02/28/2015, 00.00
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Saigon: Catholic activist follows Don Bosco and helps Christian and non-Christian blind kids

by NC
In 1999, Nguyễn Quốc Phong founded Mái Ấm Thiên Ân, a home for children. Blind himself following an accident, he runs the facility helping young people regardless of sex, religion or social class. Particular care is given to poor children and those from remote areas. The goal is to educate them and encourage them through school to be part of society.

Ho Chi Minh City (AsiaNews) - The purpose of Mái Ấm Thiên Ân, a home for disabled children established in 1999 in Ho Chi Minh City (southern Vietnam), is to provide them, especially if they are blind,  with the best conditions to attend school, develop their potential, learn the basics of a trade, and become autonomous members of society.

Over the years, these objectives grew thanks to the support of Catholic and non-Catholic private donors and organisations, from Vietnam and abroad (United States, Switzerland and France).

The brainchild of the home is Nguyễn Quốc Phong, a Catholic. Born in 1958, and educated at the St John Bosco School in Da Lat, he lost his eyesight in 1991 in an accident. Eventually, he decided to dedicate his life to people who share his condition, irrespective of their religion, political affiliation or social status.

"This is my calling and God entrusted it to me," he said. "So far, at least a hundred people have found a job and a place in society after attending Mái Ấm Thiên Ân. Some of them also got married and have created their own family.

This experience has proven successful in a nation where physical and psychological problems still represent a serious handicap. In Vietnam, at least four million people have disabilities of various kinds, including a million who are blind, 400,000 of whom are children.

At least 10 per cent of school students have some form of visual impairment. Over the years, Catholics have performed invaluable work for their human and social development.

Speaking to AsiaNews, Nguyễn Quốc Phong said that the centre's goal is "to provide blind children with the best conditions" to develop "their potential". Residents, boys and girls over the age of ten, can learn a trade and get used to lead a life that is as normal as possible.

"For their education, it is very important we teach them Braille and the use of computers adapted for the blind," he added.

Special care is given to children from rural, remoter areas, as well those that are poor, the Catholic activist said. These kids, "whether born blind or blind from an accident," lack the means to go to school.

At present, "30 blind kids" are staying at the centre at present. Five are attending university in Ho Chi Minh City, eight are going to high school, seven are in elementary school, and ten are studying at a vocational school.

Ms Nguyen Thi Kieu Oanh is a former resident of Mái Ấm Thiên Ân. She has been blind since the age of eight, and dreamt of becoming a teacher, something she was able to do by majoring in English at the Ho Chi Minh City University of Social Sciences and Humanities (formerly known as Saigon University).

Inside the home, the prevailing feeling is one of being part of one family, without discrimination of sex, race or religion. The Don Bosco method is applied, with the aim of enlightening all those "who have been through darkness and obscurity".

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