After a circuitous and tiring travel route that I must remind myself never to duplicate (LA-Shanghai, Shanghai-Singapore, Singapore-Hanoi), I landed in Vietnam on Christmas Day. In a strange way, Hanoi reminds me of New York City. Of course it’s really nothing like New York, but there is that same palpable energy that grabs hold of you, energizing you and calling you to explore all the city has to offer.
The reason for my trip to Vietnam is to visit Cong Hung who established the Will to Live Center for handicapped youth. Hung, who only has mobility in facial muscles and one pinky finger, is an inspiration. He’s a whiz at website design and all things computer-related and he started Will to Live by offering IT classes to disabled youth, since IT is often a perfect job skill for many disabled, giving them the opportunity to lead productive and independent lives. Vietnam has a disproportionately high rate of disabled, thought to be due to the US military’s use of Agent Orange during the war. The war may be over, but the effects linger on, and Vietnamese children continue to pay a high price.
I learned this the day earlier, when exploring the countryside, and my guide offered to take me to a nearby center for handicapped children. She suggested I drive a motorbike to the center because the road may be too dangerous for bicycles. I assured her that me driving a motorcycle would be far more dangerous. We compromised, and I rode on the back of someone’s motorbike, hugging the young male farmhand whose pink helmet said “I Love Lipstick”. There will be no photos.
Cong’s wife Vicki prepared lunch for myself and a handful of the staff. I was instantly charmed by the most adorable 7 year old boy whom I wanted to pick up and hug every time he smiled. It’s a good thing I resisted that urge because turns out he is 22 and he is the Will to Live Center accountant (and a proud graduate of their IT program). I’m quite sure it’s the first time I’ve had repeated urges to hug an accountant or give one a lollipop. (See his photo below with Cong Hung.) He is just one of the many handicapped youth benefiting from Cong Hung’s commitment to bring basic human rights to all handicapped in Vietnam and around the world. At present, the Center trains about 75 kids a year, 30 of whom sleep and eat at the center during their time of study. After the 6 month course, about 70% of the graduates get jobs. And for those that don’t, many are able to become self-employed doing business from their home via the computer. This is remarkable for a country that traditionally has not valued its handicapped. Cong Hung has made great strides with the stroke of his pinky finger, and there is no doubt even greater accomplishments are ahead of him. GO Campaign is his first and only overseas funder. He’s a true local hero and you can read more about him on the GO website in our Local Hero section.
If you’re interested in donating to the next project for Will to Live and helping Vietnam’s handicapped, you can contribute at www.gocampaign.org/donate and put VIETNAM in the donation memo field.