If you drive through Phan Thiet and continue towards Ke Ga and the beautiful coastline there you will eventually find yourself in a town called Lagi. It’s a small town surrounded by stunning beaches and endless dragon fruit farms and is the home of ANH SANG SIGHTLESS CHILDREN’S SPONSORING CENTER located at Quarter 1, Ward Tan An, Lagi Town, Binh Thuan Province, Viet Nam.
Sister Maria Dang Thi Thuy Phuong was raised a Catholic and knew at a young age that she wanted to be a nun and at 17 she entered the nunnery. She trained as a teacher for the visual challenged (blind) helping visually impaired and blind children.
Sister Phuong was part of a larger orphanage that had both visually impaired and mentally challenged (down syndrome) children. Many of the down syndrome children weren’t going to school but in contrast, many of the visually impaired students were going to school. The main Sister who was looking after the down syndrome children became very ill around this time and so the Church decided to replace her with a new administrator.
The new administrator arrived and for some reason did not want to continue allowing the blind children to attend school. The situation quickly escalated and finally boiled over when the administrator threw the blind children onto the street.
One of the blind children called a teacher friend who took them all in. However she could not do this for more than a couple of days as the children numbered twenty two so she told Sister Phuong that she would donate her land so a new orphanage could be built..
Sister Phuong really loved the children but she spent several sleepless nights because if she went with the children to the new orphanage then she wouldn’t receive her small wage, health insurance or pension later on. However she realized that her duty was to the children and so she embraced the new path that opened to her and decided to follow the children to the new orphanage.
Sister Phuong is very respected in her community and she has many volunteers and supporters who help her in her daily teaching. She is also responsible for all aspects of living for the children in the orphanage including feeding, washing, dressing, gardening,and most importantly donations . So Sister Phuong called all her supporters and told them what had happened to them and how she needed their assistance, money, materials, and other goods and services to build and supply the new orphanage.
Many volunteers and donors came forward with money, materials and their own labor. They also hired skilled builders and from 2008 to 2015 they have built eight rooms (school rooms, study hall, kitchen, a large covered area for eating, and student leisure, music room, male and female dorms, a large bathroom, kitchen and dinning room.
The community of Lagi including parents and loyal supporters have donated so much that Sister Phuong has a fully operational school/home/orphanage for the visually impaired. This generous giving highlights the dedication and respect Sister Phuong has in her community (Mui Ne – Full Moon Resort has been a major supporter of the orphanage for many years).
Not all the children are orphans, some have parents but since most schools lack the resources to accept visual challenged students combined with the need of both parents to work (have farms etc), Sister Phuong offers the children the care they require which allows both parents to continue to work.
Sister Phuong has created a family of visually impaired children (her family) who go to school and have a home and many brothers and sisters. The children range from 4 to 24 and some of the children have been with her since 2002. With her loving, caring and nurturing nature all her family thrives and grows and they all know how lucky they are. At present she has 28 students and 5 teachers (who receive a small salary) and she has 5 volunteer support staff. All the staff/volunteers are very loyal to Sister Phuong.
More importantly all the children really love her and are very fond of ‘their mother’. They openly tell her, her guests and casual volunteers.
Sister Phuong is always looking at ways of teaching new skills for her flock (children) e.g. massage, handicraft (key rings, and dusters) and since the students can’t see Phuong has to separate all the components and put them in separate containers with braille so that the students can find the right component to complete the item. Phuong has also had assistance from other volunteers like Dror (France) who ran a workshop on how to make necklaces and bracelets. The older students are very clever and were able to complete the items with little error or poor workmanship.
Phuong has also taught self reliance by forming the students into a band (both large and small) who can play western pop, Vietnamese pop and rock, jazz and American Rock and Pop. The blind band is often invited to play at local weddings and further afield (Mui Ne for the Jibes Fun Cup.)
Lastly the older students see a way of gaining employment, I have asked a number of the older students who speak English well, ‘What do you what to be when you grow up?’ and several have said they want to become English Teachers for the blind.
In closing, India may have their Mother Teresa however Vietnam has their Sister Maria Phuong.
Thanks to Kristy (GM Blue Ocean Resort) for suggesting having tours to visit the orphanage. The students really look forward to having guests and practicing their English (I regularly visit the orphanage) and share their wonderful home with them for the day.