How do you usually see people with disabilities if you are not one of them? I once asked many of my friends this question and most of the answers were similar: “People that can not do everything as a normal one can; or people that need supported and taken care of.” While this attitude to help and support is definitely worth appreciated, it somewhat has created a limit in opportunities for the disabled to reach out for more choices and possibilities in their life.
However, there is someone who believes otherwise. Someone who is willing to challenge the limiting belief that there are just a few jobs that the disabled can do. Someone who believes that when we look at a person to their core values rather than just their physical conditions, the world will be a much better place. And it’s the same someone who went to Knowmads Hanoi Team 3 with a dream that was dying to come true.
That’s how Unbounded Space happened.
I have heard about Quy Nguyen and Unbounded Space long before I actually met her. At that time, I only knew that it was a project that aimed to bring the disabled and non-disabled persons closer to each other. I heard about workshops that happened in the dark so that there would be no boundaries between a blind man and a non-disabled person, or workshops for the Deaf to connect to themselves and share their stories through meditation and drawing (zentangle).
And then, when I finally had a chance to talk to her, it shocked me to the heart to see how consistent she has been with her project. As the story was unfolded little by little during the conversation, another Knowmad’s journey appeared as beautiful as it has been.
When being asked about a memorable moment she had during her journey with Team 3, she smiled as she started looking back. “It was in the middle of the program, when I had a chance to pitch my project to receive professional feedbacks from our external trainers. At that time, I was still lost and had no concrete idea of how Unbounded Space would be like.
After hearing my team mates pitching about their projects, I felt that my pitch was so stupid and decided not to use my powerpoint slide show any more and do it differently instead. And I screwed it up. It was a terrible, terrible presentation. I must have looked like an idiot. Nobody got it. And when one trainer asked me, “Is it really what you want to do? Why do you want to do it?”, I collapsed. I felt super lost and had no idea of what to do.
After crafting her project at Knowmads, Quy enriched her knowledge by taking a one-year master program in Globalization and Development in Belgium and Rwanda, and then a one-year fellowship in Entrepreneurship for Good in Brazil and Vietnam. In her studies, she did research about people with disabilities and always seeked to apply all her learnings in developing Unbounded Space.
Up until now, the project has been about raising awareness among the community about the disabled and bringing the disabled closer to the community. However, Quy and her team are now preparing for the next phase of the project which is giving the disabled a practical chance to be really out there in the world. Unbounded Space is building a small resort in An Bang, Hoi An that will be run by people with disabilities. In our society, the stereotype of beauty is not associated with disabilities. With that sub-project, she wants to challenge such perspective and bring disabled people to the front-desk work in hospitality and tourism sector. She also realizes that to be able to do so, people with disabilities need to be well-equipped with both soft and technical skills to confidently show up with their own beauty and capacity.
To close the conversation, I asked her about one meaningful insight along her way that she wanted to share with other people. After a few seconds, the answer seemed so clear to her, “This is something that I have realized during my training in Brazil: Setting your goal and achieving it should of course be the priority, but what is more important is the journey to get there. Make it an experience that is meaningful and enjoyable for you and your team members as well. If I want to create a safe and loving space where people can be seen as their core values, then it makes no sense if our working space is not like that.”
Life is a journey as a whole. Everything happening is a part of the process to help us move forward in that journey. A Knowmads program is a journey itself while at the same time it is also a part of your own process in life. It is the part when you sit back and spend some time with yourself in a safe and supportive space, to reflect on this kind of questions: “Why am I doing what I am doing? Is it really meaningful to me? If no, then what is? If yes, then how can I do it better?”. And then, after having that sense of meaning, you can move yourself forward, with grace and determination, which is, I believe, what Quy is doing with her life and her project – Unbounded Space.
Unbounded Space is now crowdfunding for the mini resort in An Bang, Hoi An that will be run by people with disabilities. If you want to also support this beautiful project (and beautiful AirBnB accommodation), please visit: https://www.gofundme.com/theunboundedspace
“A dream you dream alone is only a dream. A dream you dream together is reality.”
That is a quote from a Japanese girl who were just 12 years old when her hometown, Tokyo, had the great fire-bombing in 1945 which later made her homeless. After that, her mother was forced to beg for food with their belongings in a wheelbarrow while her father was in a concentration camp in Saigon, Vietnam. Needless to say, she was in no position to talk about “dream” while her reality must have been how not to starve each day. However, apparently, her definition of “reality” was slightly different.
Her name was Yoko Ono, who was then recognized as a multimedia artist, songwriter and peace activist in protests against wars together with her husband John Lennon.
What hit me real hard when hearing this story is that it has made me realize dreaming is not reserved for people from high positions in life, and “dream” and “reality” are not opposite but they actually have a close connection with each other.
The more I have reflected on this idea, the more I have realized that it is not even close to exaggeration to say every great thing in this world that has been made to happen starts with a dream. Not a dream alone, but a dream together.
My mother and my father started our happy family by dreaming of a life together even though they had nothing in their hands at that time. I went to school and the greatest friendships I have ever had started with people that shared with me the same dream of our future. The project that I worked on in my university years started with a dream that a university professor shared with her blind friend about a platform allowing the visually impaired to easily access information and knowledge.
Apple started with a dream Steve Jobs shared with his partners about a product that could change people’s way of connecting with each other and communicate. The world’s first airplane started with a dream that the Wright Brothers shared with each other and with their team about changing the course of the world with man-powered flights. And Vietnam could become a free country because of a constant dream about freedom that millions of people shared despite thousands of years being invaded.
There are millions and millions of other great things in various sizes and scales in this world that started out with a dream together.
That is something so easy and simple to realize, but we have been taken it for granted. We are constantly told by the society outside that dreaming is just for the privileged and we are supposed to be realistic; and so we have forgotten that the reality today was just a dream yesterday.
When I joined Knowmads 6 months ago, for the first time in many years, somebody asked me about my dream. It took me months to answer that question because it had been buried for years, and another several months to realize why my dream is so meaningful to me. Because it is not a dream I dream for myself, but it is a dream I want to share with others and want to bring to the world. One special thing about Knowmads, is that after the first question “Who am I?” comes the second question “In what world do I want to live?”, followed by “What can I change or contribute?” We are born as a part of this world, and our dreams are not complete unless we put them in the middle of the world and see what our dreams mean to the world.
Later on, I realized that Knowmads also started out with a dream. A dream about an education where people are encouraged to be their best selves and bring their best gifts in making this world a better place. It is a long journey to go, but we are dreaming together. More importantly, when we start sharing about our dream and making it happen, it turns out that there are a lot of other people holding the same dream. The community we are building in Hanoi is now having more than one hundred people thriving for a better world, and it is growing.
What about you? What dream are you holding? Are you going to share it any time soon to make it a dream together?
Posted By Trang Iris