How Latter-day Saint Charities and the Vietnamese government are addressing the nation’s mobility crisis

HANOI, VIETNAM — Bao Dinh Tran sleeps on a bed in the entry of his home as his wife, Quyen Thi Mai, welcomes visitors to the Phu Xuyen district of Hanoi. A soft wind blows through open doors as neighbors who have come to help bustle around the room, waiting for Tran.

Inside the home — surrounded by rice fields and lush green foliage — the ringing of nearby church bells echo in the background as local school children practice their English skills on the visitors.

Tran awakes but does not move and speak. The 61-year-old father of three children lost his mobility in April after high blood pressure led to catastrophic complications. He can no longer seek the day-labor jobs that have supported his family for decades.

Mai climbs atop his bed, picks up her husband and inches him toward a wheelchair, bearing a Latter-day Saint Charities logo.

The chair, which makes it possible for Tran to leave the house each day and get fresh air, is one of 300 distributed by Latter-day Saint Charities at Bach Mai Hospital and Rehabilitation Center this year here in Vietnam.

In this nation where old and new architecture reside together — representing a storied past and a thriving modern economy — almost 1 million of the population’s 97 million have limited mobility that requires the use of wheelchairs; another 1 million walk with the aid of a device such as a cane or a walker.

Motorists travel near the water in Hanoi, Vietnam on Saturday, Nov. 16, 2019.
Motorists travel near the water in Hanoi, Vietnam on Saturday, Nov. 16, 2019. Credit: Jeffrey D. Allred

‘Memorandum of understanding’

A partnership between Latter-day Saint Charities and the government’s Ministry of Labor — Invalid and Social Affairs is working to address Vietnam’s mobility crisis.

Chad Furness, Asia Area manager of Welfare and Self Reliance Services, and Hoi Van Nguyen, MOLISA general director, signed a two-year “memorandum of understanding” on Friday, Nov. 15.

As part of the “supporting wheelchairs and walking aids to Vietnamese people with disabilities” memorandum, Latter-day Saint Charities will provide 5,000 wheelchairs and 1,000 walking aids to five provinces in Vietnam during the next two years.

Furness said he hopes the agreement will assist the government in eventually establishing programs without the support of Latter-day Saint Charities. “They are directing it,” he said. “We are supporting it.”

A Latter-day Saint Charities wheelchair

Lung Trong Le talks about his wheelchair given to him by Latter-day Saints Charities in Hanoi, Vietnam on Saturday, Nov. 16, 2019.
Lung Trong Le talks about his wheelchair given to him by Latter-day Saints Charities in Hanoi, Vietnam on Saturday, Nov. 16, 2019. Credit: Jeffrey D. Allred

Lung Trong Le lives in a bustling urban district of Gong Da. The sounds of busy streets and honking, and the constant humming of motorbikes, blend into the background as he welcomes visitors to his home.

Earlier this year, the 74-year-old — who once worked at the Tuberculosis Hospital here filling out paperwork and financial aid — began having problems with his neck and spine.

He speaks using his hands, but the visitors can tell his fingers no longer grasp or work properly.

Le had surgery on May 27, but half his body remains paralyzed. Doctors moved him to Bach Mai Hospital and Rehabilitation Center, where he received a Latter-day Saint Charities wheelchair.

Each chair from the organization is fit specifically for the recipient’s size and needs.

Le is working to recover the use of his hands and his legs. He wants to cook again, support his family and help his wife, Bien Bich Thi, care for their six grandchildren.

Lung Trong Le talks with Chad Furness, Asia Area Welfare and Self-Reliance Director, in his wheelchair given to him by Latter-day Saints Charities in Hanoi, Vietnam, on Saturday, Nov. 16, 2019.
Lung Trong Le talks with Chad Furness, Asia Area Welfare and Self-Reliance Director, in his wheelchair given to him by Latter-day Saints Charities in Hanoi, Vietnam, on Saturday, Nov. 16, 2019. Credit: Jeffrey D. Allred

A worldwide ministry

Continuing his worldwide ministry, President Russell M. Nelson arrived in Vietnam Saturday, Nov. 16 — with plans to visit four countries in Southeast Asia in seven days. His trip marks the first visit of a prophet to Vietnam in more than 20 years; President Gordon B. Hinckley visited Vietnam in 1996.

