Da Nang is not very touristy. It has China Beach, setting for the early 1990s TV show by the same name, and it's a great place to venture into the Marble Mountains. Otherwise, tourists usually opt for nearby Hoi An and Hue, both recognized by UNESCO for cultural heritage.
I went to Da Nang for a completely different reason -- to meet a superhero!
Anh is a 40-something disabled Vietnamese woman. I never quite understood what afflicted her, but it hampered her ability to grow and walk correctly. She walks on the sides of her feet and can't walk for long stretches at a time.
She hosted me for one night at her home, which is also her workshop and where she houses her employees. Despite not being blessed with fully functional legs, she learned how to use her hands to become an excellent tailor. Successful from the beginning, the story could have ended there. But that's not Anh.
Instead, Anh sought to help others with disability become financially self-sufficient just like her. She started teaching others with physical and mental challenges all she knows about tailoring. That was 20 years ago.
Today, over 100 students later, her workshop has never been bigger and prospects for the future have never been brighter. Her students come from all over Vietnam, often showing up with a suitcase and the hope that their journey wasn't for nothing. They come having been seen as an outcast their entire lives, a non-productive member of society. They come to Anh to change all that.
The students Anh has trained go back to their villages with the skills necessary to repair existing clothing or make new clothing from fabric. They don't just go back with a skill that allows them to become financially sustainable; they go back with dignity and with their head held high.
Anh, pictured to the left, has local clients as well as corporate clients that she solicits work from. She gets orders from schools to make all their uniforms, for example, as well as custom designs that the larger textile manufacturers don't have the skills to make. She also gets small parts of large orders as a form of corporate social responsibility from clothing manufacturers.
Senior students often train new students, and Anh trains the senior students. There is no limit for how long a student can stay. Some have stayed for months, others for years. It depends on how fast the student learns and what he or she wants to get out of the training. The students stay, learn, and eat for free with Anh, and are given a small monthly stipend as well.
Anh has never let her disability slow her down. Instead, she worked twice as hard to get where she is today. She sees the ability in others instead of the disABILITY and others achieve more than they ever thought they could. This is her strength. That is her superpower.
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