Alumni of the Month  |  2018-06
June 14, 2018

YSEALI Alumna Empowers Disabled Community

Nguyen Minh Chau may be 3 feet 11 inches tall but she is a powerhouse for advocacy in disability rights in Vietnam and across the globe, promoting inclusion and empowering persons with disabilities.

Chau’s long-time dedication to disability rights led her to the University of Montana in fall 2016, where she participated in the YSEALI Professional Fellows Program, studying non-governmental organization development. There, she honed her knowledge of how to best leverage social media to engage a wide audience—both with and without disabilities—about social challenges in her country. She didn’t stop at just engaging networks; she empowered them to make a difference.

After returning home, Chau won the 2017 U.S. Embassy Hanoi’s small grant competition for international exchange alumni for her project “Training on Developing Campaigns and Communications for Development (C4D) on the Rights of People with Disabilities.” Directly applying the skills and knowledge she gained during her exchange, she trained others on how to run an effective communications campaign on disability rights. Her program reached twenty young women and men with disabilities, ranging from those with hearing and visual impairments to persons with upper and lower limb defects. Through social media buzz, news coverage, and visual media, the project spread awareness and created the space for persons with disabilities to openly and constructively discuss the social barriers they confront every day. Four short films were produced in conjunction with the project, including When You Believe You Can, You Can; The Humpbacked Farmer; Love it Like a Fool; and Green Day. The film When You Believe You Can won the prestigious Golden Kite Award from the Vietnam Cinema Association, Vietnam’s national organization of professional filmmakers.

Today, Chau works as a Child Sponsorship Officer at World Vision Vietnam, whose mission is to improve the quality of life in Vietnam, especially for marginalized and impoverished children. She is also an active volunteer in her community, serving as a communications volunteer for the Hanoi People with Disabilities Association, an English teacher for homeless children, and a life skills trainer for children and women with disabilities.

Chau has also applied the knowledge she gained from her exchange experience to her television show Life is Beautiful, which airs on Vietnam National Television. Audiences found her stories so compelling that she was asked to host a majority of the episodes in 2017, bringing awareness to thousands in her country about disability rights and inclusion. Chau also drew on her storytelling skills during her TED Talk on equality for persons with disabilities. Her talk inspired over 600 students across three universities in Hanoi to take action to support persons with disabilities on their campuses. From renovating medical equipment to building accessible roads, the students implemented 14 initiatives that concretely improved campus life for persons with disabilities.

Now often recognized on the streets of Hanoi, Chau has become a celebrated public figure for her leadership in the field of disability rights. With enhanced storytelling skills, an expanded professional network, and new ideas for engagement, her exchange experience further sparked her unrelenting passion for advocacy and empowerment of persons with disabilities, particularly women and children. In her own words, the YSEALI Professional Fellows program was “more meaningful than my five years of work experience and self-study in Vietnam because the program gave me new vision and knowledge about human rights which helped me to bring about changes in my community and workplace.”

Each month, the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs’ (ECA) Office of Alumni Affairs recognizes one outstanding alumnus or alumna. The International Exchange Alumni community looks forward to seeing what Nguyen Minh Chau will do next, and congratulates her on being named the June 2018 Exchange Alumni Member of the Month!