The American war ended over 40 years ago, but its effects on the physical and mental health of many Vietnamese still lingers. Around 1 million people now are suffering serious health issues. The poor infrastructure for people with disabilities in Vietnam creates an even more difficult life for them. Toan is one among them. Toan sent his life story to Rod Barnett, his course trainer and asked us to share it so that others in our community can be inclusive and understand more about such experiences. By doing this, we hope Toan and people with disabilities in Vietnam will receive more support from international and domestic sources to improve their life and make their dream come true.
Dear Rod,,

It was nice to met you at the training for NGO Vietnam in the Super Hotel!
When the war between the United States of America and Vietnam ended in 1975, my father, a soldier, completed his duty and returned to his home village. In 1981 he married my mother and shortly after that I was born. My parents were very happy because they had a son they always wanted to have. Unfortunately, I was born with a facial deformity and both of my eyes were severely impaired. There are many possible reasons to explain my disabilities but I don’t want to focus on it here, I just want to share my experience living with this disability. I grew up with care and love from my parents, but sadly, my mother passed away at a very young age, my father remarried, and I was sent to an orphanage at the social protection center in Ba Vì district, Hanoi.

I can say I am an energetic and highly determined person, I finished my college education and found work to support myself. An American in Boston, Mr. Frederick Watson, qqfor vision impaired people. After this, I moved on to higher education and eventually graduated with a bachelor degree, specializing in population and families, from the Faculty of Sociology, College of Social Sciences and Humanities, Hanoi National University. I also participated in a number of social work courses provided by West Virginia University in collaboration with An Giang University. Last year I had a chance to participate in the social work knowledge enhancement project funded by UNICEF and taught by professors from San Jose State University and two other international universities in collaboration with Hanoi National University. During the past few years, I have participated in the following projects:

  • The project to provide education for children with disabilities at the Center for Education for Handicapped Children at Thuong Tin District, Hanoi. This project was funded by the funded by the New Zealand Embassy. 
  • The project to design educational program for the Social Work Skills and Knowledge Development Center in partnership with the Faculty of Sociology, College of Social Sciences and Humanities, Hanoi National University, funded by Asia Foundation in Vietnam.

Besides these activities, I teach computer skills for people with disabilities. Currently I am the Director of the Social Work Skills and Knowledge Development Center, this center belongs to the Union of Scientific and technical Associations. I am also a member of the United Association of Handicapped People of Vietnam.

Reality in Vietnam shows that it is extremely difficult for people with disabilities to find employment. For a developing country like Vietnam, where poverty is still a big problem, and in order to achieve adequate human rights for the disabled, there is a lot to do to change the way the whole society think about handicapped people. I am a live example for this problem. When I applied for employment, people didn’t believe in my experience and ability to work. Even if I get a job, I still have to overcome many difficulties in order to function in the work place. Because I am blind, I need computer with Braille keyboard and an assistant. With my income, I can never buy a computer with Braille keyboard and Braille printer. In Vietnam there is no company producing equipment for the blinds. When I went to school, I didn’t have Braille text books. I had to rely on volunteers and teachers who recorded their reading; I then listened and translated it into Braille. 

It is extremely difficult for me to get married because of social stigma against people with disabilities. One of the wide spread myths against the blind is blind father will give birth to blind children. Even if a girl loves me, it will be very hard for her because everybody else in the society would say that she just marry me because she wants to take advantage of me, and that there is no way a normal, healthy girl would be willing to marry a blind person. I believe that in every country, there is discrimination against disabled people, especially in poor countries like Vietnam, that’s why I really want to work on decreasing that discrimination. I especially would like to get help from international philanthropic organizations to translate into Vietnamese and Braille the international treaty on human rights for people with disabilities. 

Moreover, we would also like to raise fund for research and training programs for handicapped people in Vietnam and in Asia Pacific area.

We hope for a beautiful life tomorrow.


Sincerely yours,

Nguyen Dinh Toan
Executive Director, Center for Development SKills and Knowledge of Social Work