Oanh, 20 years old, was born in Lạng Sơn province about 200 kilometers south of Hanoi. Her father, age 52, and mother, age 48 are both farmers and her younger sister, Lieu, is 17 years old and still lives at home with her parents at this time.
Whereas her parents are both sighted, as is her sister, she was born legally blind and neither her parents nor her doctors know why. She is only able to discern light and darkness and see things in good light when they are held a few inches from her eyes.
The first thing you’ll probably notice about Oanh is not that she is blind but that she has a beautiful smile. Then you’ll no doubt notice that she speaks English well. Very well! This is truly remarkable given that she grew up in a small, rural farming community in a family where no one had any reason to speak English or even show an interest in it. Like most blind and visually impaired students throughout Vietnam, Oanh went to public school where she was surrounded by sighted students who often misunderstood her and sometimes slighted her or even discriminated against her in a variety of ways.
Nonetheless, unintimidated by the thoughts and actions of others, Oanh went on to complete her high school education. As with the majority of blind students throughout Vietnam, Oanh had to manage this without the benefit of having access to Braille to read and study, or take notes. Braille is only taught in the two schools for the blind in the northern part of Vietnam and in a few places in or near Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). Thus she had to rely on listening, audio books and her memory in order to keep up in school.
Throughout her school years she maintained a strong interest in Vietnamese language and literature. Her favorite genre is short stories, but she enjoys reading about a wide variety of subjects, and self-help, in particular. One of her favorite books in this category is Dale Carnegie’s “How to Win Friends and Influence Enemies”. In addition to listening to audio books on YouTube she also uses YouTube to pursue her other two main interests, studying English and listening to music.
She has also learned some Korean and dreams of visiting Korea one day, an interest fueled by the beauty of its pop music and its movies, and because she perceives that there are many cultural parallels and similarities between Korea and Vietnam. Though she harbors this dream, however, she is still focused most of all on her English studies. She recognizes English as the language that can unlock the most opportunities, both in Vietnam and throughout the world. She also hopes that it may hold the key to one day earning a truly steady income.
In fact, Oanh’s short term goal is to go from working as a therapist to working as a receptionist which would involve greeting our guests, assisting them in choosing the right therapy, and finding the right therapist. Her positive attitude, her genuine interest in other people, and her love of the English language will, no doubt, prove to be considerable assets in achieving this goal. This interest in other people is one which has evolved over time. When living at home in her rural village she felt that people sometimes discriminated against her and often misunderstood her. Now that she is working, however, these attitudes have changed while at the same time she has begun to overcome her shyness and has established a better understanding of her own self. Her feeling about her blindness now is that it is just another of her many traits. In her own words, “Each person has his or her own qualities, some of which are advantages and some of which are not--I’m no different”.
When asked why she hasn’t pursued a university education, even though she graduated near the top of her class. she explained that she doesn’t feel she has the patience to go through the university system in Vietnam. She also believes that there are other, more suitable ways to develop herself, including taking advantage of online courses. Given her achievement in English, almost entirely undertaken on her own outside of school, there seems little doubt of this.
In December of 2018 Oanh had an experience that is sure to influence her life in unexpected ways. While she and a friend were walking at night, without benefit of even a white cane to give warning to the surrounding traffic, she and her friend were both hit by an oncoming vehicle and Oanh suffered severe injuries to the head. She had to be hospitalized for three weeks, following which she had to continue her recovery at home for a period of six months. Returning to work she had to re-learn much of what she had been taught. Growing up she had no idea that such a thing as a white cane even existed, though she is now painfully aware of its importance, both as a guide for the blind and as a warning sign to the public that the user is likely unable to see and avoid things that sighted individuals will instinctively be able to avoid.
With her interest in people, her warm personality and her English language skills it seems likely that Oanh has the potential to be an ambassador on many fronts. She can share her experience with others in the blind community, emphasizing the importance of using the white cane. When she achieves her goal of working as a receptionist, in that capacity she will become an ambassador to our clients, sharing her experiences as a blind person and helping to raise their awareness and understanding of Vietnamese people and culture, and more specifically their understanding of the blind. Depending on where she goes from there, Oanh might even one day become an international ambassador, building further on her experiences, skills and abilities. In the meanwhile we’re sure you’ll enjoy having her as your therapist