Work & Education

Around the world: equipping disabled people with skills in Vietnam

Skills are the foundations of being independent, from simple things like cooking, to skills that enable someone to get the job they want. But not everyone has access to learning, especially in parts of Vietnam. That’s why social enterprise, The Will to Live, which teaches young disabled people about web design, is so important. Kate Welch reports on this extraordinary set up.

Founded and run by social entrepreneur Ms Nguyen Thao Van, The Will to Live is not just a training program, but also a community. Unlike a conventional training program, The Will to Live operates solely from a 14th floor apartment in the suburbs of Hanoi. Equipped with a suite of computers set up in the living area, many of the trainees live in the three bedroom areas in the apartment as well.

The Will to Live group of young disabled peopleThey cook and care for each other and are leaning to live independently as well as gaining invaluable skills in graphic and web design. I asked about whether the computers have adaptations to help them be operated, and was roundly told: “we can all manage with the computers as they are.” Ms Van added; “if they have one hand, they use one hand. If they can use two then they will use two.”

I asked one young man if he would show me what he had learnt during the six weeks of training he has had so far. He promptly started to draw a Lotus flower, completing the beautiful design within minutes – a great demonstration of the high level of control and skills he had already gained.

The young people are brought to Hanoi by Ms Van because they are virtually written off in the provinces. They receive limited educational opportunities and have very limited mobility due to the lack of wheelchairs. Ms Van provides them with wheelchairs when they join the training scheme and, as they move into employment with companies, she tries to give them each a wheelchair so they can get to work.

Her ambition is to own a building rather than be reliant on renting apartments, which can be rather short term in Hanoi. They have already had to move several times, which is quite an undertaking in their circumstances.

Apart from that big vision, the one thing that would help most is having more wheelchairs – there is short supply in Vietnam. If anyone can help with this it would be greatly appreciated.

Picture1The Will to Live is a wonderful social enterprise. The young people are happy, independent and learning skills that are helping them gain employment in well-paid jobs. They are enterprising and resourceful as well as enjoying being together as a group of young people.

The Will to Live is not just standing still as a social enterprise, it is developing its offer and improving its services. As explained by its founder Ms Nguyen Thao Van in an email:

Today (1st of November 2013), Will to Live signed agreement to supply trained personnel with disabilities to Esoftflow, a company providing professional graphic products for international assets companies. Esoftflow has around 300 staff, in which 40% are trained and introduced by The Will to Live program.

The English is a little clumsy but the enterprise is clear, and the results are astonishing. If you can help us supply these students with wheelchairs to support them in their journey into work please contact

By Kate Welch

If you would like to help The Will to Live social enterprise, please email Kate Welch on

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