserable,” he adds.
Later, Hiếu switched to selling lottery tickets on Lê Trọng Tấn Street of Tân Bình District.
The job was tough. “You are lucky if you meet kind people but you are also vulnerable to criminals,” he says.
One day, a criminal gang snatched his lottery tickets and threw him into a canal. He was saved by the teacher of a school for the handicapped who later became his massage teacher.
Hiếu learned to massage in the morning and sold lottery tickets in the afternoon. After learning the job, along with another friend, he opened a small massage parlour called Cho Bạn Cho Tôi (For Me For You).
Having been through difficult days of being tricked and bullied due to his disability, he understood well the obstacles faced by the sight-impaired people.
“Many sight-impaired people have high education, deep knowledge and high morals but do not have decent jobs due to their disability. Their life is unstable. The disabled also want to be like others. They want to do what they like and support themselves, which, however, is really difficult,” he says.
Knowing this, he has made great efforts to help as many vision impaired people as possible. With the business running smoothly, a few months later, he established another massage parlour, Ánh Dương (Sunlight), offering stable jobs to another 30 blind members.
“Ánh Dương is the light for the blind, the spiritual light to guide our way,” Hiếu explains about the parlour’s name.
Conducting a business on a large scale is not a piece of cake, even for normal people. In addition to his friends and relatives’ support, he had to work hard from dawn to dusk to maintain his business.
Thirty-eight-year-old Phan Thị Phương Dung who used to sell mufflers and cotton swab on the pavement to raise her two children is a member of Hiếu’s parlour.
Her life has now been much better thanks to her stable job at Ánh Dương.
“We do not expect mercy or support from society, but we aspire to live through our own efforts like normal people,” she says.
Dung and other former blind lottery tickets sellers or students who have been working for Hiếu’s parlours are making great efforts to obtain recognition for their ability.
Hiếu lost many things in life — aspirations, youth, future family — but now he is a content man.
The staff at the parlours are a close-knit family. They eat, travel and joke with each other. They all share a common thing: darkness.
“Losing light does not mean losing everything. We are losers only when we lose ourselves,” Hiếu says. VNS