The Light Is In Our Hearts

Story by Nguyen Thi Thuy Duong - Communications Officer & Nguyen Minh Chau - Disability Inclusion Officer, Governance and Participation Unit, UNDP in Viet Nam

August 14, 2023

“I could barely move myself, maybe I should give up?” – That was what Le Thi Mai Oanh contemplated on the way back home. Seated on the bus, she was returning from her first dance class, an experience that completely changed her life.

UNDP in Viet Nam

Born with albinism and visual impairment, Oanh faced difficulties growing up in Viet Nam. Even something as simple as participating in group games with her peers in the village playground, was a struggle. Conscious that she looked different from other people, Oanh had never worn a dress in her life. Curious stares and hurtful murmurs from passersby became a reality that she had to face almost every day. With time, Oanh gradually retreated from social interactions.

People with albinism and visual impairment like Oanh face multiplied difficulties. Visual impairment restricts their access to information, transportation and independence in unfamiliar environments. Moreover, the prevailing social stigma and misconceptions surrounding albinism often lead to discrimination and exclusion from educational and employment opportunities. These difficulties  are compounded by limited access to specialized healthcare, visual aids, and supportive services. As a result, people with albinism often face hurdles in fully participating in the social, economic, and cultural activities. 

Little did Oanh know, her encounter with Pham Ngoc Dung – the head of training at Solar Dance Club – was destined to lead her on a transformative journey. Dung had participated in the "Preventing Gender-based Violence against Women with Disabilities" training organized by the UN Development Programme (UNDP) in 2022. The experience solidified Dung’s determination to become an agent of change and contribute to the empowerment of other women, particularly those with disabilities like herself.

Knowing Oanh’s circumstances, Dung tried to explain to Oanh the power of dance and convince her to join the dance club. After two months, Oanh finally took her first momentous step into the realm of dancing.

The first dance lessons were quite draining for Oanh. “I usually feel unwell, though the doctor said there was nothing wrong with my health. Perhaps it’s because I always stay indoors,” Oanh recalled. “After each lesson, I cannot feel my feet, as if I am gliding along the ground.” She thought of giving up on dancing several times. “But the sisters and brothers I have at the dance class are too nice to me, they are so friendly and supportive. I thought to myself I should try harder in order not to disappoint them.”

And Oanh not only lived up to the expectations of her friends at the dance class but also surpassed her own. At the 2023 Dance Sports Clubs Cup for Individuals with Visual Disabilities held in July, Oanh showcased her skills alongside 80 dancers and won the Bronze medal for Lady Bachata. It had only been five months since her first dance lesson. “Standing on such a stage was a moment I had never imagined," Oanh said. The contest had been jointly organized by UNDP and the UN Partnership on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Multi-Partner Trust Fund (UNPPRD Fund), in partnership with other donors, the Viet Nam Blind Association, the Viet Nam Paralympic Association, and the Viet Nam Dance Sports Federation, to create a space for persons with disabilities to show talents, thus fostering inclusivity.

UNDP in Viet Nam

“I now wear dresses and even know how to make up. I feel confident to perform in front of people. I feel much better,” Oanh said, her lovely smile gracing her face. Her smile was mirrored by all the contestants, who, just like Oanh, overcame discrimination and obstacles to find their strength and inspiration through dance - in empowering each other, or simply discovering their own capabilities.

“I dream that more clubs and classes for persons with disabilities will be opened, so more and more people with disabilities can participate in these activities,” Oanh expressed. For sure this is not only the dream of Oanh, but also the dream of people who are working every day to create an inclusive world. Ultimately, we are not that much different from each other, because the true light is in our hearts. /.