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TOM:Vietnam 2016

UNICEF, the United States Consulate General in Ho Chi Minh City, the Israel Economic and Trade Mission, Fablab Saigon and the Disability Research Capacity Development (DRD) led a coalition of public and private organizations implementing TOM:Vietnam.

The first TOM Makeathon in Vietnam connected children living with disabilities with multi-disciplinary teams of Makers, designer and developers to develop technological solutions for their everyday challenges.

This is stories of 7 children with disabilities that were chosen to take part in TOM:Vietnam in the Spring of 2016. These are their dreams, their desires for a normal life where they can happily play, study, and integrate into society.


Meet Tam.

When you first meet Tam, his bright eyes and smiling face capture your attention. He’s a smart 6th grader with a lot of potential. But, when you glance down, you’ll notice his severely deformed legs. Tam has overcome many challenges in his short life, he’s unable to walk and suffers from other health complications, Tam has been on the receiving end of endless bullying and isolation.

Every afternoon, Tam’s father takes him to school and carries him up to the 2nd floor classroom. But on days that he is too busy, Tam stays at home. His grandmother isn’t strong enough to carry him and his mother cannot afford to take off work. Their family survives on a scant supermarket wage and by selling odd and ends.

Tam spends his evenings studying. “When his grandfather was alive, he helped Tam study. Thanks to this support, Tam became very good at schooling. He received many 'excellent student' certificates from the school. Last year, his grandfather passed away. Ever since, he just studies alone.” shared Tam’s grandmother.

Tam has a dream, “I want to become a doctor in order to cure everyone. I will heal my grandmother, myself, and many other people.”

The first step to making Tam’s dream come true, is by making sure Tam can easily get to school.

SOLUTION: Tam's team of Makers designed leg splints and crutches to help Tam walk independently. [View Project]

Meet My.

My is 9 years-old with a smile always on her face and carefully braided hair. Like girls her age, she loves drawing and practicing her handwriting.

Since birth, she has had difficulties moving her heels and left hand. Daily routines are daily challenges. From such a young age, she suffered tremendously from the pain of trying to fully extend her heels or hand. Since her first painful steps, My has been fighting strongly and persistently to overcome her disabilities.

Her burning dream, which is shared by her family, is to have a stretching device or tool to help her balance on her feet. Likewise, she will gain confidence and strength to lead a healthy normal life.

SOLUTION: My's team of Makers designed new technology similar to crutches or a walker that can rest under her forearms and support her to walk. [View Project]

Meet An.

Always friendly and says hello to everyone, An can also be shy when meeting new people.

Only 17 years old, An is exhibiting early stage symptoms of ALS, he cannot walk because of weakness in his legs. He uses an iron skeleton and wheelchair to support his body.  

Since childhood, An has also suffered from convulsions in his right arm, making it difficult for him to hold anything. His other arm is not strong enough to keep things balanced. This disadvantage exacerbates his disabilities as only one side of his body can stay stable.

With all his challenges, An is a very sociable and positive child. His Mom shared: “He always tries to do everyday activities on his own until he can’t make it, then he ask for support from us [his parents]. He is always aware of trying to be independent and to actively overcome challenges.”  

SOLUTION: An's team of Makers designed fiberglass splints for his legs and feet with an electric joint to help support his ankle. [View Project]

Meet Hoai.

Hoai was born in Ca Mau, but moved as a child to Thi Nghe to study at the Center for Children with Disabilities. He’s happy, sociable, and extremely talkative.

His right arm isn’t very flexible and his fingers have stiffened and sometimes convulse. Just a simple movement like holding a bowl, cup or even bottle of water takes a lot of energy to not let it drops.

Although living with disability, Hoai still stays positive and is a talented artist. When the TOM:Vietnam team visited him, he eagerly drew pictures of them. The pencil was shaking in his hand making it difficult for him. But with time and patience, he drew lovely sketches of their faces.

Hoai always dreamed of having a way to support his hands so he can hold things he needs more easily.

SOLUTION: Hoai's team of Makers designed exoskeleton glove with metal fingers to help him control and move his hands, each finger individually. [View Project]

Meet Nhi.

Nhi is a 17 year-old girl born in Dong Nai Province. When she was born, her parents were told that she would never see anything.

Her family life is difficult. She was brought in Thien An Shelter in Tan Phu District. In the shelter, she lives, learns, and grows with other children in similar circumstances.

Her walking stick helps her to detect objects from a distance. However, she feels that current products available do not fully support her situation.

Nhi dreams of a way she can detect objects from long distance (+2 meters) and heights (above her waistline). This will help her a lot in living independently and integrating into society more easily.

SOLUTION: Nhi's team of Makers designed a sensor hat and sensors she could place on her clothes that could sense objects above her waistline. [View Project]

Meet Phuong Uyen.

This is the hardest case brought to TOM:Vietnam.  Phuong Uyen is beautiful little 4-year old girl. But unfortunately, she was born with physical disabilities and severe cerebral palsy. Her limbs are very weak and she’s unable to move. She can’t control her head and neck which caused spinal deformity. She can’t sit, self feed, or walk. She has to completely depend on her mom and grandmother.

At the age of 4, she is supposed to be exploring the world around her, testing limits. But she only knows “the world” in the 4 walls of her house. Her mother sadly shared, ”Uyen really wants to go out. If I [mother] don’t carry her out, she will shout and cry. But after carrying her for a long time, she gets hurt because it causes bad blood circulation situation and bruises on her limbs. I’m also too busy doing house chores to take her out frequently.”

Uyen’s family wishes there was a chair that would be suitable to support her spine, adjust its size (height, width) for her growth, be flexible for different usage, and be made from a material that would provide good air circulation for extended sitting.

SOLUTION: Uyen's team of Makers designs a special wheelchair that can support her body and expand as she grows. [View Project]

Meet Phuong.

Phuong is nearly 16 years old and is living with severe autism. Talking to Phuong’s parents, it’s impossible to grasp the full extent of challenges they face. What he knows about this beautiful life are merely  basic needs like eating, drinking and daily hygienes.

At the core, one of his greatest challenge is his inability to communicate his feelings, wants and needs to the people around him. To communicate with Phuong, his parents taught him to make letters, sentences and special signs by tearing papers. Phuong can also make stuttering sounds of “eat” or “water”, and can sometimes count from 1 to 10.

When asked about his ability to express higher needs such as listening to music, watching movies, swimming or playing outside, his mother answered with disappointment that if Phuong himself wants to experience the outside world, he cannot express his thoughts to other people.

Phuong is completely dependent. His parents are never free from worries. Everything he does must be supervised and aided.

Phuong’s family doesn’t have access to communication devices that are commonplace in the developed world. “Feeling sad, he often cries to himself. Sometimes,  he screamed his heart out in vain. If only there was a device that can help him communicate 50% better, our life would be so much happier,” shared his mother.

SOLUTION: Phuong's team of Makers designs a communication application so he can select and communicate his thoughts, needs, and feelings. [View Project]

Earlier Event: March 15
Later Event: July 22
TOM:DC 2016