This program was started in 2003 with a first group of four women who were trained for six months.
For two of them we extended the training so that they could become instructors to another group of four, and from mid 2004 until 2010 the trainer has been Ms Phan Thuy Phuong (one of the first trainees) who is now a skilled computer instructor able to train also low vision and sighted students.
Although official figures are not available, we easily noticed that blind women in Vietnam have less access to education.
To have a blind child in Vietnam is quite a cultural and a social problem for most families and when the child is a girl the solution is often to keep her in the house.
In our experience in Vietnam we met blind women working as unskilled labour, such as making toothpicks, or trained as masseuses to provide a service at 20% of the market price for a 1 hour massage.
During our visits to the five schools for the blind and to blind associations in Vietnam we never had the chance to meet a blind woman in a prominent position or as the head of a provincial blind association.
We decided to do something and we started this program in collaboration with the local blind associations of the Mekong Delta. They would select and suggest the women to be trained according to certain necessary basic requirements.
By acquiring computer skills the blind women discover a world of knowledge and communication tools available to them in their own language. They can learn school subjects by themselves, access information, listen to music, play games, read books and finally play a role in their communities when they go back home after the training.
When we decided to start this program we made a choice in favour of a category of people who are among the most neglected.
The women stay in the Center for a term of three months that can be extended if necessary.
The Center offers them free accommodation, so the trainees leave their place of residence and live together at the Center for three months. They learn together, help each other and make new friends.
Then they go back with new tools and a new perception of the world.
From 2003 to 2011, forty one women have been trained following the blind-to-blind approach in the only available program of this kind in Vietnam.
In 2011 the Sao Mai Computer Center for the Blind was relocated, but the new building does not have space and facilities for the women to stay at the Center during their training. The program was therefore suspended in search of accommodation solutions nearby, but they were not suitable or safe for the women.
Expanding the program to other provinces, where Sao Mai Center has branches, resulted too complicated and far too expensive to manage for our resources.
Finally in March 2013, the Blind Association of DongNai was able to open a four-months computer program for women and we are contributing to it.
The instructor, Ms Nhu Thuy, is one of the first trainees in our women computer program.
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update: May 2013