Local Partnership Leads to International Connections (MT UCEDD)

September 23, 2019

In the fall of 2018, the Rural Institute for Inclusive Communities at the University of Montana (UM) and Summit Independent Living Center hosted Ms. Nguyen Thi Van, from Hanoi, Vietnam, who was visiting Missoula, MT as a Mansfield Center Professional Fellow. Van represents two organizations that provide vocational training and independent living skills for people with disabilities in Vietnam.

This spring, the international partnership continued when Bronwyn Troutman, Community Living Specialist with Summit, was selected as an outbound YSEALI (Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative) Fellow through UM's Mansfield Center. Bronwyn and Anna-Margaret Goldman, director of MonTECH (Montana's Assistive Technology program housed at the Rural Institute), traveled to Hanoi to further the opportunities for collaboration between the Rural Institute, Summit Independent Living Center, and the organizations associated with Van.

Bronwyn and Anna-Margaret spent time with Van and Ms. Ngo Thi Huyen Minh, learning about the Will to Live Center and Imagtor Company.  Bronwyn wrote about the unique characteristics and connections between the two organizations:

The non-profit Will to Live Center in Hanoi provides vocational training for students with disabilities, who not only learn computer skills, but also learn essential independent living skills through real-life experience. The center accepts 60 students at a time from across Vietnam with a wide range of physical disabilities, 17-35 years of age. For most of the students this was the first time leaving their homes and families. At the center, students live in nearby dormitory style apartments for 6 months while studying employment skills, and learning to manage their own lives through hands-on experience. While living together and pooling their financial resources, students must learn how to support each other and work together to manage all of their daily living activities. The success of this program is high, with 80% of the students finding integrated and competitive employment upon completion.

Most of the graduates from the center are hired at the partner, for-profit Imagtor Company, a photo editing company that serves international real estate companies. Imagtor Company employs 75 individuals, and most of the employees have disabilities. Forty percent of the proceeds from the self-sustaining company go back into the Will to Live Center; both the center and company are led and staffed by people with disabilities. While leading workshops, we observed the quick progression of skills, from new students who were a bit shy and quiet, to more experienced students about to graduate from the center, to the employees of the company.

Bronwyn and Anna-Margaret had opportunities to present to various organizations in Hanoi as well. Bronwyn followed up on connections made and interests expressed during Ms. Nguyn's visit to Montana in the fall and presented Community Living Skills: an Introduction to Living Well and Working Well with a Disability. The workshops included information and discussions on Independent Living philosophy, Self-Advocacy and Self-Determination.  Bronwyn and Anna-Margaret also gave presentations on Assistive Technology. Bronwyn states, "Assistive technology was of special interest to people with disabilities in Vietnam, as the economy is quickly developing and beginning to allow access to assistive technologies, essential equipment, and integrated employment opportunities for people with disabilities," said Bronwyn.