BUNG SANG COMPUTER PROJECT

How it started

When Onesta Carpene' talked to me about Bung Sang, the community of blind boys and girls in Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam, we were sitting and drinking tea in her house garden in Phom Phen, in July 1994.
Onesta is a catholic volunteer who has been working for thirty years for the Australian CISDE, Cooperative Internationale pour le Development et la Solidariete'.
In the center of Ho Chi Minh - Onesta was telling me - there is a community of blind called Bung Sang. The school is not more than a poor house of 50 square meters owned by Dao Khan Troung, a blind teacher of music.
Since 1985 he has hosted some orphans and blind street boys coming from the Mekong countryside. Now there are some fifty boys and girls aged from 5 to 24 who live and study together. Music instruction is the most important activity; all of them can play at least one instrument and sing in a chorus, but school subjects are studied anyway.
Four days later, I visited the community for the first time. In the middle of the traffic of central Saigon, I saw a group of blind children holding their hands, crossing the street with bravery, and some difficulties. The children of the Bung Sang Club were coming back from school.
My great wish is that some students of the Bung Sang could take computer courses in a specialized school - their teacher Dao told me when I met him that day - Music keeps us together, but it is necessary to increase their knowledge in all other fields. The group is very tight, everybody helps each other, the elders teach the younger, they need to learn everything.
Mr. Dao's idea was to send some students abroad, to learn and come back as trainers. In 1995, after investigations in schools for the blind in the West, I thought the best solution was to start a project with the objective of providing the community with a computer and equipment for reading and writing and printing in Braille and teach as many as possible to use the system.
With the support and help of some friends and of Mantovan Association, in the same year I was able to set up a workstation in the already small space of Bung Sang. The computer had a speech interface, a Braille display and a Braille printer.
I was in front of a challenge: I had never had a teaching experience with disabled people and had to study and learn something new. But soon those who knew a little English learned how to use the system, getting great results, and increasing their learning skills.
On my way back to Italy, I took a commitment. I would have worked to provide Bung Sang with a computer room. Again I had to learn something new, how to raise money for projects. After four years I was able to tell Mr. Dao's that his dream was coming true.
The project we are working on now, is the creation of a computer center, connected to the Internet, with technology for studying, producing and publishing texts and music scripts in Braille.
Although there are a lot of difficulties, there's no lack of optimism.
We hope the computer center will open a window on a world of knowledge and friendship to be explored without barriers, a better world than the one we have known so far.

Carlo Pizzato, November 1999