Relatively little research is available on the wellbeing of the large population of visually impaired or blind adults in Vietnam. Global Volunteers’ partner, Blind-Link, a social entrepreneurship program, professionally trains blind young Vietnamese adults for a career in massage therapy, affording them the opportunity to significantly elevate their lives. In this interview, two Blind-Link staff describe their trajectory from students to full-time workers. No special skills are required to change a life through English lessons! Whether you have a teaching background or none at all, your patience, enthusiasm and compassion are your greatest resources in simple conversational English classes. You CAN make a difference. Read on to learn how.
The lack of basic eye care services for people living with visual impairments in Vietnam means students lag behind at school, and often become solely dependent on their families. Only 8% of Vietnamese visually impaired individuals attend school, 15% attend training courses, and 20% have jobs. Many are under-employed. It’s clear that visually impaired children and adults have not been enabled to develop their full potential. That’s the problem Blind-Link was founded to tackle.
Blind-Link and the three private, non-profit Omamori Spas in Hanoi, Vietnam, together prepare young adults who live with visual impairments to become self-supporting massage therapists and service managers. Through innovative training techniques, including English instruction supported by Global Volunteers, the students advance to acquire skills to work at a sustainable, fair wage.
Nguyet just celebrated her 33rd birthday, but she has been a massage therapist for over ten years, “I was born to become a massage therapist, I guess,” she smiled. Nguyet is happily married with a child. Whenever Nguyet talks about her family, and even more her little son, a bright smile appears on her face. “I didn’t really think of my disability as a hardship until I gave birth to my son,” Nguyet continued. “Not being able to see anything clearly causes a lot of difficulties for me to take care of my son, especially when he was too little.”
“I was born to become a massage therapist, I guess.“
Nguyet, Omamori Spa employee
Before joining the Omamori Spa, she was working as a professional massage therapist as well as massage teacher. Thanks to her skilled massage techniques and her great sensitive hands, Nguyet soon became one of the center’s best therapists. By browsing the internet, Nguyet found Omamori Spa. Inspired by the social entrepreneurship model that the spa operates with, she decided to join and teach new trainees.
Nguyet is now undertaking the position as a Director of Massage Training Program of Blind-Link and teaching at Omamori Spa. “My everyday tasks at Omamori Spa include involving in massage training to the blind and visually impaired trainees,” she stated.
“From the bottom of my heart, I really hope this project will reach more blind and visually impaired young people like me.“
Nguyet, Omamori Spa employee
Historically Massage Therapy has been a perfectly suitable occupation for the blind and visually impaired, in terms of their disabled condition and their gifted skill. “From the bottom of my heart, I really hope this project will reach more blind and visually impaired young people like me, bring to them a great chance to learn massage that reach international standards for free,” Nguyet concluded.
“It started as any normal trek in the forest near the border of China and Vietnam, finding mine signals,” Manh remembered. “Our metal detector suddenly beeped. The bomb was covered in debris so we thought it was a kind of metal. The next thing I knew, I was thrown a few feet away. That was the day I lost my eyesight. Thinking back to that moment, I am incredibly thankful. I would have died, considering how close I was to it.”
Manh said that after losing his eyesight, he lost hope and fell into despair. “I wouldn’t eat, sleep or go out. Why should I?,” he said, adding that he couldn’t escape the overpowering darkness. With encouragement, he joined the blind association in his province, where he was taught Vietnamese massage techniques. “For the first time since I lost my eyesight, I felt two things: hope and confidence,” Manh said.
“Everyone is helpful and kind to me. They understand my circumstances because they have been working with people like me for long time.“
Manh, Omamori Spa massage therapist
Today Manh is part of the Blind-Link Omamori Spa, “Everyone is helpful and kind to me. They understand my circumstances because they have been working with people like me for long time,” he said.
The Blink-Link spa has continued to grow in recent years. Global Volunteers is assisting the effort to improve the skills and lives of visually impaired and blind people in Hanoi by providing volunteers to teach conversational English to its students. “English can help me open new opportunities in my career, work with international massage teachers and clients and share my story with Blind-Link with friends globally,” said Nguyet.
Because 70% of the spa’s clients are foreigners, all staff must speak basic English to communicate with their clients. Young Soldier said it’s been a struggle, but he enjoys the patience and encouragement of the volunteers. “It is hard for me. I can’t control my tongue to make clear sounds so that my clients can understand. Thanks to our native English teachers’ fun lessons, I try to improve my English. I am still frustrated sometimes, but I keep trying.”
Volunteers teach basic English language lessons in groups of two or three students through simple conversations and lively activities for half or full days at Omamori Spa. Volunteers work with small groups to practice phrases that will help them to interact with English-speaking clients in the reception area, on the phone, and in therapy sessions.