‘I’ve labored under a sense of inferiority of my looks over the past years. But I’ve increasingly realized that it isn’t necessary any longer’
A woman with physical disabilities from central Vietnam has been determined to earn a living by using her own defective feet to create mosaics and exorcise an inferiority complex from her mind.
Vo Thi Le Hang was seen on a sultry July afternoon tightly holding a pen-like applicator with her feet to make a craft known as ‘diamond painting’ while leaning against a folded blanket on a bed in her brick house, perched in isolation on a hill in Bo Trach District, Quang Binh Province.
Based on the same concept as mosaics and paint-by-numbers, diamond painting uses tiny ‘diamond’-like facets to create colorful designs and patterns for finished designs that sparkle.
To produce a diamond painting from a piece of thick fabric with given colorful patterns, the 31-year-old dipped the applicator into wax, picked up ‘diamonds’ – tiny plastic pieces of a certain color contained in a bowl – and pressed them onto minute areas of the corresponding color.
This type of mosaic has been increasingly common in Vietnamese homes as wall decorations.
The craft required attention to detail and patience and Hang had them both but the greatest difficulty came when she was trying to place a diamond in the correct area.
While doing the studding, Hang moved her deformed hands up and down in an attempt to maintain balance, sweating profusely from hot winds that were blowing through wall crevices.
She was racing against the time to give the complete diamond painting to a customer.
Born with cerebral palsy, Hang’s limbs became smaller in childhood, so her hands fail to hold things while the legs are too frail to support her during a walk, meaning that she can only crawl around.
The disorder left Hang bemoaning her fate in tears, especially when she realized her peers could do various meaningful jobs, she recalled, giving a smile visibly distorted by pain at times.
She has never attended school but became literate partly because she listened to children when they were studying.
Hang grew more confident and optimistic after knowing of disabled people like Nick Vujicic, an Australian motivational speaker born with tetra-amelia syndrome, via the Internet.
“I read about their lives and the way they overcame physical disabilities to be useful. They’re like me. As they can do it, so do I,” she said.
The woman embarked on an effort to earn money and stop being a burden on her parents since.
At first she settled on bamboo knitting but later quit due to her limbs and ill health.
She then took up making diamond paintings at home – a job that she has maintained up to the present.
“Hang showed dogged determination. She sometimes worked until her legs got numb and stiff. When I intervened, she said ‘I can do it’ and didn’t stop the job before it’s finished,” said Bui Thi Thu Ha, her mother.
Hang has been financially independent thanks to diamond paintings, each of which she completes every two months and fetches around VND2-3 million ($88-132).
“To an ordinary person, that sum is too small, but to me it’s worth a fortune,” she said.
She recounted that tears welled up in her eyes when she received VND900,000 ($40) – the money she made for the first time in her lifetime from selling the first diamond mosaic.
To boost the sale, she thought of advertising her products via live videos on social media but was initially deterred by the possibility that her face would scare viewers.
She spent a night in contemplation before deciding to appear before the camera, wearing lipstick for the first time.
“I’ve labored under a sense of inferiority of my looks over the past years. But I’ve increasingly realized that it isn’t necessary any longer,” she said.
Hang had the process of making a diamond painting live-streamed to show people how difficult it was for her to produce one.
Before a session, she used her legs to hold a cellphone, tapped the Facebook icon and wrote the following lines:
“What I wish to do most as a person with disabilities is to be able to work, fend for myself, help my family and make life more beautiful.”