Situated in the heart of Danang’s bustling tourist area is a place called Thanh Tam Special School. Thanh Tam is best known in the expat area for its authentic French bakery, but beyond the cafe is an impressive 4,132 sqm complex run by the congregation of St Paul of Chartres, housing the Thanh Tam Special School. The school provides therapeutic, educational, wellness and recreational programs to empower children and young adults with disabilities. Their initial objective was to improve the quality of life for the disabled, promoting the full participation of Vietnamese society. Their vision is to create a world in which all children and young people with disabilities realize their aspirations and aims to build a community which supports them and their families.
AUV students and faculty visited on Friday to learn about the organization, its empowering practices, and its goals for students of the school. The school began in 1990, with their current location opening in 2010. The school has been financed by an organization from Luxembourg since 2008 with the teachers at the center being well-trained professionals from the USA, Europe and Canada. There are an estimated 50 teachers and 300 students.
The complex consists of two main buildings: the Vocational Training Center and the Bakery and Coffee shop with additional buildings for classrooms and dorms. The complex also boasts an impressive Organic Vegetable Garden, Wood Workshop and Hydroponic center which is off-site. These areas are part of the vocational training for students to develop skills and move toward a sustainable independent life.
The garden grows a wide variety of organic Vietnamese herbs and local vegetables which are available to be sold to the public on Mondays and Fridays. Whatever vegetables are left over, are then sold to the Hyatt Hotel, where the staff enjoys them. No chemicals or artificial fertilizers are used on this fresh produce. The small Wood Workshop adjacent to the garden is where volunteers patiently teach carpentry skills to the disabled youth. They produce small quantities of furniture, beds and desks.
We are grateful to Ms. Mai Dam, who manages the place, for hosting our visit. She took us on an illuminating tour of the compound and aroused our compassion with her infectious desire to give back. Her drive and dedication to the project was an inspiration for AUV students looking to follow a rewarding career in education, rehabilitation, or public service. Ms. Mai shared that “having traveled all over the world, this center somehow has been her most passionate project to date.”
After the on-site visit, students and faculty had a chance to reflect and share their thoughts on Thanh Tam.
What did you learn from the experience?
“Organic food is becoming more popular in Vietnam.”
“We can do anything if we put our minds to it. I learned that if you tell yourself you can do it, you can do it.”
“Life is like a circle. If everyone gives and pays it forward, the world becomes a better place, and everyone will feel nourished.”
“People less fortunate than us are being taken care of, which is very meaningful.”
“Ms. Mai is hands-on and very engaged in this world of helping others.”
“I’m impressed by Ms. Mai admitting that she had to change herself to adapt to this new environment. I realized that we are never too old to learn something new.”
“I realized how valuable it is to know more than one language. It allows us more opportunities in life and in this way, we learn more about other cultures.”
“The garden is impressive because it is chemical-free. They discourage the use of plastic, which is so good for the environment.”