In 2012, Mrs. Huong Nguyen received the Humphrey Fellowship from the United States Government, granting her the opportunity to spend a year of non-degree graduate-level study, leadership development, and professional collaboration with U.S counterparts at the University of Minnesota. During her trip to Seattle, organized by the Humphrey Program at the University of Washington, she met Kirk Adams, President of Lighthouse for the Blind, at a dinner in March 2013. This was the first time she had heard about the model of social entrepreneurship, a model designed to adopt a business mindset to address social issues. She was surprised to learn that Lighthouse for the Blind, through its Seattle operations, could produce manufacturing products of such high quality that they could be suppliers of aerospace manufacturers like Boeing, even though it is an organization established for the primary purpose of having a positive social impact. Returning to the hotel with Kirk’s words “Maybe one day you can do something to help the blind people in Vietnam”, Huong started immediately searching for information about the blind in Vietnam and their situation.
While relatively little research has been done to document the plight of the bind in Vietnam, what few figures we have available reflect the difficulties they face in society today. Only 8% of the Vietnamese visually impaired go to school, 15% attend training courses, and 20% have jobs. Most of the Vietnamese blind live dependent on their families, and rarely communicate with others in their communities. They often do not believe in themselves and feel they have little hope for the future.
Historically, massage therapy has been one of the few and best jobs for the blind here in Vietnam. Unfortunately, there has been very little professional training available to them, from either governmental or private sources, for the improvement of their massage techniques, knowledge of anatomy and its relationship to massage, nor of the skills necessary to manage and create a professional and appealing spa environment.
Hence, they typically only work in very humble parlors, earning a paltry income of about $1.00 to $1.5 US per 60-minute session, and are often exposed to physical and sexual abuses. As a corollary, their work is not respected because of society’s prejudice against massage which is often viewed as a form of disguised prostitution. Our director, Ms. Huong Nguyen, who also a Rajawali fellow at Harvard Kennedy School 2014-15, made a decision to leave a promising political career in the Vietnamese government in order to find a way to make a difference. With families and friends supported, she founded BlindLink in May 2013.
As the first and pioneer organization to undertake such an endeavor in this field in Vietnam, BlindLink has chosen to attack the issues by providing the blind with professional and personal development training, creating high value-added jobs working through its Omamori Spa chain. Its stated goal is two-fold. 1) Provide training and suitable professional employment for a growing number of blind people throughout the country. 2) Transform the image of blind therapists and their work, through word-of-mouth and the media, and by example. (We invite you to share your experience with us far and wide.)