Pam Cromer, long-standing volunteer team leader and former member of the Global Volunteers Board of Directors, was instrumental in establishing our relationship with Huong Nguyen, founder of Blind-Link – our newest host partner in Hanoi. In this interview, she describes what motivated her to spend many extra hours collaborating with Huong in preparing the November, 2013 volunteer team.
“I was immediately attracted to this service opportunity because of the decency of their work, ” said Pam. Blind-Link is truly changing people’s lives. It’s the same reason I became a therapist – because I believe in the ability we have to help others.”
Pam quickly established a close working relationship with Huong. “She’s a bright, devoted young woman, ” said Pam. “I was inspired by her commitment to a population who needs so much help and support. I admire her drive and determination.”
Huong returns the complement: “Pam is one of the kindest people I’ve met, and an inspirational representative for Global Volunteers. She has helped us so much making our volunteer program a
Through her dedication in the months leading up to the weeks the first service program with Blind-Link, Pam secured a substantial donation of white canes from a Canadian supplier and carried them to Hanoi. She said that in combination with the daily basic conversational English lessons the volunteers taught, the canes “gave the students access to the world.”
“When we presented them the canes, it was life-transforming, ” Pam reported. “In a real sense, each cane become the ‘voice’ of the user. It helped them communicate – and overcome – obstacles.”
Volunteers likewise felt they were pivotal in helping to raise the Blind-Link students’ self-esteem – if only gradually. They worked patiently with each student in a “whole body way” to make up for the students’ lack of visual cues. One young woman, in particular, impressed the team.
“For the first time in her life, she walked outside alone – with the aid of a cane, ” Pam recounted. With the volunteers alongside for guidance, the 20-year-old student confidently navigated the neighborhood. “The cane allowed her to be free, ” Pam explained. “She was born blind, and had never walked independently. With the reassurance the cane – and the volunteers – provided, her face lit up, ” said Pam. “She smiled so broadly – her face said it all.”
Blind-Link is unique in Vietnam, where visually impaired children and adults are considered to be mentally disabled. The program provides education and career training in an optimistic and supportive environment. “They restore hope and dignity to those who lost both when they lost their eyesight due to disease, malnutrition, the effects of war and lack of eye care and medical procedures, ” Pam said.
“Many have no freedom or independence because they have no way to earn a living. Those who do work are often exploited in unregulated industries, ” Pam continued. “In founding Blind-Link in 2013, Houng expressed her absolute dedication to ‘doing the right thing.’ Her family is prominent in the community and the government – and they invested their own money in this venture, paying for the apartment and staff salaries. They renovated a building to become a spa to employ the students. Eventually, Huong hopes the non-profit venture will become self-supporting so the program can be expanded. Hundreds – if not thousands – of blind students will benefit. They’ll be liberated.”
Having led Global Volunteers teams in Vietnam for many years, Pam quickly recognized the transformative power of Blind-Link’s self-development model. She relied on her training as a social worker and therapist to assess how each volunteer could maximize their individual contribution as a member of the first team to serve this new host partner.
“Every service program is an exciting challenge for me, ” Pam said. “This one really touches my heart because we’re so integral to their success. I know they couldn’t do before what they can now do with our assistance. This is what Global Volunteers ultimately is about – helping people reach their full potential. I’ll never get tired of that!” Pam concluded.