Today we visited the Centre for blind people in Ho Chi Minh City and met a very inspiring Vietnamese man called Phong. He is the Director and started this blind centre in 1994 to assist young and older blind children in Vietnam obtain a primary school education. Many of the children at the centre have been staying at Mr Phongs centre since they were young as they were born blind. Parents in the poorer rural areas would not be able to cater to the special educational needs of their blind children so it has been a wonderful place for them to come and get an education. The centre cares and educates the children free. So far 85 children have graduated from this centre and have gone to high school, university or a vocational training program. Some have left the centre and been able to live a normal life with marriage, work and a future.
Many of the older children staying at the centre are blind due to accidents and disease. Mr Phong himself is blind. In 1992, at the age of 18, he shared with us how he had had an accident (we assume traffic) and suffered major brain damage. After being hospitalised for a year in 3 different hospitals trying to recover from his horrific head injuries, he had to accept that he was now blind for life.
Mr Phong is a gentle man with great character. You get a sense of his energy and positiveness just in the first couple of minutes of meeting him. He houses 30 children at the centre. It is the third time they have moved premises as they continue to grow and expand. The Vietnamese government has granted him permission and a license to operate his blind centre but does not contribute a single cent to these blind kids development or welfare. Without the centre, they would otherwise be stranded within their family homes without an education or a life.
I apologise for not being able to upload any photos on this post. We are sitting at KL airport awaiting our connecting flight back home to Melbourne, and I just realized the camera uploader is packed away. But I will upload the photos of Mr Phong and his Blind Centre on another post when we get back.
We were taken on a tour of the centre, which is decked out with many different musical instruments: portable keyboards, piano, xylophone, small guitars and other traditional Vietnamese instruments as well as books for their education in Braille. They have invested in a Braille machine where they can produce their own books for the children. They also make cane sticks which they sell all over Vietnam to the blind as well as export them to Japan, Thailand and other parts of Asia. Quite amazing and entrepreneurial.
At the end of the tour we were treated to a group music performance. This is when I started welling up with tears. Meeting these kids, hearing their stories and sitting there watching them sing and play these instruments so wonderfully, I could not help but think how so fortunate we are to be healthy and live in Australia. The six of us sat, watched and applauded these children, who were all blind create beautiful Vietnamese and one for us Aussies (Waltzing Matilda) music. Many of them had no eye socket formation at all while others had white eyes or partially developed eyes. Then they asked us to sing a song. I realise now how important it is to blind people to be able to hear you. So we grabbed the microphone and all sang a tune while they matched our tune with the music. The girls chose Twinkle Twinkle Little Star and the alphabet song. Two of the boys had a talent for rap music, and we listened to their rendition. Eat your heart out Jay-Z or MC Hammer! (I’m not up with all the rappers out there today).
Here’s a video that I recorded off the iPad which gives you a sense of the little impromptu concert we were given today. Mr Phong is in the first video wearing the sunglasses.
And this video is of the boy rappers. Afterwards we went up to all of them and took hold of their hands and warmly thanked them. I cannot imagine being blind, but I am very thankful that my family got the opportunity of meeting these brave kids and giving us a different perspective on life, once again. Afterwards we made a donation of $500 to Mr Phongs Centre for the Blind in Saigon. He was most appreciative of our fundraising efforts and we will continue to stay in contact with him and continue our donation to his inspiring and life-changing centre.