Nguyen Huong Duong lost both her legs when she was 25 but overcame utter despair to help the many blind people in Viet Nam read. Thuy Ha reports
I did not expect a woman who had lost both her legs in the prime of her youth to be so positive.
Duong looks younger than her 40 years, the bright red lipstick and big smile light up her face, and her eyes radiate happiness.
“I feel happy because I am doing a meaningful thing,” she says, explaining proudly that she acts as eyes for people with visual impairment.
The happiness is apparent in her warm and emotive voice with which she has been recording audio books for blind people for the last 13 years.
She got the idea of making audio books from a blind friend who taught himself English through lessons on radio and got a scholarship to study in the US.
“Why are there no audio-book libraries in Viet Nam?” Duong asked her blind friend who told her about such libraries in the US and Thailand.
The friend, who died recently of cancer, told Duong no one in Viet Nam wanted to do that for blind people and asked her to do it.
“It is like a destiny for me.” She thinks she owes blind people something.
In 1998, two years after her accident, Duong began to record books, mostly for children, sent to the Nguyen Dinh Chieu Special School for visually impaired and blind children using a cassette recorder and tapes.
A year later she founded an audio-book library for the blind.
It now has textbooks for students from grades 1 to 12, books on literature and general knowledge, and biographies of famous people.
People with visual impairment can get all the books at www.sachnoi online.com. The website’s simple and convenient design allows them to listen directly or download things they need.
Duong lost her legs in an accident in 1996 when she was 25.
“I was passing by the tracks near my house when I stumbled and fell.
“When I woke up, I was so shocked to see the lower portion of my legs cut off,” she says, showing prosthetic legs joined at her knees.
After the accident, Duong did not want to live any more, since she would be of no use without her legs and also be a burden on her parents.
But she was their only child, and her parents pleaded with her to live for their sake.
From books on Buddha’s teachings that she read during her six months in bed, she discovered there were many reasons indeed for her to continue living.
She was not useless, she realises.
“The Buddha’s teachings gave me inspiration to find meaning in my life.”
Duong’s life is now meaningful not just for her parents but also for more than a million blind people.
“It [the library] is like a revolution for blind people,” says Nguyen Manh Hung, a visually impaired person who works as a counsellor at the HCM City-based Nhat Hong Blind Protection Centre.
He heaps praise on Duong, saying her audio books helped overcome the chronic shortage of information and material sources the blinds always face.
“Blind people’s lives are poor and confined, and the only thing that would make our life more meaningful is audio information.”
Before her audio books came along, blind people mostly got their information from the radio, and it was very difficult for blind students to catch up with their classmates at school, he says.
“Now it’s easier for us to expand our knowledge, especially since they are available online, and blind students have a chance to improve their education,” he says.
He himself benefited immensely from the audio books as a student. He studied psychology at Van Hien University and has been working as a psychologist since he graduated last year, helping other blind people overcome their difficulties.
He first met Duong 15 years ago when she went to the Nguyen Dinh Chieu school to read to students there.
After visiting the school, Duong realised that the children hungered for information, and if someone read books for them, they would virtually regain their sight.
After starting to record in 1998 she applied for membership of the HCM City Charity Association, which helped her get cassettes for making audio books.
With generous support from various organisations and companies, she managed to set up a studio where, with the help of 20 volunteers mostly from city television and radio stations, she began to record books for all seven blind schools in the city.
Over a period of time, associations for blind people nationwide began to ask her to make books for them, too.
Statistics from the National Institute of Ophthalmology show there are around 1.2 million blind people in the country. Only 7 per cent of blind school-aged children go to school.
“Audio books have helped many blind students go to university and made life more interesting for older blind people,” Duong says.
She only intended to do the job for a while when she started, she admits.
But the more she did it, the more she discovered meaning in her life.
“I am now committed to this mission.”
Duong spends most of her time at the studio. Even at home, she does a lot of related work like editing books for recording. Her commitment to help blind people is now so strong that she has no intention of getting married. She wants to “spend all the time”she has for this job.
Duong and more than a dozen others, including some with disabilities, work at the studio, producing 30,000 tapes and CDs a year and labelling them.
The library hands over the audio books to schools and blind associations every two months.
Duong benefits a little herself by reading the books. “This job gives me a chance to improve my knowledge,” whether it is about US President Barack Obama or China’s famous historical stories of Three Kingdoms.
For her, happiness is now merely a phone call from a blind student to inform her that he or she has got admission to a university.
Duong’s philanthropy has become infectious, with many others lining up behind her to help blind people. Companies and organisations continue to support her with cash and tapes to keep the library running.
For the last seven years Sai Gon Tourist has co-ordinated with her to take 500 blind students from the city on a one-day vacation every year.
Recently HSBC donated VND295 million (US$14,320), while Singapore-based property developer Capitaland gifted 15,000 tapes worth VND100 million.
Before taking my leave I ask Duong if I can come occasionally to help record books.
She thanks me for my kindness but says I have to be patient since there is a waiting list of 100 volunteers who have already offered to help. — VNS