Sometimes ordinary people do quietly heroic things.
There are thousands of individuals and probably hundreds of groups, organizations and non-government organizations (NGOs) helping Vietnamese people cope and overcome dozens of social issues. While we remember some of the names of the groups, the individuals rarely receive much recognition for their extraordinary efforts – often underfunded, under-resourced and preformed while still having to make a living and care for their families.
So it is with pleasure that I would like to mention a rather lovely lady with a heart of gold who’s been working with disabled and handicapped kids including youngsters with mental difficulties due to such things as Agent Orange and other causes; Jackie Wrafter.
Jackie, who I have met on a number of occasions, has been working with these disadvantaged kids for nearly 17 years. Realizing that these kids needed special help, Jackie and her co-founder Jacci Bulman established Kianh Foundation in the year 2000, originally to work with the children with disability living at Hoi An Orphanage.
Eventually, seeing that families with disabled kids in the community were placing them in the orphanage as the only way to access Kianh Foundation services, they built their own center to set up the Kianh Foundation on the outskirts of Hoi An in an area called Dien Ban, in April 2012.
Although it’s mostly known as the ‘Kianh Foundation’, the center is named the Dien Ban Day Centre for the Development of Children with Special Needs. Dien Ban is one of many areas of Vietnam deeply affected by the lingering effects of Agent Orange, poverty and health issues. Many families with special needs kids have little knowledge of how to help them, so the drain on the family’s ability to earn a living while needing substantial time to look after the kids becomes a huge problem.
The center was intended to give enough support to families for their special kids that they did not feel so desperate that they were compelled to give up their children to an institution; the idea was to provide specialized services – physical trainers, teachers who know sign language and so on. The center now caters to the needs of over 100 students although there are 160 more on the waiting list.
Core to the idea of the foundation is the goal to give the kids some ability to independently live; to walk, or read; to do simple things around their houses; and to attend school and acquire learning and social skills by interacting with other kids despite their handicaps.
Of course none of this happens without a lot of planning, financial skills and coordination that arrived with Scotsman Nick Keegan, another invisible hero, whose work has enabled the foundation to extend its fundraising and finances for future expansion.
Significantly in the work of the foundation and the center is the training of local staff, much of which is provided by long-term overseas professional trainers and funding special training for staff overseas – bringing in medical and physiological knowledge – which is helping to achieve results that might not have been possible even a few years ago. Like a number of NGOs, the increasing emphasis on ‘skilling up’ and passing on knowledge to local staff and volunteers is a vital part of the future of charity work in Vietnam.
Although she’s named as the ‘most excellent’ Jackie Wrafter – she’s a very down-to-earth person and simply laughs if you called her that. And no bowing is required either!
Obviously, there are dozens of people – all invisible heroes – who have helped this happen and of whom we’ll probably never know. Yet there is something we can sometimes do to help. If you know an invisible hero, give them a pat on the back, buy them a drink, sing their praises in the local media or better yet… fork over some cash to support their work. That makes you an invisible hero too!