The most striking thing about The Australian Charity for the Children of Vietnam (ACCV) is the warmth of the people involved in it. From the students helped by the organisation to its staff and volunteers, everyone associated with the non-profit is patient, welcoming and good-humoured. I spoke to ACCV founder Alison Vidotto as well as office manager Mai Phung about the work that they do.
Alison founded ACCV in 2007 after a family trip to Vietnam, during which she met a young blind man named Quan, who for eight years was unable to leave his house in a tiny village in the countryside due to his disability. With no support network or possibility of receiving an education, Quan’s future looked grim. As a mother, Alison felt deeply for Quan and his family; as an English teacher, she saw a way that she could help them. It took two years of hard work for Alison to set up ACCV’s first English classes for the blind. Quan was one of the first students.
Making People Proactive
When asked about the organisation’s greatest accomplishments, Alison focuses entirely on the people helped by ACCV.
“Our young blind students are a constant source of pride and inspiration,” she says. “Many of them were extremely isolated and withdrawn when we met them. They have done so well I am in awe of them sometimes. They have jobs, gone back to school, some are at university, some speak great English. Most importantly, they have come out of the shadows and built a network together.”
Mai agrees, saying that ACCV’s success is in changing the attitudes of its students from being passive about their circumstances to becoming proactive.
Mai tells me about Hong, a blind student who retreated from the world after the accident that caused her to lose her vision at a young age. Instead of going to school, she spent six years in her house. With ACCV’s support, she finished high school and is now a university student, working in the ACCV office part-time in between classes. Her English is very good, and she has a great sense of humour, instantly putting people at ease.
“I’d like to stay and chat, but I’m very busy,” she jokes with me when I come into the office. She’s definitely going places.
ACCV’s original programme, ELITE, provides training in English and IT support for blind students, giving them opportunities for further education or employment that they otherwise would not have been able to access. Another programme, the Christine Edith Sponsorship programme, partners with the National Hospital of Pediatrics to support children with chronic illnesses whose families cannot afford the medicine needed to manage their condition. ACCV runs one other programme, called “A Brighter Tomorrow”, which provides funding for children from disadvantaged backgrounds to get an education, including paying for living expenses as well as tuition.
Both Mai and Alison say that the main goal of ACCV is to help people help themselves. Merely supporting people is unsustainable; providing support for people to learn to support themselves, however, is not only a better use of funds, it also gives them the confidence they too often lack.
ACCV is looking into expanding its ELITE programme to include a playgroup-type support club for younger blind children and their families. A major problem for blind children in Vietnam is isolation, as well as a lack of education (many schools do not accept blind students, as they do not have the resources necessary to teach them.) Mai and Alison do not hesitate when I ask them what the biggest challenge for ACCV is; lack of funding.
Alison says, “There is so much more I would love to do for blind and underprivileged children in Vietnam, but we are hamstrung by lack of finances.” — Kate Robinson
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