Quach Duc Manh (with crutches) watches over his workers at his woodworking shop in Hanoi. Photo by Hai Binh
Quach Duc Manh runs a wood shop in Hanoi and employs many healthy workers though he himself has a physical disability and uses crutches.
Manh, 30, was born into a poor family in Thanh Oai District on the city's outskirts and had polio as a child.
He started going to school at 10, crawling, when his younger sister began to attend school and he insisted on joining too. But he managed to go only until third grade.
"I was the eldest child, and my parents had three other children to take care of, so I decided to stop.
"Also, I started to feel embarrassed crawling on the street."
He used to earn a living by making conical hats, a popular craft in the area.
He says he has skillful hands as if to compensate for the problem with his legs.
But his neck and back would start to ache quickly that he only managed to make five hats a day for around a dollar in total.
So he considered switching to something that would fetch him a better income.
He went around learning woodworking after many families in the area took up the activity in 2004.
"Woodworking is a hard job, it needs skill and strength. But I was determined, I wanted to have a job to take care of myself when my parents pass away."
Many felt sorry at seeing a little man on crutches trying to do woodworking, and he felt like quitting too.
"It was ten times harder than making hats. It was like a war. My hands would swell up, sometimes bleed when I hammered them by mistake instead of the nails.
"The job was even harder when it came to making shapes and patterns from wood. Some people looked at my ugly products which did not look like anything and advised me to give up and save my time.
"I almost took the advice, but then I would have wasted the time I had spent so far. Besides, I was not sure finding another job would be any easier, so I decided to stay."
Manh spent two years studying and four years working for his teacher before he opened his own shop.
He initially hired two workers and made parts for bigger shops until his shop became famous enough to get orders, including for products that needed a lot of embellishment such as statue pedestals, thrones, and altars.
He now has 13 workers, two of them disabled, and pays them VND100,000-150,000 a day.
It also gets people coming to learn the craft, including from other provinces.
Nguyen Huu Truong of Hung Yen Province was jobless when he was introduced to Manh through a relative more than a year ago.
"He is a man of strong will," he says admiringly about Manh.
"He always instructs us carefully and treats us kindly. He has made many of us wanderers find our way back to a proper path in life."
Manh says he wants his shop to be a testimony to the fact that disabled people are not a burden to society. "They are normal like anyone else, independent, and able to help."
He wants the authorities to help disabled entrepreneurs like him get cheap loans to expand their business.
He wants to import wood to execute more orders, and says woodworking is an employment solution in rural areas. He hopes his workers can open their own shops one day or become foremen and earn VND5 million a month.
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