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Korean academic quits good job at home to help disabled Vietnam kids

A 52-year-old Korean woman with a doctoral degree in education has quit a well-paying job in her country to spend the rest of her life in Vietnam helping physically challenged kids.
Korean academic quits good job at home to help disabled Vietnam kids
Korean academic quits good job at home to help disabled Vietnam kids

In February 2010, Dr. Choi Young Suk decided to retire early at the age of 52 when she was about to be appointed as vice principal of Daegu University – a major South Korean institution for special need education and rehabilitation – to her colleagues’ surprise. Dr. Choi’s husband, Kwon Jang Soo, also gave up his car dealing business in South Korea to accompany her to Da Lat, a resort town in Vietnam’s Central Highlands province of Lam Dong.

He has since become his wife’s greatest aid in all her projects to help physically challenged Vietnamese children.

Back in 2006, during her two-month training course in special need education in Japan, Dr. Choi met a 62-year-old British professor, who decided to spend the rest of his life there to contribute to the country’s special need education.

The British professor’s story made her think hard.

She initially intended to live the remainder of her life upon retirement in a developing country and help the handicapped children there.

However, on her return flight, the woman told her husband that she should retire early to turn her plan into reality. Her husband nodded in agreement.

Then they drew up their plans to move to Vietnam.

Dream turns reality

In 2009, Dr. Choi invited Lam Dong education officials and the principal of Hoa Phong Lan Handicapped School based in Da Lat to meet with educational leaders of Busan City and Daegu University, where she had taught for 25 years in the faculty of special need education.

The academic and her husband then spent all her retirement pension purchasing books and teaching aids and having them transported to Vietnam.

They also prepared a large notebook and asked all their friends in different areas in South Korea to sign their names in it, agreeing to the couple’s suggestion that they would go to Vietnam at least once in their lifetime and help a physically challenged child there.

In 2010, Dr. Choi quit her job and flew to Vietnam together with her husband.

The couple rented a house near Hoa Phong Lan Handicapped School both to live and store their books and teaching aids.

In July 2013, with an investment of VND24 billion (US$1,118) gained from the sponsorship of the Korea International Cooperation Agency (KOICA) and her own relations, Dr. Choi founded a Special Need Education Assistance Center at Hoa Phong Lan. The center boasts more than 200 pieces of state-of-the-art, Korean-made equipment to conduct tests on and provide treatment and rehabilitation for children with different disabilities.

Her center also regularly receives consultancy and assistance from South Korea’s leading experts in special need education.

The change maker

To bring about changes in the long run, Dr. Choi’s center also provides training for local teachers at special need schools throughout the province and, hopefully, across Vietnam.

The center recently completed its training of ten teaching staff members.

“I cannot do everything alone, so I strongly urge everyone to join hands to make as many positive changes to local disabled children’s future as possible,” the former Korean professor said.


In her Vietnamese colleagues’ opinions, Dr. Choi is a highly committed, child-adoring teacher who is also full of innovative ideas.

Nguyen Thi Nhan, principal of Lam Dong School for the Hearing Impaired, which has received profuse assistance from Dr. Choi, observed that whenever the Korean woman sees children, she instantly becomes close friends with them and sings, dances, and plays with the kids in a surprisingly childlike manner.

Dr. Choi has suggested numerous changes to teaching methodology the school has adopted, including the innovative methods to teach deaf students sign language more effectively and ways to encourage communication among them.

She insisted that the school drop its regulation requiring that students not wear hearing aids all day to avoid damage to the costly devices.

With Dr. Choi’s persistent consultancy, the students are now allowed to wear the aids throughout the day.

The Korean educator also incorporates games and activities into her classes to boost their reactions to language and music.

Students are instructed to make dishes and record their own activities in videos and photos.

The video clips and photos will later be shown to the students to spur on their responses to language and spontaneous attempts to speak.

She also held camping trips for the students. All their activities would be filmed and captured in photos.

After the trips, they would wow in delight at their recorded activities, which spontaneously spurred them on to utter a few words, though awkwardly.

She asked her friends in South Korea to donate chairs and light bulbs to make the kids’ classrooms and dormitory rooms more comfortable.

Dr. Choi also used ornamental plants, flowers, and fish to add richness and freshness to the school’s premises.

She established a library called “Giac Mo” (Dream), where the hearing-impaired students can do reading, watch television, and play games.

“I want the kids to read as much as possible and cherish their own dreams. I myself dream of helping develop the school and seeing able-bodied students visit the school and mingle with the kids here on weekends,” the academic said.

She also made inventive handicrafts such as cloth dolls and chickens which contain Da Lat’s hallmark fragrant coffee seeds, and instructed the students how to craft them.

The woman showed them how to do mini-embroidery paintings on coffee companies’ product labels or girls’ ornaments.

She then marketed and sold the students’ handicraft items to her Korean friends and companies.

“Selling the products for money isn’t as important as helping the kids understand that despite their physical disabilities, they still can do useful things, which is the purpose of special need education,” Dr. Choi stressed. 

She usually spends her weekends traveling to remote areas in different provinces to donate bicycles and necessities, and help build small houses for needy locals.

“My husband and I still have some dozens of years more to devote to people, particularly kids in Vietnam. I wish to be buried here after my death,” she said.


Source: Tuoi tre news

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