Tan Toan’s Story – From Enrollment to Rolling with It: A Story of Nourishment

2 weeks ago

Nourishment. Defined as the “act of nourishing” and the “state of being nourished.” Perhaps, this word stirs thoughts of food and nutrition. Perhaps, the feeling of emotional well-being expands in your own self. Or the comfort of cherished friends and family.

Tan Toan, a participant of our Increasing Opportunities for Children with Disabilities Initiative, is a perfect depiction of all ties to the meaning of nourishment.

While our story of meeting Tan Toan begins with memories of traveling across the peaceful countryside, of the farmers working in the green rice fields, and the perfume of young rice seeds, his own story begins much further back from that sunny day drive in the Thang Binh district.

From the moment of his birth, he was detected with disabled eyes – a diagnosis of critical myopia, a vision condition in which close objects clearly but the distance of further objects is strained and blurry. His motivation and resilience fueled his perseverance throughout his early childhood, as he continued his studies. As his condition’s impact heightened and the effects began to more negatively affect his visual and writing abilities, he was led to drop out of school in only grade 9.

During this duration, since unenrolling, his life began to drastically shift. From being engaged in his studies, surrounded by friends, and active in life through various interests, life then seemed to stop. In less than just under three years after leaving school, life became a standstill moment of days passing by going through the motions. There was little to no interaction with friends and family as time passed by and Tan Toan spent most of his days in the house alone.

From a caring and hardworking family, Tan Toan’s opportunities became limited in isolation as his parents had to cater to their work as farmers and care for their own older aging parents, who dealt with serious diseases. His sister was away studying at a vocational college to become self-sufficient and help the family, in addition to his father’s extra work as a bricklayer to increase income. The add up of these circumstances layered on top of one another created too much difficulty in pursuing additional help, or even the thought of vocational training.

And while we remember that calm drive across the countryside, the most memorable moment of our staff’s initial visit is instilled in his mother’s love and hope for a different path for Tan Toan. A house filled and founded on strong values on the inside, despite how the house may be valued on the outside. Her words, “I wish my son will have a career that helps serve himself, that is my biggest dream because I cannot live to a great age to take care of him,” echoed in our own hearts and mission to give each child the future they deserve to flourish. The love for her son expanded out in her message and was seen in the hardship of those past years shown in her austere face, with many signs of time and worries about her son’s future. In this shared moment between his mother and our staff, we felt – and still feel – the deep call to provide – to help – to nurture. To come together to create change.

When we asked Toan about his own desires and hopes, his answer was clear: “I wish I could make bread.” Our programs and initiatives are based on the foundation of a specialized approach. To take into consideration the individual child, families’ support, and various factors to provide the best setup for success. Here in Toan’s household, despite the multitude of limiting factors, hope and ambition were still alive. By working alongside his family and communities, Toan was enrolled in our Increasing Opportunities for Children with Disabilities program with the plan to aid in his living circumstances and vocational training.

In addition to educational sponsorship, his enrollment into the program initiated financial support in a combination of arenas: living, medical and personal. From repairing his family’s house roof to defraying medication costs and travel costs, and providing child care policies and gifts during holidays, this financial support created the solid foundation Toan needed to excel. With this support from the project, Toan had a better condition which was the first background for him to arouse a new horizon in his life.

Pursuing his dream of baking, Toan was sent to Thanh Tam, a special school in Da Nang city for vocational training. His educational pursuit expanded Toan’s studies both in and out of the classroom. The distance of his school stretched far from his old home life – along with a new, strange environment and potential challenges. From being the little timid boy from the poor countryside, Toan took his first big steps in the new direction of his life in this big city with courage. From the very start, Toan tried his best to integrate into this extremely new unfamiliar environment.

He rose to the very challenge. After only six months of training, his goal of learning to make bread was now a reality. Through the support of his teachers at school, a new friend group, and the spark of following his passion, Toan’s life was now his own. The boy who was once isolated and depending on all those around him, was now the same man grown up to be self-sufficient, a provider for himself and others knowing an efficient and foundational trade. In addition to the hands-on teaching of learning to make bread, his studies in Vietnamese and Math progressed tremendously. Although his original dropout in school was in grade nine, at that time he only knew how to calculate some simple structures of two-three numbers. His education at Thanh Tam got him not only back on track but kindled a supportive and nourishing environment to excel.

Visiting him at Thanh Tam, our staff witnessed a great improvement in him. His change of presence was immediately felt in his newly founded self-confidence. How he presented himself and communicated was a huge shift from the young boy we had met not that long ago in his childhood home. His outward confidence and maturity in his appearance were a reflection of his internal growth.

From the timid dream of a young boy, “I wish I could make bread,” his next words unfolded in the different voice of the man he now was talking to our staff: “At school, I have close friends such as Huy, Ban …I no longer feel homesick. Now, I can make two types of bread (sandwich and basic

bread), and I am on the way to making a new type of cake. After finishing this course, I hope I can open a bread store in my hometown”.

There may not ever be words that can reveal to us the joy in our hearts when listening to that sharing from him. To witness and see the momentous shift within him.

Toan now has a skillset that nourishes himself – in both the external world of being about to provide, receive income and job opportunities and in his emotional well-being by being fueled by his own unique passion to bake. A nourishing skillset, nourishing and support friend group.

These are moments that nourish our own hearts. These are the words that nourish our mission to lift children out of poverty.