A selfmade, confident woman on crutches

At the age of 36, Nguyen Thi Dai Trang from the central province of Ha Tinh, has obtained many things other people dream of - a good business and a happy family with two beautiful daughters.
 

My Home: Trang stands with customers outside her restaurant.— Photo courtesy of Nguyen Thi Dai Trang

My Home: Trang stands with customers outside her restaurant.— Photo courtesy of Nguyen Thi Dai Trang

Trang’s restaurant, Nha Toi (My Home), which is known for barbecued food cooked over pebbles, has the highest number of customers in the province.
Trang impresses people with her confidence, wit and activeness. However, behind such achievements are the tremendous efforts of a woman who has to use crutches for support.
“All of my daily activities largely depend on the crutches, which I have been using since I was 11. Before that, my childhood used to be shadowed with sadness because I had to crawl around. My hands therefore were never clean,” she said.
Trang was born a normal, beautiful child in Cua Lo Town in the neighbouring province of Nghe An in 1981. But her fate changed when she contracted fever at the age of three, which paralysed both her legs. However, that did not prevent her from attending school with other children, even if they did tease her.
When Trang was attending primary school 2km from her house, she was carried on bicycles by her siblings. When they were busy, she had to crawl. Sometimes, her hands and legs were bleeding, but Trang never told her parents, afraid they would force her to quit her schooling.
Aware of her disadvantage, Trang kept focusing on study to prove herself. From first to twelfth grade, she was always among the best students. She was admired by her teachers and classmates.
“When I was small, my motivation was study, the desire to be equal to my friends and to be the pride of my parents, my family,” Trang says.
Finishing high school, she passed the entrance exam to the Nghe An College of Information Technology and started an independent life. Trang had to manage everything on her own from the smallest things of daily activities to study.
After graduating, she applied for office work at a secondary school in Ha Tinh. However, due to the low pay, Trang had to quit the job after two years. She then took up many different jobs, from bookshop owner, cashier, communications officer to customer officer for a mobile-network company.
“I sometimes felt discouraged, and wanted to let go, because my life was not up to my expectations, even though I have always tried my best in even the smallest thing. I struggled for years and took up many different jobs to try and make ends meet,” Trang said.
Then, in 2011, she decided to borow money from her family and friends and opened her first business, a coffee shop in Ha Tinh.
“Office work, despite not being arduous, requires hours of sitting, which affected my spine, so I focused on running the shop, which was also my passion. I believe that it is better for me to work in a business environment because I’m quite pro-active,” she said.
However, the business did not run as well as expected. Undiscouraged, she went back to her hometown in Nghe An Province and learned recipes from a friend at a renowned hotpot restaurant.
“I then went back to my coffee shop and turned it into a hotpot restaurant, Lẩu Hieu (Hieu’s Hotpot). There was no shortage of customers. More and more showed up,” she said.
Trang then sold the first restaurant to open a new one, Sen Vang (Golden Lotus). With a diversified menu consisting of local specialties, it attracted many customers. After a year, she made enough money to open her third restaurant, Nha Toi (My Home).
At present, My Home employs over 30 staff, many of whom are orphaned or otherwise disadvantaged. They receive wages from VND5 million to 15 million (US$220-660). All are trained in communicating well with customers.
“Trang is very sociable and thoughtful and takes good care of staff,” said Tran Minh Hien, a worker at Nha Toi restaurant. “But at work, she is very serious and dedicated, which shows in the success of the business.”
Trang said her achievements could not have been achieved without her husband and family. “My biggest supporter has always been my husband, who has always been willing to do anything for his family," she said.
"My everyday motivation is my two daughters. Other children are fortunate to have normal parents while mine have a handicapped mother, so I want them to be happy, but in their own way.
"I feel discouraged realising I’m getting weaker over time while I’m still the support for my two daughters. I don’t know how long I can manage, but still keep pushing myself everyday,” Trang said.
Besides business, the owner of Nha Toi Restaurant is planning other projects for children as well.
“I have been wanting to build a playground for local children for a long time. There is a shortage of playgrounds in Ha Tinh Province in particular and Việt Nam in general because children have been so busy absorbed with Ipad or Iphone that they have lost their traditional games.
"In addition, I want to open a course teaching life skills to children, which will equip them to avoid violence and abuse,” she said.
Trang’s strong will and great efforts were recently recognised when she became a Ha Tinh’s delegate to attend a ceremony honouring outstanding handicapped people.

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