Nguyet Thi Thu Nguyen has a knack for creating designs in miniature in a matter of minutes. Her fingers move rapidly as she transforms scraps of fabric into doll-sized dresses, tops, trousers and hats. With her fast pace and deep concentration, it’s easy to forget that the budding fashion designer is cutting and sewing with one hand. Nguyet, who was born with cerebral palsy, has limited movement in her legs and right hand. Her left hand is her lifeline.
Until recently, the 15-year-old’s world was largely limited to her home in Vietnam, watching television or sitting alone in her room. Attending school was out of the question because schools in her community can’t accommodate students with severe disabilities. After learning about her struggles, Catholic Relief Services, with generous funding from private donors, worked with several government ministries to make Nguyet’s world a little larger.
Eighteen months ago, Nguyet began receiving twice-weekly lessons at home from a CRS-supported teacher—her first formal learning. She moved quickly through grade levels in reading, and was so motivated to understand math that she worked on new skills between lessons.
In addition to academics, her teacher Quynh Thi Nhat Nguyen—no relation—worked with the Nguyen family to improve Nguyet’s health and personal care. And she’s seen tremendous improvement.
“Her parents are happier and no longer worry when they go out for work,” Quynh says. “She used to hide in her room when someone came. Now she can manage the house, buy things in the neighborhood, even cook. Her health has improved and she’s gained weight.”
But the Nguyens face a precarious future. Nguyet’s medical needs will continue to be a significant expense, and although her family has a safe and clean home, they are overwhelmed by everyday living costs.
But the family has hope that Nguyet can continue to learn and become even healthier.
A meaningful family role
“What makes me happy is that now she can learn,” says her mother, Tim Thi. “She can write, she can read, she is making progress. She also talks in a better way. She is really growing up.”
Her teacher Quynh agrees. “Since I started working with her, her parents have become happier as their daughter learns different subjects. As for Nguyet, she now knows she is a member of the family—not just a burden. She is brighter and more confident.”
Easing the Nguyen family’s burden includes more than teaching Nguyet to read and write. It also includes helping her realize that she can have a meaningful role in the family. She now babysits her small cousin and works with her siblings on homework in the evenings.
And her dream of becoming a fashion designer? Even that is thanks in part to her teacher. Quynh, in addition to helping Nguyet with everything from lessons in art and math to hygiene, gave her one more gift—she taught her how to sew. And she provided needles, thread, piles of scrap cloth, instruction in tailoring, and the encouragement to dream and create.
Hundreds of children served
CRS helps hundreds of children and young people like Nguyet gain access to education by training teachers in home-based education. This is just one component of our long-term work serving people with disabilities in Vietnam. We also help students with disabilities attend neighborhood schools, alongside their peers, whenever possible, teaching teachers and administrators how to give all of their students an education that expands their world.
Learn more about our programming in Vietnam.