Pham Thi Ha, 42 years old, is from Yen Ninh village, Yen Khanh District Ninh Binh Province. Ha was born into a family of four sisters, her being the oldest. … When she was young, Ha’s parents quit their jobs as factory workers to open a shop, so she helped them sell the goods. Like many others with mobility impairment in Vietnam, her main option was to become a garment worker after middle school.
Ha has a lot of potential and talent in sewing; she produces beautiful work. Her in-house shop was always very busy, in fact, it was where most of the district’s officials requested commissions. However, mass produced clothes flooded the market. Due to their affordability and reasonable quality, small artisan shops like hers cannot compete. So, Ha eventually decided to close her store to work as a technician at a local garment company. She never anticipated how that decision would change her life. Even though Ha had brittle bones disease, she never thought of herself as a disabled person, and had no connections with the disabled in the area. That day though, Ha stood in front of the technicians’ room, watching the workers swipe their cards to get passed. Suddenly, Ha saw 2 disabled workers walking through the door, looking a bit distressed. A year later, she met Truong, one of the two workers she noticed that day, and from his introduction, she joined Ninh Binh’s Association of Disabled people.
Unlike the Blind Association, which is fully established, and has a state budget for activities, the Association of Disabled people are not allocated an operational budget, so its development depends on the interest and consideration of local authorities. In poor places where there aren’t enough resources to support the Association, all activities are organized by volunteers.
When Ha participated in various “skill enhancing” courses organized by Non Government Organizations (NGOs) in Hanoi and other provinces, she saw how strong disabled women in those places were. “They wore dresses, ao dai, pretty makeup; directly in contrast with disabled women in Ninh Binh. In my hometown, they try their best to hide - in corners, in alleys -, invisible and forgotten.” Ha recounted. That was why in 2015, Ha organized and *keu goi* disabled women in Yen Khanh district, to establish the Yen Khanh Disabled women club, now more than 200 members. Their main goal was to build a community, to share stores, occasionally meet and chat. They meet twice a year - International Women’s Day (March 8th), and Vietnames Women’s Day (Oct. 20th).
Every meeting was a joyous occasion: everyone catched up on different news, shared tips on how to take care of their bodies; this is the moment that everyone is happy and content, the moment where things feel right. But as they met up, Ha realized that getting a job, going to work everyday, is the biggest desire of many of the club’s members. Looking for information in the network of disabled women in the northern provinces of Hanoi, Hai Phong, Quang Ninh took a long time. Finally, one day, Ha met Ms. Quynh Nga, the director of Pink Heart Cooperative - currently producing wooden beads to make products like wooden bead bracelets, wooden bead cushions, wooden bead pillows, usually sold to pagodas.
“Instantly liking this model, I decided to invest in a similar facility for the members of the club. In May 2019, I went on this apprenticeship for technology transfer at Pink Heart, and in June, 2019, a friend and I invested more than 300 million VND each to open a trade school for Disability. Unfortunately, we went bankrupt by November 2019, as manufactured goods weren’t sold, the machines were collected by the seller to *deduct the debt*, and then covid -19 completely extinguished all of our efforts. “
Because now they’ve had a factory, and everyone knows the feeling of having work to do, she put all the wooden bead products into storage, and turned to broom production. 2 month later, they sold 3500 brooms, mostly to schools in Ninh Binh. Ha thought of making brooms because she suddenly remembered the Vietnam Blind’s tradition of making toothpicks, and raised awareness at school to help buy them. This time, she went to the market to buy 1 million worth of brooms, and took them apart to study how it's made. The brooms they made have 2 modifications compared to current brooms commonly sold at the market. First, good quality broom shafts were used - 3500 per shaft instead of 3000 dong. Secondly, they use another method of *quan ket choi* - twice instead of one. This takes more material but the brooms are sturdier, higher quality. The brooms were sold for 25,000 VND, the average price for brooms in Ninh Binh. Fortunately, the business opened at the start of the school year, the school needed brooms for cleaning, so they did really well and had the support of teachers.
“I joined this massage course because I wanted to incorporate more business activities into our existing facility, thereby creating more jobs for members of the club. When I meet the teachers, I am inspired and have even bigger ambitions. We will establish a cooperative for women with disabilities in Yen Khanh district, and in the future, we plan to offer massage services in addition to broom production. Then , we want to get a full business license, and are currently looking for an opportunity to obtain a piece of land, instead of having to rent it out. The road ahead of me feels more overwhelming, but I am very excited. My life has never felt more meaningful than right now, ” said Ha.