SEALNet Project Vietnam 2012

When: Saturday August 11, 2012 – Saturday August 25, 2012
Location: Saigon, Vietnam
Email: pv12 [at]
Project Leaders: Natalia Duong, Quyen Nguyen
Project Blog:

Executive Summary

Our project hopes to bring awareness to the presence of disabilities in Viet Nam by educating young leaders on how to best support people with disabilities using an active art-making process. Through both educational lectures and practical workshops, we aim to begin a conversation between the program’s participants and the disabled community.

In a 14-day program, we will collectively and creatively create a performance using text, movement, and song, to articulate some of the ideas exchanged during our conversations about disability.

The performances will feature both the SEALNet participants and people living with disabilities. We aim to use community-based devised theater exercises to help change the societal misconception of disability in Vietnam by giving the disabled a platform to voice their experience and the agency to impact the future of disability culture in Viet Nam.

In addition to giving voice to issues of disability, we are also going to educate our participants on the issue of Agent Orange/Dioxin (a blend of herbicides that was sprayed in Vietnam during the Vietnam War), a legacy directly affecting the Vietnamese community today in both health and disability. We aim to make these overarching issues of disability and Agent Orange more accessible to our participants, with hopes that they will garner this creative energy to galvanize change in their own communities.

Local Issues

The Vietnamese government estimates that of the 87 million living in Vietnam, more than 5 million are people with disabilities; 150,000 of them are children. Close to 37 percent of adults with disabilities are illiterate. Unemployment among them is around 30 percent and nearly a third of households with disabled family members live below the poverty line. These statistics both reflect and explain the dominant attitude towards people with disabilities in Vietnam: one of burden, and dependency. Our SEALNet project aims to help change such misconception.

Project Objectives

We are going to use Devised Theater techniques to build a space for community-centric discussion of issues related to disability in Vietnam. We propose the participation of 10 international mentors, 10 local mentees, and 10 people with disabilities to work toward three specific objectives:

  1. Engage mentors and mentees in leadership exchanges through performance, and issues related to people with disability in Vietnam; inspire student mentees to continue our efforts after the project ends
  2. Involve mentors, mentees and people with disabilities in the exploration of how to enable movement despite disabilities.
  3. Plant seeds to transform the Vietnamese perception of people with disabilities from one of immobility to agency.

Approaches, Methods, and On-site Plans

Our 2-week intensive project gathers 10 mentors with art/performance experience or interest, 20 mentees with high leadership potential and 10 people with disabilities interested in defying societal perception of disability.

Following the SEALNet tradition, we plan to carry out our 2-week agenda with activities that surround the SEALNet model of leadership and service going hand-in-hand.

Service component:

– Educational seminars: Issues related to people with disabilities in Vietnam

  • Current status
  • Agent Orange/Dioxin
  • Current humanitarian services available
  • Challenges and how our project can help address these challenges

– Workshops in Devised Theater
– 3-Way partnership/friendship: Mentors-Mentees-People with Disabilities
– Writing text, sound, and creating movement collaboratively
– Bonding activities and Dress rehearsals for the final performance
– Fostering empathy towards people with disability and raise awareness among not just the local mentees but also the larger community around us

Leadership component:


– Leadership workshops:

  • Ice-breakers and other bonding activities
  • Different styles of leadership
  • Group problem-solving

– Utilize the SEALNet Stake-Impact-Outcome model to help mentees form projects of their own
– Help students form ideas of their own on how to sustain the connection with people with disabilities
– Inspire students to step up to the local challenge and continue to design programs as well as activities with people with disabilities

Collaborators and Local Partners

VietFellows is a project of Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders in Philanthropy (AAPIP), an organization dedicated to building democratic philanthropy. VietFellows is a program designed to engage Vietnamese Americans in the issues and disparity surrounding Agent Orange/Dioxin. Approximately 12 million gallons of Agent Orange/Dioxin were sprayed over 18,000 square miles in Vietnam from 1961-1971. This defoliant is strongly associated with many health problems in veterans and their family in the U.S., as well as people living in Vietnam. Many of the associated health problems usually result in disability. Some of the organizations that VietFellows have identified as potential local partners include the Disability Resource and Development Group (DRD), the Thi Nghe Orphanage for Children with Disabilities and the Vocational School for the Orphaned and Handicapped in Saigon.

