Hanh was 18 years old when she was hit by a truck driver and paralyzed from the waist down. Confined to a bed for nearly two decades, Hanh would watch her 10 siblings get married and move away from home while she remained under the care of her aging parents.
When Hoa was three years old she contracted polio and lost the use of her legs. With no one to carry her to school, she was largely restricted to her home where friends and family would teach her how to read and write.
Luong was 12 years old when a bomb went off near her family’s home and took both her legs during the Vietnam War. She would go on to use two red plastic stools to maneuver herself from place to place.
These three women’s stories are representative of millions of Vietnamese people with disabilities who face daily prejudice and lack access to the infrastructure and support needed to achieve independence.
Enter the Lifestart Foundation (LSF), a local non-profit dedicated to fostering self-sufficiency for adults with disabilities and other vulnerable populations in central Vietnam. Since 2000, LSF has adopted an innovative and holistic three-pronged approach to enable independence: income generation, mobility support and physical therapy.
In 1999, the central Vietnamese town of Hoi An was designated a World Heritage Site and has since become one of the world’s top tourism destinations. While the tourism job market has boomed, people with disabilities have largely been marginalized from income generating opportunities in this sector.
Lifestart Foundation seeks to fill this gap through the LSF Workshop, a social enterprise that trains adults with physical disabilities on how to make and sell artisan products targeted at international consumers. Each workshop ‘maker’ is trained in basic entrepreneurial business skills and given ownership over their respective products; they’re responsible for purchasing their own materials, managing their own inventory and paying a portion of their revenue back to help cover the shop’s overhead expenses.
The LSF Workshop has enabled over 20 makers to earn a liveable, average monthly income of US$200. As a result of the program and the sustainable income generated, these individuals are able to achieve financial self-sufficiency and a strong sense of dignity.
For Vietnamese people living with physical disabilities, transportation is another major obstacle. Most rely on family members to get around or use antiquated hand-propelled wheelchairs that can’t easily withstand bad roads and long distances.
Recognizing that improved mobility is critical for true independence, LSF has invested in three-wheeled motorbikes for all the workshop makers. These vehicles are individually modified to accommodate each maker’s physical challenges including manual controls and seat frames to ensure they are safe to drive.
In a country where the streets are dominated by motorbikes and highly unaccommodating for people living with disabilities, these three-wheeled vehicles represent a chance for these individuals to experience true freedom and mobility. They can get themselves to and from work with ease, visit friends or run errands without being dependent on others.
Having a viable source of income and a mode of transportation has made a monumental difference to the lives of LSF’s beneficiaries, but most are still confronted with physical pain and bodily deterioration that detracts from their quality of life and ability to perform their work effectively. In response, LSF opened a free state-of-the-art Disability Community Centre in 2011. The centre offers professional one-on-one assessments and, depending on the patient’s condition, they receive a supervised rehabilitation exercise plan, nutrition counseling and posture support. Hospital referrals are also provided for those who require surgery, prosthetics or other specialist medical treatment.
As a result of individualized treatment plans and the use of cutting edge equipment, LSF patients are able to experience improved physical comfort and prevent the downward trajectory of their respective conditions.
True to its name, Lifestart Foundation offers Hoi An resident with physical disabilities a fresh start at an independent life. This is an important development model as it acknowledges that many aspects of a person’s quality of life are interconnected and require an integrated approach. By employing a holistic approach that addresses the financial and physical needs of this community, individuals with physical disabilities are able to live self-sufficiently and with dignity.
To learn more visit the Lifestart Foundation’s website.