Find­ing hap­pi­ness in face of ad­ver­sity

De­spite suf­fer­ing from a life-threat­ing ill­ness as a small child, a Viet­namese woman has over­come the difficulties that life has thrown at her, and per­se­vered with a ca­reer in tai­lor­ing with the help of a for­eign de­signer.

Outlook - - PERSONAL - Told by Leâ Thò Uyeân Phöông, tran­scribed by Phöôùc Böûu

At 35, like ev­ery other woman with a lit­tle child at home, I too get up early ev­ery morn­ing to take care of my son be­fore leav­ing for work.

How­ever, un­like a lot of other moth­ers, my work is not as easy as theirs. When I was 13 months old, I had an accident that left me paral­ysed. For 18 years my paral­ysed legs kept me in­doors un­til I re­alised I didn't want to be worth­less or a bur­den any­more.

I then de­cided to en­rol my­self in the first course at a vo­ca­tional train­ing cen­tre for the dis­abled in Hueá in cen­tral Vieät Nam. That de­ci­sion changed my life. Some­one told me I am skilled and have a strong de­ter­mi­na­tion, and I think that is cor­rect.

Af­ter I spent a year learn­ing tai­lor­ing, I was adopted by the cen­tre as a trainer for new trainees. To­day, I be­lieve that the de­ci­sion I took at 18 to stop be­ing a bur­den to my mother and be help­ful to the so­ci­ety, was the right one. The de­ci­sion gave me a lot: a sta­ble job, a happy fam­ily and a brighter future for our son.

In 2003, Marichia Sim­cik Arese, one of the founders of the US char­ity Spi­ral Foun­da­tion, came to work with the cen­tre and help the dis­abled make hand­i­craft prod­ucts, which could take back to the US. I then got to know Arese well, and she has been very kind and gen­er­ous to me.

I was sent to Cal­i­for­nia two years later for three weeks, to ex­plain to Hol­ly­wood celebri­ties who are ac­quainted with Arese that they were us­ing prod­ucts made by the dis­abled in Vieät Nam.

It was a great trip and I had an in­cred­i­ble time. I had never imag­ined that I would get a chance to go to the US and meet Hol­ly­wood celebri­ties even once in my life­time.

To 'book­mark' the mem­ory I bought an elec­tronic key­board and this led to a love af­fair and later, my mar­riage. Since I had to learn how to play the in­stru­ment, a man who had grad­u­ated from a mu­sic , came to teach me. We fell in love when I fi­nally man­aged to play some mu­sic on the key­board. That's fate!

My hus­band now works as a body­guard in the night shift. In the day­time, he cooks and takes care of our son when I am at work. At lunchtime, I re­turn home to be with my fam­ily. A sta­ble job at the Heal­ing the Wounded Hearts Hu­man­ity project gives me a con­ve­nient daily sched­ule to as­sist my hus­band and en­joy my meals with my fam­ily.

In 2009, Arese launched the project, to­gether with the Of­fice of Ge­netic Coun­selling and Dis­abled Chil­dren at Hueá Univer­sity of Medicine and Phar­macy. The project re­cruited young peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties and trained them to make hand­i­crafts, such as hand­bags, table­cloths, fruit bas­kets and ear­rings at the project work­shop in Hueá City.

To­day, the project is home to 19 staff mem­bers and ar­ti­sans, in­clud­ing 15 who are hear­ing or speech-im­paired. Ev­ery day, half of the group goes to the work­shop in Baø Trieäu Street while the oth­ers take care of a shop in nearby Voõ Thò Saùu Street where tea is served to likely buy­ers. I work as a man­ager at the work­shop.

I am in charge of tech­ni­cal work as well. Arese's ideas are com­mu­ni­cated to the staff through my de­signs. We com­mu­ni­cate through sign lan­guage and I un­der­take bud­get meet­ings and main­tain the work diary as well.

Some­one said I have a lot of hard work on my plate, but work­ing here is my joy and pas­sion. I need to in­spire oth­ers to over­come their dis­abil­i­ties. And, I have "dou­ble hap­pi­ness" as part of the rev­enue from the project goes to­wards fund­ing heart surgery for poor chil­dren.

Phöông works with Arese on a new de­sign through a trans­la­tor.

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