Disability Resource and Development Group (DRD): DRD’s mission is to promote the full participation of, and equal opportunities for, People With Disabilities (PWDs) in all spheres of society. DRD aims to support groups/organizations of PWDs, enhance the awareness of our society and PWDs themselves as well as paving the way for community programs with PWDs at Ho Chi Minh Open University, HCMC, Vietnam.


Our project’s sustainability is driven by three components: IdeasActions, and Momentum. Whether it is Ideas regarding performance, disability, or mobility—the content of our project will expose the participants to ideas that will change the way they view ability, community, and leadership. However, ideas on their own aren’t enough. Our project is not just about learning about Vietnam, the issues or leadership—it is also about pushing our participants to Act, to engage, to write, to create, to choreograph, to move among their communities for change. The third component that we think will drive this project’s sustainability is Momentum. In the worlds of policy, nonprofits, and the communities of people with disability—there is momentum building to create social safety nets, training and rehabilitation programs for the people living with disabilities in Vietnam. This momentum can only help sustain the ideas and the actions of our participants to continue the work of transforming the societal misconception of disability in Vietnam.

While we believe in the strength of the ideas, actions and momentum embedded in our project, we are also aware that to inspire our participants to sustain our project’s mission is a challenge. This recognition is why we have chosen the local partners that we did. VietFellows and DRD are well-versed in building sustainable youth leadership in Vietnam. By mentoring local students, our hope is that the students will have the leadership and performance skills needed to replicate similar performances/discussion workshop models with other communities of people with disabilities.

Success Measures

In the field of Devised Theater, the emphasis is not placed on the performance, but rather the effects of the process on the participants engaged in the creation of the work. After the performance of the piece that we have collaboratively constructed, we aim to host a conversation between audience members and the performers to discuss the following:

  1. How was the audience affected? What new information did they learn? What was most salient to them from the performance? What memory would they share with a friend or family member?
  2. What did the performers (mentors, mentees, and people with disabilities) learn from performing the work? What was different when performing for an audience?
  3. How could this performance affect a greater audience? How can these ideas be spread to a larger population?

Though we understand that in the world of performance there are few concrete quantitative measures for determining the effectiveness of a work of art, we hope to ignite a discussion between community members and performers to bring awareness to the current culture of disability in Viet Nam.

Team Member requirements and responsibilities

– Have a general understanding of the local issues (aforementioned)
– Fully participate in all aspects of the project throughout the 2-week plan
– Contribute to the team’s fundraising effort
– Reach out to local mentees and people with disabilities, who may initially be reserved and hard to approach
– Active in designing leadership workshops for local mentees
– Offer help and guidance to student mentees during and after the 2-week-long project

Skills Required

– A genuine interest in tackling the community challenge
– Friendliness and an open-mind when dealing with young high school students and people with disabilities
– Willingness to cooperate with other members of the team and fulfill the tasks assigned
– Problem-solving skills
– Previous experience with art/performance would be greatly appreciated; genuine interest and excitement will do as well!
– Ready to create new friendships with fellow teammates, student mentees and people with disability
– Strong commitment
– “Can Do” attitude

SEALNet Project Vietnam 2012 (HCMC) hopes to bring team members an opportunity to rise up to the local challenge and truly have fun doing community service. When you become a member of our project, you will also have the chance to form powerful connections with people whom you have never met before but may end up as your lifelong friends. There’s nothing quite like a SEALNet experience, so please join us now and begin to make a difference to others’ lives and your own.