Wednesday March 21 2012 marks World Down Syndrome Day. And it made me remember my year in Hanoi, Vietnam working at Hold the Future as a VSO volunteer. We had many Down Syndrome young people living and working at the Center. They were the most loving and wonderful people and provided me with many fond memories.
Hold the Future offers vocational training and handicraft production work. Most of the time there are between 30 to 50 young people working there. It’s not great pay because the products are sold quite cheaply to remain competitive with other handicraft producers.
But the Center provides accommodation, all meals and a chance for young people to work for their own livelihood. The young people often work right through the week, including week-ends. There is the odd public holiday and two weeks off over the oriental New Year. But on the whole they work long hours.
The training is also over a long period. At least 6 months of repetitive learning processes might stop most people from enjoying this kind of work. For the young people at Hold the Future it’s something they love doing. Being able to support themselves is a dream come true.
In particular the rolled paper decorated greeting cards and rolled paper small jewellery containers were the favourite products to make. Of course rolling paper very tightly into small balls isn’t everybody’s idea of great fun. But for the Down Syndrome members at the Center they loved it. They were good at it and enjoyed their work.
And friendly and smiling faces most of the time. Of course they weren’t immune to unhappiness. But the Down Syndrome people were much readier to let go and smile again than most people I’ve come across. I loved visiting with them and sitting next to them at meal time or chatting to them via an interpreter. Never did get my head around Vietnamese. Fond memories indeed.
Thinking of many lovely Down Syndrome people today on their special celebratory day.