By Roger Arnold
Like all children, those with disabilities have many abilities, but are often excluded from society by discrimination and lack of support, leaving them among the most invisible and vulnerable children in the world.
UNICEF launches its flagship report The State of the World’s Children 2013: Children with Disabilities on 30 May 2013.
The report brings global attention to the urgent needs of a largely invisible population. Confined to a wheelchair as a result of a bone disease, a Vietnamese girl uses her talent and determination to inspire others.
Nguyen Phuong Anh was born with osteogenesis imperfecta, or ‘glass-bone disease’, a genetic disorder causing fragile bones. “My bones have broken 30 times or more,” she says. “We stopped counting because we thought that it didn’t matter anymore.
“Crystal is my alter ego, because it is fragile and shiny,” the 16-year-old adds.
Fighting stereotypes, providing opportunities
Children with disabilities face stigma and discrimination in all societies. Since she was a child, Phuong Anh has fought against stereotypes. “When I was small, I thought that being different is different in a bad way,” she says. “And then, growing up with all the love of my family around me, they helped me realize my true quality and my true colors. I realized it’s okay being Crystal. It’s okay being vulnerable physically. So, that’s why I’m proud to call myself Crystal, because I want people to see me as a girl who is vulnerable physically, but can be hard to break mentally.”
In October 2007, Viet Nam signed the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. UNICEF is working with the Government to help Vietnamese children living with disabilities, estimated by the Government in 2010 to be 1.3 million.
Along with preventing discrimination, providing educational opportunities is critical, as there are few qualified teachers able to instruct children with learning challenges.
Phuong Anh continues to face barriers at school. “Between classes, I would just sit and chat with my friends or read books or listen to music. But it’s not because that I’m inactive at school, but because of the school platform – it’s not really made for people with wheelchairs to really easily move,” she says. “So I hope that that fact will change soon, so that people like me can do more things on our own.”A voice of Viet Nam
Despite her condition, Phuong Anh’s fighting spirit and supportive family have enabled her to become a role model in Viet Nam. Since the age of 8, she has used her vocal talent at Voice of Vietnam, broadcasting radio messages to rural villagers. She also connects to numerous friends globally through social networking.
Her big moment came, however, when she auditioned for Viet Nam’s Got Talent, a television show that brought her national recognition, inspiring millions with her singing. Phuong Anh says, “The amount of support people gave me was so surreal that it made me feel more powerful, and I believed more in what I do. Now, people would still come up to me – people with disabilities or not –and say that I inspired them. And that’s, like, my biggest goal in life. So what could be more amazing than that?”
Working as a Friend of UNICEF Viet Nam, Phuong Anh continues to deliver her message to help children with disabilities.
“You can do a lot of things if people believe in you and actually treat you equally. So, with my voice, I hope that I can raise awareness everywhere I go about how we should be nice to everyone, especially people with disabilities, because you know attitude can change so much.”