Vo Hoang Yen is a familiar face on Vietnam’s television and newspapers. As the founder of the Disability Research and Capacity Development Center, she was responsible for various projects to help persons with disabilities. She will soon go to Australia on an Australia Awards Scholarship for her PhD program, the next step to realize her dream of making her centre an institute for disability research and training.
Ms. Yen is one of the eight awardees with disabilities offered Australia Awards Scholarships in the 2013 selection round. Of the eight awardees, five have mobility impairments, two have visual impairments, and one has a hearing impairment. The number of awardees with disabilities marks a big increase from last year’s total of two awardees with disabilities, whose story was covered on VTV in March, 2013 (Youtubevideo of the program could be found here).
As a young university graduate, despite excellent study results, Yen faced rejections from potential employers. Personal experience made her understand the difficulties persons with disabilities must overcome to be part of the community. She was later awarded a Ford Foundation scholarship to study at the University of Kansas, where she received an M.A. in Human Development in 2004. Back in Vietnam and with support from the Ford Foundation, she set up the Disability Resource and Capacity Development Centre in Ho Chi Minh City in 2005. She won the Kazuo Itoga Memorial award in 2009 for her outstanding achievement in promoting the rights of persons with disabilities (Youtube video of Yen’s interview on VTV program “Người đương thời”could be found here).
“I have worked in the disability field for many years and I realize that there are still too many obstacles to persons with disabilities, due to the lack of understanding about the daily issues they have to face.” Yen said. “Even those who want to help them, for example their own relatives and the social programs, are confused about measures of support and often use traditional methods, which are based on pity and charity. As a result, many persons with disabilities consider themselves as objects of charity programs and do not have the confidence and skills to take advantage of available opportunities.”
Vo Hoang Yen talks with business people at an event.
Yen explained her decision to pursue a PhD program in Australia.
“Vietnam needs an institute focusing on research and training in disability. Therefore, my colleagues and I at the Disability Research and Capacity Development Center hope to develop the centre into an institute with all the necessary human resources and financial capabilities and an online training program for people, especially young people with disabilities as well as specialized training programs for those who work with persons with disabilities. Our future research will contribute to better policies for persons with disabilities. A PhD program focused on social work and disability with experienced experts in the field will help me have the necessary knowledge to realize this dream.”
“Moreover, I believe that during my studies in Australia, I will have the opportunity to study and learn about the policies and disability support programs of the Australian Government as well to know about exchange opportunities with the disability support organizations. I also understand that apart from scholarship programs, the Australian Government offers many grants to disability organizations in developing countries and I hope that our plan to establish an institute will receive the attention of the Australian Government and other organizations in the field.”
Another important reason for her choice, Yen explained, is AusAID’s and Australian universities’ thecommitment to providing reasonable adjustment to allow applicants and awardees with disability to participate in the Australia Awards Scholarships program on an equal basis.
When I read that AusAID aimed to ensure that “all applicants and awardees with disability are properly supported to enable their participation in the Australia Awards on an equal basis with all other applicants and awardees,” I understood that the program was creating equal opportunities for people like me.”
Vo Hoang Yen meets high school students.
Yen shared some advice with other people with disabilities who are looking for a post-graduate scholarship.
“Talented persons with disabilities should take advantage of this opportunity. However, many people misunderstand the meaning of support. A program with disability support might be interpreted as lowering its selection criteria for persons with disabilities. But that is not the case, support does not mean that you could be accepted by a university, even when you fail to meet its admission requirements. The program could only assist you to a certain degree, for example to improve your English and with your special needs while you are taking the courses. Persons with disabilities need to be able to satisfy their chosen university’s conditions as well as to complete their courses.”
Yen concluded, “This scholarship will help me and my center to reach a new and big road. Despite many obstacles ahead, I believe this road is going to be enjoyable with more companions – Australia Awards alumni – by my side.”