Hanoi, Vietnam - When the bus dropped us off, the was no school, no playground just a typical busy Hanoi neighborhood. We walked down a narrow ally, past a couple of street markets, dodged a few motor bikes, down a still smaller alley to arrive at a non-descript four story house with a plaque outside – Trung Tam Hy Vong (Hope Center). According to UNICEF there are about 1 million disabled children in Vietnam. Putting that in context, every 90th person living in Vietnam is a handicapped child under the age of seventeen. Many believe that the Agent Orange sprayed in the 60’s and 70’s invaded the ecosystem and the national gene pool, impacting the countryside and the people even until today. Dr Nga has created the Hope Center from a determined desire to help as many of those 1 million special needs kids as possible – at least in the Hanoi area.
What exist within the four stories of the Hope Center is a dedicated staff of 12 educating and challenging 50 special kids in a loving educational facility that has a certain felling of family – Dr Nga’s family. The building, the staff, all the educational materials, even the school lunches for the children come directly from Dr. Nga. She has build an incredibly reputable and progressive educational facility largely on her financial abilities with some outside support by organization such as UniReach International. The cost for this institution is about $2/day per child. The “recommended” tuition has never exceeded $90 for each child, although most parents have no means to pay close to that. The balance comes from of Dr. Nga. As we visited each of the classrooms I was surprised at the holistic nature of the education. Mathematics, reading and writing were mixed with stretching and yoga to assist in the children in developing their bodies not only there minds. I remembered back to earlier in the morning as each child climbed off their parents motor bikes as they were dropped off, how fast they each ran into the school, placed there shoes in the appropriate cubby and rushed up to there respective classroom. They all seemed so excited to be there – now I understood why. It was clear this was not your ordinary school, and these were not your ordinary kids – they truly were special.