“We have been honored by officials from Vietnam and elsewhere who have visited us in Salt Lake City, and we look forward to becoming better acquainted in their countries,” said President Nelson. “This is a vibrant corner of the world, one that has seen plenty of strife through the years but also a region filled with valiant, resilient determined souls.”

A man works in a canal in Hanoi, Vietnam on Saturday, Nov. 16, 2019.
A man works in a canal in Hanoi, Vietnam on Saturday, Nov. 16, 2019. Credit: Jeffrey D. Allred

Elder David F. Evans, General Authority Seventy and president of the Church’s Asia Area, said members and government leaders are excited to welcome President Nelson to their country. The Church has a good relationship with the government, he said.

“We’re very grateful to the government of Vietnam for the progressive way that has assisted in moving forward with us and members of the Church.”

Latter-day Saint Charities is also “working very cooperatively with the Vietnam government.”

In partnership with the government, Latter-day Saint Charities is “undertaking the beginning steps of a significant multi-year wheelchair effort, which will be important in Vietnam,” said Elder Evans.

Elder Steven Holt and his wife Sister Sheryl Holt, Latter-day Saints Charities, stand on a bridge in Hanoi, Vietnam on Saturday, Nov. 16, 2019.
Elder Steven Holt and his wife Sister Sheryl Holt, Latter-day Saints Charities, stand on a bridge in Hanoi, Vietnam on Saturday, Nov. 16, 2019. Credit: Jeffrey D. Allred

Steven and Sherry Holt, Latter-day Saint Charities country directors for Vietnam, said the partnership with MOLISA will not only bless those with limited mobility but many other Latter-day Saint Charities efforts in Vietnam. In addition to wheelchairs, Latter-day Saint Charities is sponsoring vision and clean water projects, new born resuscitation training and emergency response in the country.

‘We want to help people’

Truong Van Nguyen, 35, was involved in a work-related explosion on March 10. Left without mobility in his legs and partial movement in his arms, Nguyen also deals with dizzy spells and blackouts. Formerly an employee with a local tile manufacturing company, Nguyen can no longer work.

Tai Quang Pham, 63, is recovering from a May 19 stroke that limited his mobility. He plays with his grandchildren and often speaks of his former business as a tofu manufacturer. He also speaks of Latter-day Saint Charities. The organization, he said, not only helped him but also other people as well. “A wheelchair is very, very important, very meaningful to them,” he said.

Yen Van Nguyen lives in a small room behind a market filled with fruits and vegetables. He spends most of his days lying flat on his back. A few months ago, he awoke to weak legs. He was diagnosed with myelitis, or inflammation of the spinal cord.

Trurong Van Nguyen sits in his wheelchair given to him by Latter-day Saints Charities while talking with family at his home in Hanoi, Vietnam on Saturday, Nov. 16, 2019.
Trurong Van Nguyen sits in his wheelchair given to him by Latter-day Saints Charities while talking with family at his home in Hanoi, Vietnam on Saturday, Nov. 16, 2019. Credit: Jeffrey D. Allred

His wife, Thann Thi Ngo, adjusts his legs to make him more comfortable. She speaks with emotion. “We really hope he can walk again,” she said.

Elder and Sister Holt listen. As they do in every home visit, they examine Yen Van Nguyen’s wheelchair and assess its fit. They ask about a toolkit that accompanies the chairs, so adjustments can be made to make him more comfortable.

“We just do this because we love people and want to help people,” Elder Holt said.

Tai Quang Pham sits in his wheelchair given to him by Latter-day Saints Charities in Hanoi, Vietnam on Saturday, Nov. 16, 2019. His son Mai Thi Pham looks through the window.
Tai Quang Pham sits in his wheelchair given to him by Latter-day Saints Charities in Hanoi, Vietnam on Saturday, Nov. 16, 2019. His son Mai Thi Pham looks through the window. Credit: Jeffrey D. Allred

Then driving across the Vietnamese countryside, Elder and Sister Holt turned their focus from the Latter-day Saint Charities’ important partnership with MOLISA — promoting the critical mobility of those in need — to President Nelson’s visit, which they believe will strengthen the spiritual mobility of Latter-day Saints in this vibrant nation.