Every year, during the rainy season, the Han River overruns its banks. Sometimes the swell is greater than others. A quick glance at Linh’s home near Da Nang reveals a murky, brownish line running along the walls about five feet up the walls. In many places FWM serves the sun bleaches color out, but here the river does the opposite and adds color. And in many ways, opposites are appropriate for Linh.
Linh was two months old when she was diagnosed with Polio. In a matter of days she was totally paralyzed. For the next few months she was in the hospital and, slowly but surely, Linh was able to regain the use of her hands.
“People and children would point and laugh…”
Although Linh’s parents have always done what they could to support the daughter they so love, growing up was difficult. Linh’s father would carry her to and from school every day. Education was something she cherished, but to get it Linh had to go to school and going to school often meant enduring the cruelty of the people around her. “On days when my father got home from work early, he could pick me up on time. Most days I would have to wait outside the school for him to pick me up. People and children would point and laugh at me—they would call me names.” The incessant teasing wore on Linh, and eventually she started to believe what people told her. She started to believe that she was inferior to the world swirling around her because she couldn’t walk. Once Linh completed junior high school, she stopped attending. For the next decade she spent her days at home.
“…I just wanted to give up.”
“I was so sad because I would look at people who could walk and go wherever they wanted. I wanted to be able to do that, but I couldn’t. Other times, I just wanted to give up. I couldn’t move, I couldn’t do anything,” Linh says, “I just had to watch people from my bed.”
Home was safe and aside from medical checkups at the hospital every once in a while and some classes at an adult tailoring school, Linh rarely left hers. Her parents promised to get her a wheelchair but Linh knew deep-down that simply wasn’t possible no matter how much hope she held on to—wheelchairs were expensive and their family’s life, humble.
For ten years Linh prayed to whatever god was listening to somehow get a wheelchair. For ten years she hoped.
“Before the wheelchair I never smiled.”
Finally Linh’s answer came. To see her speak about it, Linh’s countenance changes, shifts as she tells about a day in July, 2008. The tinge of hopelessness that accompanied each syllable of her story before a wheelchair melts away. A look of sadness melts away. An expression that was altogether absent before the wheelchair comes alive. A smile breaks through, and then a grin, and then a glow.
“It was the happiest day of my life.”
The night before the wheelchair distribution, Linh couldn’t sleep. When she received her wheelchair, she could hardly contain the joy. She told her father, “now I can move—you walk home alone and I will meet you there!” At first her arm strength wasn’t enough to push herself in the wheelchair, but a spark of independence and renewed sense of self-worth were already manifesting in Linh. When she got home she exclaimed to her mother, “Mom, I can walk, I can move, mom I can walk now!” Linh has never viewed the wheelchair as a machine, but always as her legs. Finally Linh could go and visit people around her neighborhood, but for Linh just being able to see the neighborhood itself was often adventure enough. Thanks to her wheelchair, she would never have to see the world through only a window—now the world was her window.
“My wheelchair gave me confidence.”
“I had taken classes at the trade school, but I had no way of putting them to use,” Linh says. “I knew we couldn’t afford a wheelchair, let alone a sewing machine. But my wheelchair gave me confidence—enough confidence to ask my parents to take out a loan so I could buy a used sewing machine and start to earn an income.” Before taking out the loan, Linh promised her parents that she would work hard to earn back the money they borrowed and continue to support the family with the money that came in afterward.
She smiles and laughs as she says, “I am a tailor. When I started out I had the debt we owed on the sewing machine—now I have paid off the original sewing machine and purchased two others.” Her small operation soon outgrew the space in her home and her family built an additional room to provide a workshop just for Linh’s tailoring service. She gives a short tour of the workshop, proudly showing the many colorful clothes that hang all around—each one hand tailored for the future wearer. “I can tailor for anyone although most of my clients are women and children.”
Linh quickly became the breadwinner for her family. For a girl who had once felt convicted because she couldn’t support her family like so many of her peers, she had helped pay off debts and started a thriving tailoring business out of their home. On top of all that she also pays the majority of the tuition for her three siblings currently attending university. Ever eager to continue learning, Linh has started playing the Dan Tranh (similar to a zither). While her business keeps her very occupied she makes an effort to carve out time to play.
“Words cannot express my joy.”
Every year, during the rainy season, the Han River overruns its banks. Unlike many places where nature takes its toll on color by bleaching it out, the waters leave a mark on Linh’s home. And her wheelchair has left an indelible mark on Linh’s life. A girl who once stayed home, rarely went out, and never smiled, has become the opposite. She has bloomed into a young woman who owns her own business, supports her family, and can’t help but beam when reflecting on the mobility she now has thanks to her wheelchair. Each year the Han River overruns its banks—and every time a wheelchair is gifted through Free Wheelchair Mission, it’s because someone’s generosity overflowed their hearts. And a story is written. This is Linh—and hers is a story that you have helped write. Hers is a smile you have helped give.
For information: Angela Gomez - firstname.lastname@example.org
Free Wheelchair Mission 15279 Alton Parkway, Suite 300 Irvine, CA 92618
949-273-8470 (ext 208) phone (949) 453-0085 fax