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To Give is to Get: How a Disabled Person Can Turn His Life Around and Support Other People Printable Version PRINTABLE VERSION
by Giang Nguyen, Vietnam May 17, 2005
Human Rights , Green Spaces   Interviews
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Tran Van Tinh is currently the focal point for the United Nation’s Youth Programme in Vietnam. Aged 25, he has gone to numerous Youth Conferences around the world and is a dynamic activist to promote regional youth activities. It comes as an admirable surprise that this young man only got involved in social activities recently, in his early days at university, gained access to the Internet around 3 years ago, and is disabled. An interview with such a self-motivated person has sparked insightful ideas about youth and their potential capacity, as well as touching inspiration for those who are still indecisive about their choice of contributing to society.

The following is an edited version of what was exchanged between me and this admirable man.

Giang Nguyen: What was your life like before the accident?

Tran Van Tinh: I used to be a carefree child. Most of my childhood time was spent wandering, playing football or looking for fruits with my friends. Never had I returned home without tattering my shirt or staining my clothes through. I think I would have led a different life if the accident had never occurred. I might well be like my parents and grandparents: growing up, inheriting my parents’ land plot and cultivating it.

GN: So what exactly happened? And how did you overcome such a lifetime challenge?

TVT: Well, like a child plays. We small kids gathered around a production plan. We dared each other to take turns to try our courage. I unknowingly put my right hand into an active rotating machine, and lost it forever. It was really hard: the moment I woke up in the hospital, inquiring my doctor about my right arm, I knew I would for the rest of my life be disabled. The idea of committing suicide had occurred to me more than one time, and for a long period, I just wanted to hide away from everyone. I thought it was all over for me.

TVT: Now looking back, I could not put together exactly what motivated me to overcome such a challenge. It could be my parents, who maintained an open policy and due respect for their children’s independence. My parents never interfered in my decision over the choice of friends, career aspirations or other important decisions, but only gave advice and necessary support. It could be a series of documentaries about an impaired woman who became rich despite her situation. Or it could be my elder brother who, coming home and seeing me in this state, continuously condemned me. He even questioned me to make it clear: whether I would choose to lift myself out of this stagnation, or continue that way. If I chose the latter, and wanted to commit suicide, he offered to buy me the poison.
TVT: And I made my choice. I considered my situation at that stage. I could not become a peasant like my parents who made a living out of sweat work, or pursue a particular career in my countryside. So I turned to studying as the only way out. I tried my best to win a place at the university. I passed the entrance exam into the National University, despite the fact that my studying condition in the countryside was much more disadvantaged.

GN: Sounds like a real triumph over such daunting difficulty. But I guessed there still existed a lot of difficulties ahead, as a disabled student, in a new environment and with little support, spiritually and financially?

TVT: Right. It could be seen as only the start of successive battles over prejudice against the disabled, as well as to maintain self-motivation. I was literally alone at the university. My family could not afford to support my study and living allowances. My brother, who was at that time pursuing a master degree, could not offer much help. I was conspicuously different from all of my friends and always likely to be the centre of unwanted attention. I used to walk purposelessly at night, along the corridor of the hostel where I lived all my student life. During that long track, one idea after another came to my mind. I thought about my current status, about the hardships and hurts I had been through. I sometimes pictured a better future, with lot of expectations and joys. That long track is like a vivid shot of film, perpetual in my mind.

TVT: Luckily I received a scholarship from the Prudential Support Fund. It could not help me lead an affluent life at university, but it was enough to continue my study. Yet, there was another obstacle to get by. Before going to university, I had made it clear to myself as to the possible prejudice and unfavorable response from other people. But expectations could never match reality. I never ever had the idea that I would one day be asked by one of my teachers how an impaired person like me could stay in university. “The disabled”, they said, “are not eligible to learn to be a teacher”. Another incident was when we had a gymnastic lesson. The gymnastic teacher was sensitive enough to send me to deliver orders to my friends. When they had finished, a group of girls inquired why I did not produce applause like other people. They should have known better because I had been in the university for more than a year at that time, and such a public place was not suitable for such a question.

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Hong-Anh Nguyen | Jul 1st, 2005
I still don't know this young man much, but my first impression on him was a bright smile that can light up others. Best wishes to him on the way ahead.

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