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In Vietnam, Changing Lives of Kids With Disabilities

In Vietnam, disabilities can carry stigma and children with disabilities are often ostracized—in some cases, by their own families. Catholic Relief Services makes sure kids have what they need—physical therapy, wheelchairs, hearing aids and teachers who understand—to reach their full potential.

Click through this photo gallery to see how their lives have changed. Then read the story below to learn more.

Ten-year-old Thuan Trinh can't walk, and her hands are twisted by cerebral palsy. But this small girl with a megawatt smile can type faster than most of the children in her Vietnamese town. There are plenty of other things she can do fast, like solve a math problem and read a poem.

Clearly, Thuan isn't "slow." But that kind of grim—and inaccurate—diagnosis is one faced by many children in Vietnam who suffer from physical, not learning, disabilities.

Hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese children have physical disabilities—in some cases, as a result of land mines and other legacies of the Vietnam War. Some cannot see and hear fully; others can't walk properly; still others can't move their arms and hands well.

When the children are poor and their community doesn't understand how to help them, they may miss out on school—and be consigned to a lifetime of isolation at home, where they rely on others to care for them.

In Vietnam, Catholic Relief Services works with parents and teachers to make sure children with disabilities achieve their potential. For children like Thuan who can't get to school at all, CRS brings the teacher to the child. Thuan's tutor comes frequently and is amazed by her progress. "Without CRS, Thuan might not be able to read or write," says her mother, Quyt.

For other children, CRS provides wheelchairs, crutches, ramps—whatever they need to get to the classroom. CRS trains teachers to help children with disabilities learn. Changes are often as simple as putting a boy with bad vision closer to the blackboard. CRS also takes children to doctors and pays for hearing aids, eyeglasses and other assistive devices. For those children with learning disabilities, CRS works out agreements so teachers spend extra time with a child.

The program doesn't stop with primary school; it gives young people a goal to reach for. In the capital city of Hanoi, older teens and young adults learn information technology at a special college for people with disabilities. There, they don't just learn how to program a computer or design a website; they learn they have talents like anyone else, talents that can help them earn a living and be self-sufficient. The college teaches students how to interview and links them to employers. "The students develop more trust in their own abilities," says one administrator.

With funding from USAID and Caritas Australia, the program helps young people with disabilities living in Vietnam achieve a life of independence.

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