Nguyen Nga Centre

During my time in Vietnam I had the pleasure of meeting Ms. Nguyen Thi Thanh Nga. One of the most genuine people I’ve ever met, she started the Nguyen Nga Centre after her sister was injured in an accident. Having severely injured her leg Ms Le spend three years of her rehabilitation in hospital where Ms Nga was exposed to a large number of people with disabilities and the view that “in Vietnam a disability often leads to a wretched life, usually with little hope of rising above their difficulties. People with disabilities usually have no income and often have to rely on non-disabled friends and family for basic necessities. It has perpetuated negative images of people with disabilities as evil, ridiculous, ugly and a burden on resources…”[1]

Ms Nga spoke at the beginning of my visit to the Nguyen Nga Centre. Her passion and beautiful spirit shone through and is something I truly cannot give words to. It has to be seen to be believed. At the centre she has organised education, training, job assistance and life skills for children and adults with special needs. Through the Nguyen Nga Centre they are rehabilitated into the community and some have gone on to study at university, start their own families, or open their own businesses. More work from home to provide handicrafts for the shop and for sale throughout Vietnam and some have gone on to provide services (mobile phone repair, hair dressing, massage etc) throughout the community.

While I visited many handicraft centres throughout Vietnam including in Ho Chi Mihn (Saigon) and near Hanoi, Ms. Nga’s attitude had a profound effect on my experience of the Nguyen Nga Centre. While the other places were set up as stores, selling product at exorbitant prices with sales people that followed me around like personal shoppers, Ms. Nga’s was a relaxed, happy place. I was introduced to many of the people she has helped and who now work for or study with her. I felt like I actually got to have a really good look behind the scenes and I liked what I saw. Girls chatted amongst themselves, joking around while sewing or drawing and the real cheekiness of the Vietnamese spirit showed through. Deaf and blind musicians played traditional instruments as well as guitars and keyboards. When everyone else had given up on these kids, Ms.Nga had persevered.

When I got back down to the shop I didn’t feel pressured to buy, although I did walk out with a gorgeous bag and some pillowcases which were priced at an absolute steal.

While I understand not everyone would be interested in visiting a place like this, it gave me a truer understanding of Vietnamese people and their attitudes and society. War has brought a higher level of people with disabilities to this country and it’s important for me to know that there are people like Ms. Nga out there, doing their best for their fellow man.

The Nguyen Nga Centre is in Quy Nhon City, Binh Dinh Province, Vietnam. http://www.nguyenngacentre.org

 

 


[1] Introduction to Nguyen Nga Centre. 

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The Mekong

The Mekong. Snaking its way from the Tibetan Plateau through China, Burma, Laos, Thailand, and Cambodia to Vietnam where I find myself on a small boat heading into the delta. For a girl from New Zealand where the rivers I know are fresh and clean and clear the muddied waters of the Mekong break my heart. The pollution here, at the end of the line, is incredible. Rubbish floats past us as men piss in the river and fishing nets plunder. I lean forward into the wind but the spray from the river horrifies me. I don’t want to get it on my face.

I follow the lines of the boats. Traffic along the river in both directions, heading towards us with prows painted with eyes watching, heading away from us with hammocks hanging and the peoples quarters on the back. Children smile and wave. The people watch us curiously. We head across an open expanse of the river, littered with fishing boats, floating hotels and people travelling. We head into a smaller canal, on our way to the home stay for the night. In the canals the built up houses of the towns make way for open plots of land where people make their homes and keep gardens right up to the waters’ edge.

Bundles of water hyacinth float down the river, a rich green against the murk of the river. Chickens and geese graze and scratch at the fertile soil along the banks. A dog stands guard by a house and watches our progress. In the background I can hear a bike humming along, for a moment it’s visible between the trees, riding single file on a track that winds behind the plots of land.

Our home stay is beautiful, built out over the water with a jetty jutting out into the river and a ramp leading down. It’s a wooden house with cerulean blue details and hanging baskets. We stay in a shared dorm room with big beds and mosquito nets. The facilities are out the back, down a concrete path in the gardens. I set myself up in a hammock and take advantage of the brilliant wifi that we’ve found everyone has here. It’s usually free as well. Our host sorts my partner out with a fishing line and he sets about catching dinner. We’re both so comfortable and relaxed here, out of the way, the peace is bliss.

I’m asked if I want to help with dinner. Out the back to the kitchen, almost a completely separate room from the rest of the house with windows without panes and a cat asleep on top of the TV where our hosts’ wife and daughter in law prepare our meals. It seems that I’m to be the evening’s entertainment as they sit me down and teach me how to roll nem (spring rolls). It’s a fun, messy process and I enjoy myself. People here seem to be mischievous and friendly, however we are only shown what they want to share and I’m not comfortable asking my usual, pressing questions.

Dinner is huge. The food is really good here. Fresh, straight from the garden produce flavoured delicately with lemongrass and ginger. The ginger here is amazing. Its fragrance is enhanced and it gives such a good flavour to the food. I can’t help myself. I’ve got a fat food belly to sleep off. We stay up and talk with our host. He’s interested in the economic condition of the world, he wants to know who we blame and how we think it should be fixed. His beliefs shine through in his statements and a good keen mischievous Vietnamese spirit. It’s clear he loves his land, his family and his life here on the river.

Fireflies are pointed out in a tree just beyond the jetty. It looks like someone has strung Christmas lights through the branches. The river laps softly beneath the house. As the evening falls the harsh heat of the day mellows. This place is so tranquil. A firefly finds its way into our room and I fall asleep watching it.

Mekong Homestay

We have to get up early to see the Cai Be markets at their best, but the sun is pouring in through the windows as we rise and prepare to leave. I have time to walk through the gardens and take some photographs before breakfast. The light here is simply stunning. The ladies of the house sun a new addition to the family on the decking overlooking the water. Our host stands and waves until our boat is out of sight.

The river is still muddy brown but when I see it I’m thinking of the fertile soil that gives the people here their livelihoods. The rich green of the lush vegetation that grows on the riverbanks fill my eyes. We see fishermen out in small boats pulling up the nets that will provide food and income for their families. We see wives, up early, doing washing on the riverbank. Children smile and wave from the back of boats and we smile and wave back. The Mekong River has won me over.

Sunrise in the gardens
Sunrise in the gardens

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