…Thắng laughed wholeheartedly when asked how he’d overcome all the challenges since his accident. Swiftly getting all the kernels from the cob with his hand, Thắng was certainly efficient when the pot got filled up in just minutes while still not missing a beat with all the catching up with his visitors. Who would have thought that ten years ago, this witty, optimistic teenager would have to fight hard for his life?
Thắng was registered World Vision Việt Nam’s Sponsorship Program in Tuần Giáo district, Điện Biên province in 2013 (Photo: Nam Ngô).
A harmless child’s play gone wrong.
Being the first-born son of a Mông family in Tuần Giáo district, Điện Biên province, Thắng was his parents’ pride and hope for his quick wit, robust health, and caring nature for his younger siblings. A classified-poor household in Pú Nhung commune, Mr. Dế - Ms. Sính the children to care for themselves while the two worked in the field from dusk until dawn.
And then, everything changed after an after-school silverberry hunt in 2013. Thắng, eight at the time, climbed up to reach the higher berries and slipped, getting his eye pierced by sharp branches. He was rushed to the commune’s medical center to receive first aid and then sent home. But Thắng kept on having high fevers, and the wound swelled up alarmingly. After a few days, he lost vision in both eyes and drifted a deep comma.
Compassion and commitment win over the strongest hearts.
Getting informed about Thắng’s situation, World Vision Việt Nam staff persisted that the family brings Thắng to the hospital. Seeing their son not waking up for days, his parents believed that the boy must have been possessed by some evil spirit and insisted on keeping him at home to perform expelling rituals.
“Thắng had just registered World Vision’s Sponsorship Program, so we were very concerned, especially when he was in a life-threatening condition like that. I am a mother myself, so I understand his parents love him more than anyone. We came up with a plan: to respect and let them continue with the rituals while we bring Thắng to the hospital,” Ms. Nguyễn Thị Hương Giang, Tuần Giáo Area Program Manager, World Vision Việt Nam, looked back.
“At that point, the shaman said the Evil spirit wouldn’t let him go, and we had lost all hope. But World Vision officers kept coming to our house and said that they’d help Thắng get treatment in Hà Nội. I thought we’d already done everything we could, so it wouldn’t hurt if Thắng had another chance,” Mr. Dế recalled.
With World Vision’s support, Thắng was brought to Việt Đức hospital in Hà Nội. It turned out there was still a one-inch piece of branch stuck deep in Thắng’s hemisphere, causing serious neuro infections. After getting the life-saving surgery and months of being in ICU, Thắng regained consciousness and vision in his right eye, but the prolonged neuro infections paralyzed his right body.
Leaving no one behind
The doctors said that Thắng would need long-term physical therapy to regain some of his motor functions. Unable to afford therapy but not having the heart to see his son bedridden, Mr. Dế asked around and built training bars off bamboo poles for Thắng to move around the house. With the family’s support and his resilience, Thắng gradually relearned how to walk, and after two years, he could slowly move around without crutches.
Being able to walk again was already a triumph, but being a high-spirited and energetic kid, Thắng yearned to play and study with his friends and teachers like before the accident. During the day, Thắng would stay home alone, waiting for his parents and siblings to return. World Vision staff would pay him a visit whenever there was a field activity in the commune to cheer him up. Thắng loved those visits; he’d smile the whole time.
“I want to come back to school. I want to be able to walk and use my hand like before to help my parents. Can you help me, please?” – Thắng once told his sponsorship officer. But the whole district did not have any school that provided accommodation for special-need students. His parents had asked the commune school, but Thắng’s condition was deemed “too difficult” to accommodate.
In Việt Nam, 43% of children with disabilities experience multiple deprivations, from education to social participation. Only 01 in 10 children with disabilities get to attend school out of a population of 1.3 million (UNICEF Viet Nam, 2022). To children with limited means like Thắng, the challenges were all the more distressing, making his wish to return to school a far-fetching dream.
During that time, World Vision Việt Nam had been implementing advocacy activities for inclusive education for children with disability in Tuần Giáo district. After months of working with the commune school’s board and advocating at the district level, World Vision Việt Nam was able to get the school’s permission for Thắng to return to school. To help him get to school more easily and be more independent, World Vision brought Thắng a new wheelchair. In addition, his parents also received livelihood support, such as a breeding cow and husbandry training, to stabilize their financial situation. With their diligence and hard work, Mr. Dế and Ms. Sính gradually added more livestock to the barn, like pigs, chickens, and rabbits.
With World Vision’s support, Thắng was able to return to school in 2015, almost three years after his accident.
Of course, coming back after three years was no easy feat for Thắng, especially when he lost the function of his right hand and leg. He had to relearn everything, from writing with his hand to caring for himself. But he wouldn’t mind because as long as he got to study, there were still doors and hopes for the future. Plus, Thắng had a loving family, teachers, friends, and World Vision staff, to accompany him along the way.
Looking forward to the future
Ten years have passed since that fateful event. Now 18 years old, Thắng attends 10th grade with his brother, Chiến, at the commune’s Center for Special Education and only comes home on weekends. Thanks to his diligent practice and determination, Thắng is now adept at taking care of himself and working on simple chores when living away from home. Plus, he has Chiến as his trusted companion along the way.
“Having witnessed and accompanied Thắng’s journey to recovery, to all of us World Vision staff here in Tuần Giáo, Thắng has become like our own family. We continue to check in regularly with his family and provide appropriate assistance throughout the years. World Vision Việt Nam is also working with Tuần Giáo district’s Department of Education and Training, Department of Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs, and local Centers for Special Education to advocate for educational opportunities for all children, especially the most vulnerable ones, in our project communes,” Ms. Nguyễn Thị Hương Giang, Tuần Giáo Area Program Manager, World Vision Việt Nam, shared.
World Vision continues to accompany Thắng and his family throughout the years through regular check-ins and livelihood support
Like most of his peers, Thắng loves scrolling his news feed on social media and dreams about building his own YouTube channel. Sharing videos of his singing in the Mông language and the fun stories from his boarding school life, Thắng has accumulated a few hundred subscribers. “I just bought a new microphone for 40,000 VND. I must be the poorest YouTuber in Việt Nam,” Thắng laughed while taking slow but steady steps toward the walkway. The 15-meter long, concrete-slabbed walkway spanning from the front porch to the more leveled part of the dirt road was finished in 2022 with the support of World Vision and the community to help Thắng use his wheelchair, if he ever needs to, and move around more easily.
“But the YouTube channel is just something to help with my goal in the future. We started raising some rabbits a while ago, and it’s going pretty well, so I want to build a rabbit farm with my brother. After graduating high school, we will start planning,” Thắng shared enthusiastically.
In 2020, to help Thắng use his wheelchair and move around more safely, World Vision and community members worked together to build a concrete walkway connecting his house and the neighborhood’s main road (Photo: Nam Ngô).
Thắng is one of the 220,000 children whose lives have been touched by World Vision’s interventions and support every year in Việt Nam. During our 35 years of operation in Việt Nam, World Vision has been working tirelessly with partners and communities to close the opportunity gaps in the economy, education, and health care for vulnerable and marginalized communities, thereby empowering children to reach their potential and enjoy life to its fullness.