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International Committee of the Red Cross
2-12-2011  Feature  
Case history, real hair clippers
Mr. Nguyen Hoang works today as a barber. His prosthesis is as important for his work as his hair clippers are. Seeing him circle around the customer while his clippers snip here and there, you realize that this wouldn't be possible if he had to move on crutches.

Young Hoang realized how dangerous it was living near a former military base, but he had no choice. On a day in June 1977, the 14-year-old came close to the barbed wire fence while cutting grass to feed cows. There was plenty of tempting grass behind the wire. The boy stepped forward and the last thing he remembers was a loud blast.

When he awoke later in a children’s hospital, his left foot was gone, amputated above the ankle. As a child, he was fitted with an artificial leg – a laminated wooden device – free of charge. Hoang continued receiving replacement prostheses made at the vocational school in Thu Duc run by the Ministry of Labour, War Invalids and Social Affairs, until the workshop closed a few years ago. Later, he heard from other amputees about the project supported by the ICRC Special Fund for the Disabled. He went to Ho Chi Minh City's rehabilitation centre in May 2011 and two months later left with a brand new leg made of polypropylene.

Today Hoang works as a barber. His prosthesis is as important for his work as his hair clippers are. Seeing him circle around the customer while his clippers snip here and there, you realize that this wouldn't be possible if he had to move on crutches. Hoang's work requires much more physical effort than it would a normal person, yet his monthly income is barely two million dong (about 85 Swiss francs): the minimum wage. With so little money, his family has been categorized by the local authorities as living in poverty. About four customers per day – all neighbours and all living in the same small backstreet – are simply not enough to live on.

Despite these difficulties, Hoang has managed to sustain his family – his wife and his 14-year-old son – thanks to his artificial leg. But what would become of them if his prosthesis were to break
one day? Buying a new one is out of the question, since it would cost over two million dong: more than what Hoang earns in a month.

Hoang's wife has been striving to improve the family's income by working as a seamstress. But she needs money to invest in sewing machines, and for the moment that is impossible. Planning for the future is difficult for all poor people. For disabled poor people, it’s that much worse.


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