Since Le Thi Muoi, a wheelchair-confined woman living in Ho Chi Minh City, met her personal assistant Tram, her life has completely changed.
Ms. Muoi (on wheelchair) can now go to the market with the assistance of PA Nguyen Thuy To Tram Photo: Tuoi Tre
She no longer has to depend on relatives, increasing her confidence and ability to interact with other people.
“I rarely wanted to leave home before, fearing people’ stares,” Muoi said, “but that is easier to me now, thanks to Tram. With her help, I can now do what I have thought I never could; like going to school or for a walk without bothering my family.”
Duong Dinh Thao Phuong, whose legs were left paralysed after an accident 10 years ago, has been utilizing her first personal assistant for the past four months.
“I didn’t dare do anything before, because that would involve asking for family members’ help,” Phuong said.
Now that she doesn’t have to wait to ask for help, Phuong can live more independently.
Providing personal assistants for people with disabilities is a new service provided by the project “Live Independently” of the Disability Resource and Development Center.
Funded by the Nippon Foundation and Japan’s Human Care Association, the project aims to promote full participation and equal opportunities for people with disabilities.
Demand for the service is growing, said Live Independently project coordinator Nguyen Thanh Tung, but it doesn’t have much developing potential in Vietnam.
Tung, who was trained by the Human Care Association to run the program, said many people in Japan pursue a profession as a personal assistant.
The Japanese government also has supporting public policies to encourage these services, Tung said.
People with disabilities only have to pay 10 percent of the total service fee in Japan, with the rest subsidized by the government.
“However, in our country [Vietnam], this is totally new and hasn’t received any attention from the government and the public yet,” he said.
Phuong, the wheelchair bound service user, said she only found out about the service when browsing the Web site of DRD by chance.
In Vietnam, personal assistance programs for people with disabilities have only recently been started in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City as a community development project implemented by DRD.
People joining the project pay VND50,000 a month, while their personal assistants are paid by the project, normally about VND11,000 an hour.
Phuong said that without this support she couldn’t afford her assistant from what she earns from her beading job at home.
To many Vietnamese, a personal assistant is another version of a house maid, which has discouraged many to pursue the job.
However, Muoi’s personal assistant, Tram, said they are very different professions.
“We are also a friend and a consultant to them,” she said. “We help them make decisions, but not decide for them.”