Stormy Childhood of a Girl with Disability who Devoted Herself to the Community


Thanh Thien and her mother
Thanh Thien and her mother

Nguyen Thi Thanh Thien (born in 1989) not only undertook an Australia Awards scholarship, but was also awarded the International Student Award by the State of South Australia for her community engagement. Her participation in community activities contributed to changing society's view of people with disabilities.

Holding back tears watching friends go to school

Born in Ba Don, Quang Binh province to a father who was lecturer of politics, and a mother who was a trader, Thien is the youngest of four siblings. Unfortunately, misfortune came to the family when her father suddenly passed away of a stroke. The then 5-year-old Thien felt the heavy weight of a difficult life on her mother's shoulders.

The sadness multiplied when Thien was old enough to go to school but was rejected because of her disability. At the age of six, she held back her tears as she watched her friends go to school, while she could not.

Thien is always optimistic and determined on her learning path
Thien is always optimistic and determined on her learning path

However, Thien was finally admitted to primary school at the age of seven, with the condition that she should demonstrate her ability to catch up with the class in four weeks or she would be expelled. She made it through these four weeks, struggling with books to keep up with her friends.

"I had to practice writing more to be able to write quickly to keep up with my classmates, and in fact, I didn’t have any friends. At first, children didn’t play with me because of my disability. Later, I mixed well with my classmates and made many new friends", Thien shared.

Despite scholarships and support from her teachers, Thien experienced many barriers throughout her learning path. She spent many nights wondering: "Am I really walking on my own two feet, am I trying hard enough, or am I just being biased to complete my studies?". But she did not let negative feelings deter her, and remained optimistic and determined.

In 2008, Thien was admitted to University of Foreign Languages - University of Danang, with a major in Pedagogy. Here, she again faced barriers. In the first year, a medical examination found she was ‘not fit for studies because of disability’ after.

"These obviously are two completely different concepts. Why are disability and health considered the same thing? I was shocked seeing the notice. I was seriously damaged with a thought that an educational environment like this rejected me, where on earth can I find my place? I blamed myself, feeling I didn’t deserve to study the major I chose. I saw a dark future," Thien said.

But with strong will, and encouragement from her family and friends, Thien overcame the difficulties. She completed her Bachelor's degree in English at the University of Foreign Languages (University of Danang) and found joy in voluntary work with a group of students in Da Nang.

Create your own value

Rejected by university despite her success with the entrance exams
Rejected by university despite her success with the entrance exams, Nguyen Thi Thanh Thien did not let her disability stop her and found opportunities to reach further

Thien learned about the Australian Awards scholarships from a close friend. Her desire to reach further, and overcome both her limitations and prejudices, made her decide to apply for the scholarship. Although her first application was not successful, she did not give up and was accepted after applying the following year.

Despite being rejected by a university even after she passed its entrance exams, Nguyen Thi Thanh Thien did not give up and found herself an opportunity to reach out to the world. While studying in Australia, Thien always participated in voluntary activities and contributed to the community.

Thien received many certificates of merit from the Red Cross and International Student Awards while studying her Master’s degree in Australia. Currently, she works as a part-time consultant for the Gender Consortium at the Flinders University of Australia.

When sharing about her future plans, Thien said she would continue to contribute to the community, live to the fullest and do what she desires to.

"I want everybody to realise that disability is just what they can see from the outside. When given favorable conditions, people with disability can work as effectively as others. I find no difference but only diversity in society," shared Nguyen Thi Thanh Thien. She hopes that in the future, people with disabilities will be treated equally and have more learning opportunities, and that prejudices will be eliminated so that they can contribute more to the community.


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