New Life for Blind People

“I was blind inborn and grew up in inferiority complex. My own world was just a dark space in my small house. Now, I can read and write the Braille. I was trained to be a teacher of the blind. I enjoy my life and feel more confident than before. We are grateful to the support and assistance from Sweden, which have brought the light and belief to the blind in Vietnam,” says Phan Thi Thuong Hoai, a member of the Blind Association of Tan Ky District, central province of Nghe An.

The sharing of Ms Thuong Hoai was among many other touching stories highlighted at the final workshop held in Nghe An Province late September to review the successful outcomes of the Community – based Rehabilitation Project (1994 – 2009). The workshop drew the participation of more than 200 visually impaired persons in 10 provinces in Vietnam who benefited from the Project. Representatives from the Vietnam Blind Association and the Swedish Association of the Visually – Impaired (SRF) also attended the event. From the Embassy of Sweden in Hanoi, Ms Marie Ottosson, the Minister and Head of the Development Cooperation Section was also invited.

With the financial support from the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency – Sida Stockholm, the Vietnam Blind Association implemented the project Community – based Rehabilitation with technical support from SRF. The objectives of the project was to provide support to the blind men, women and children, especially those living in rural and remote areas to access basic general education, rehabilitation skills and vocational training programmes, thus helping them integrate into the community. The project also aimed at improving the capacity of the Vietnam Blind Association in supporting its members in the rural and remote areas.

As a result, after 16 years, more than 2 300 blind persons were trained to read and write the Braille. They also got rehabilitation training, which helped them participate in social activities, thus making them more equal and less dependant to their families and communities. The project has helped generate incomes for the blind through appropriate vocational training. An evaluation report prepared by an independent consultant, the Centre for Sustainable Development in Mountainous Areas concluded that the Community-based Rehabilitation Project has helped improve the position of the blind in their families, society and integrate themselves into the community.

Addressing the workshop, the Chairman of the Vietnam Blind Association, Mr Dao Soat said: “The Project has changed the lives of thousands of Vietnamese blind persons. Many blind people were trained to be teachers of the blind; directors of enterprises and cooperatives. Many good models of those who are disabled but not useless. They have become the core elements in various activities conducted by the Association. These models should be replicated.”

In his speech at the workshop, Mr Erik Staaf, the SRF International Programme Officer said that the fund channelled to the project is modest but its achievements are valuable. He added: “Good models set up under the framework of the Project need to be replicated to other provinces, cities. Regular forums should be organised to exchange experience between members of the Vietnam Blind Association, thus improving the quality of training. Today’s workshop marks an end to the project but a beginning of the next step as Vietnam Blind Association is now equipped with sufficient and good fundamental methods, approach, tools and experience to spread the impacts of the project.”

Ms Marie Ottosson also welcomed the significant achievements of the project. She emphasised: “The project has ended successfully. More than 2300 blind people has benefited from the project. The touching stories we heard from this workshop showed that if being encouraged and trained, the blind can be less dependent and can be well integrated into the community.”

The Project was implemented in 10 provinces. From 1994 to 2009, the project provided training of trainer courses for 158 blind persons. 12 pre-school classes were organised for 112 visually impaired children. Nearly 2400 visually impaired people, aged between 16 and 55, attended classes for the Braille and vocational training.

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