Nguyen Thai Thanh had a tough childhood, being born both deaf and mute. Despite the issues he faced growing up, he continued to strive for his passions. Now a well-known hairdresser, Thanh runs a hair salon in Hanoi, inspiring others who are hard of hearing to follow in his success.
Tough, yet resilient childhood
Nguyen Thai Thanh, born in 1991, often felt lonely growing up as he was unable to express himself before learning sign language.
But of desperation, his father sent him to a local public school, hoping Thanh would improve his hearing ability trying to communicate with his teachers and friends.
However, the father’s decision backfired. Thanh struggled in school as he was unable to understand his teachers.
“I felt like my life was a big mess, something so wrong about it that I could not either figure it out myself or ask anyone to explain it to me,” Thanh told the Vietnam News Agency, with the help of sign language intepreter Do Thu Hien.
Yet, kid Thanh continued to nurse hope for a life like other kids his age.
“My father wouldn’t even let me ride a bicycle or a motorbike as my father thought the outside world was unsafe for me,” he added.
Young Thanh struggled at home and the schools in his hometown in the northern province of Bac Giang as without sign language, he could not communicate with others efficiently.
Thanh is among around 2.5 million deaf and hard-of-hearing people in Vietnam, many of whom are suffering from disadvantages for lack of access to information and to sign language training and general education, particularly common in rural and remote areas, which often hinder them from working and integrating into the society.
Thanh said he saw many deaf people struggling with a lot of stress and doubt, not knowing what to do with their lives. Some even end up engaging in crime due to a lack of social and legal knowledge.
The situation was no brighter for Thanh until he learnt sign language. While his family was constantly concerned about his future, he would also often face rejection when trying to hang out with other children in his village.
Refusing to surrender to doubts and obstacles, Thanh started to research ways he could get out of the situation.
At the age of 13, Thanh decided to go to Hanoi by himself to learn sign language at Nhan Chinh Deaf School. That was when Thanh learnt there were so many others with a similar condition to him.
Learning sign language made a big change. Thanh’s once vulnerable world suddenly became complete, as the deaf boy could read, write, and communicate effectively with the able-bodied and the deaf.
“That was when I felt like I was empowered and could live up to my dream.”
Some of his good friends introduced him to hairdressing, which he became really interested in and made it his career.
“I have good friends who have helped shape my life and career so far.”
Thanh’s dream was not to become a pilot anymore. He just simply wanted to have a job so he could support himself and prove to his family that they did not need to be so worried about him.
After graduation, Thanh decided to find a job in hairdressing.
“I wanted to work and develop my hairdressing skills so bad that I even offered my work for free at several salons,” Thanh said.
The journey was not smooth for the deaf man. He went from salon to salon, from his hometown, to Hanoi, and Ho Chi Minh City.
Seeing his self-determination and unwavering efforts, Thanh’s parents began to feel more secure about their son and expressed their support for him in whatever he chose to do.
Become leader of deaf team
After years of rigorous training, practice, and hard work in different salons, Thanh set up Thanh Nguyen Hair Salon on Ton Duc Thang Street, in Hanoi’s Dong Da district, in 2011.
The salon grew and started to recruit staff. Dozens of workers, all are hard of hearing, have been employed by the Salon so far.
“Being deaf myself, I used to face numerous obstacles in seeking a job. Now that I can self-support, I want to help my peers so they can do he same.” Thanh said.
Thanh said all he wanted to do is to make his salon an understanding environment for those suffering the same condition as his, so they can encourage each other to lead better lives.
Thanh Nguyen Salon offers a livelihood for people with disabilities who would otherwise struggle to find work, while also serving as a home for them to share their joys and sorrows.
Not only does Thanh teach his staff hairdressing skills, but also social skills and sign language.
“The salon is like home to us, where all the members understand and help each other,” said Nguyen Viet Long, a staff member.
Many customers leave the team with beautiful words, showering them with complements, Long said, showing a board pinned full of notes, photos, souvenirs and drawings.
The salon’s customers, including foreigners and several celebrities, go to Thanh’s shop due to its good service, as well as their admiration for the strength and resilience of the owner and his team.
Nguyen Viet Long, 21, is one of the five staff members of Thanh Nguyen Hair Salon. Long’s hairdressing skills are so good that many customers ask for him when they come to the salon.
Long, who changed his jobs several times before working for Thanh, said he wanted to work for Thanh as it enables him to gain many additional values and skills.
“Working at the Salon is the best decision I have made in my life so far.”
Long said what he loves most about working at Thanh Nguyen Hair Salon is not about learning skills, but the family atmosphere.
“Thanh is like our eldest brother. We learn from his willpower and attitude towards life.”
The team offers free haircuts on street pavements, at hospitals or in rural areas. The charitable activities help them learn the value of sharing while being encouraged to see the bright sides.
“I could see that many face harsh difficulties with even greater disadvantages than deaf people like us,” Long said, adding Thanh also takes the team to student exchanges and various community activities so they can connect with the public.
Run inspiring startup
Having developed a vision for his startup, Thanh received financial assistance from the Thriive Hanoi Charity Fund under the Vietnam National University – University of Economics and Business. He and his partners set up Thanh Nguyen Beauty JSC. in 2015.
The Thriive fund, initiated by a US citizen, aims to offer financial assistance to small- and medium-sized enterprises which commit to paying back to society, by providing free services and products for others with disadvantages, so that they can increase their income or find a livelihood.
Over the years, Thanh Nguyen Beauty JSC, with Thanh as director, has offered free training for up to 50 deaf and hard-of-hearing people at Thanh Nguyen Hair Salon and numerous social campaigns.
Many of them have developed their hairdressing skills and set up their own shops in their hometown.
Thanh has received recognition for his efforts and achievements in hair styling as well as for his social and charity contributions.
Among the awards Thanh has won is top prize at a competition that sought potential hair styling talents nationwide, which was organised in Ho Chi Minh City in 2013.
Thanh received the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal Prize in 2015. He was also honoured as one of the ten outstanding new faces of Vietnamese Youth by the Ho Chi Minh Communist Youth Union in 2015.
Nguyen Hong Ha, Vice Head of the Hanoi Association of Youth with Disabilities praised Thanh and his business, saying that Thanh has set a good example for young people with disabilities in general and the deaf in particular, adding the model should be expanded.
Thanh is among many young people with disabilities in Hanoi who are creating opportunities not only for themselves, but also for other disadvantaged people, making valuable contributions to society, Ha said.
The Association is working to offer helpful resources for people with disabilities so that they can better socialise and contribute to society.
Nguyen Truong Hoang Anh Hung, 21, from Nha Trang City in the south central coastal province of Khanh Hoa, is another member of the Thanh Nguyen Salon team.
Hung has worked and learnt hairdressing at Thanh Nguyen Salon for nearly one year. He said he has great admiration for his boss, and he wanted to follow Thanh’s example.
“When I am good enough at hairdressing, I will return home and set up my own shop. I want to create the same opportunities for other deaf people in my hometown as Thanh created for me,” Hung said.
As for Thanh, he will continue offering free training and support for as many deaf peers across the nation as he can even after fulfilling his commitments to the Thriive Fund.
“Deafness doesn’t necessarily have to hinder our education, so long as we are supported with appropriate materials to help us reach our full potential,” Thanh said.
He described deaf people like him as fragile as an egg which easily breaks amid challenges. He expressed his hope for bigger support and more favourable condition for his community.
Thanh owes his achievements to the love of his family and support of his team and the community, and of course, his own hard work.-VNA