Blind-Link began in May 2013 as a dream-come-true for its co-founder and manager, Huong Nguyen. The NGO was established with her lawyer-husband, Phan Vu Anh, to train and employ blind and vision-impaired individuals as massage therapists in Hanoi, Vietnam. Through research and intuition, Huong single-mindedly employed the business advice she acquired in the U.S. on a fellowship the year before to bring her vision to reality. Since then, she’s grown her operation from one facility to four reputable spas throughout Hanoi, known as the Omamori Spa chain. In an interview with Huong, we learn about the history of the organization and the tremendous need for Global Volunteers’ support.
Blind-Link had been a dream for many years. In Vietnam, handicapped people have few resources. Those who are blind are often exploited in the massage industry because they have very limited opportunities to develop a career and live independently. We started Blind-Link as a non-profit organization to provide employment, support, and training for visually impaired individuals. Our vision was to enable people with all forms of blindness to participate fully in society, and to realize their full human potential.
Through the Omamori Spa chain, we provide safe and supportive employment for Blind-Link clients, and thereby assist them in their growth toward complete independence. The Omamori Spas are well-respected and recognized facilities in Hanoi, with a full range of services for its clients. Massage has been the best form of employment for blind adults in Vietnam and throughout East Asia for hundreds of years, because, these individuals have virtually no resources from the government or other organizations. It’s been a risky occupation for blind individuals in the past, because of its poor reputation, and the “unregulated” sections of the industry in Vietnam. Low wages and poor working conditions have discouraged many blind adults from careers as massage therapists. Blind-Link provides comfortable and reputable employment for trained individuals, and a welcoming and affordable spa experience for its clients.
Blind-Link has certified the curriculum and standards of training for over 300 blind or visually impaired adult graduates from programs at Omamori Spa and Association for the Blind. Some 40 graduate therapists currently work at the four Omamori Spa locations in Hanoi. Upon graduation, many students return to their home towns and villages after training to work at local spas and return to family life, while a few have opened their own spas in Hanoi.
“Global Volunteers became a part of this process at the most formative and effective time. We are very grateful to all the volunteers who have served with us in the past, and urge more volunteers to join us in the future!”
In addition to providing training in massage therapy, Blind Link also teaches the therapists conversational English. English skills are necessary for any therapist who wants to work at a high-end spa that is frequented by tourists. The English lessons are provided by Global Volunteers and other volunteers from English speaking countries. Some therapists have only learned the minimum English phrases necessary to communicate with their clients. However, a small group of therapists have become quite proficient in English, and can participate in simple conversations. Global Volunteers helps them improve their skills further.
Work with us, and change the arc of a blind student’s life. Help elevate the reputation of massage therapy as a career through Blind-Link’s training programs. Practice simple conversational English to prepare students to interact with clients and to be comfortable welcoming people from all countries and walks of life. Regardless of your background, age or previous travels, you’re a unique resource to these resourceful, determined and grateful students. Our volunteers report that they may never have felt more needed and useful in any other volunteer assignment. This could be your lasting legacy in Vietnam!