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Meeting Khiem for the First Time | Deaf Dream's Origin Story

Originally posted on November 1, 2012

Meeting Khiem was a miracle, no question about it. I had contacted my LDS church in Vietnam prior to arriving in their nation, hoping to attend church with fellow Vietnamese members. It was through a series of complex connections that someone gave me Khiem’s email. During the course of my Semester at Sea program I kept in contact with Khiem, surprised that he knew some English despite living in a country with limited Deaf education. After church, we made our way to downtown Ho Chi Minh City and met Khiem in the center of a round-about next to an enormous statue. It was evening but we still had plenty of light left. We crossed the street, Khiem walked up to us, and I began to chat with him. Our conversation went on for hours.

Khiem and I standing in front of one of his paintings in his mother's home
Khiem and I standing in front of one of his paintings in his mother's home

What topped the night, was the discussion Khiem and I had in the center of that round-about in Ho Chi Minh City. Khiem was mainly self-taught in his education. I learned that he has studied all subjects and even learned both Vietnamese and English just in case he was able to study at Gallaudet University (knowing full well this would be very unlikely). He and his mother petitioned the Vietnamese Communist government to allow them to meet with other Deaf and teach them sign language and other school subjects. For 10 years, their petitions were rejected until last year when they were finally approved. After such a long wait, over 250 Deaf now meet regularly with Khiem. However the government will not allow the establishment of an Association of the Deaf because they view Deaf incapable because of their low education. Khiem is determined to move forward Deaf rights in Vietnam. He wants to study at Gallaudet to learn more about various Deaf teaching methods and the legalities behind Deaf rights. He has already tried to get to Gallaudet on his own, but the cost to get a student visa and study in the States is far too much. Khiem sells his paintings at low cost on the streets to be self-sufficient.

Khiem's Painting of Women Street Vendors
Khiem's painting of Vietnamese women street vendors

Typically setting up a language base between two sign languages took some time but thankfully our sign languages were quite similar [both French Sign Language based] and the process was fast. We talked as much as possible until after dark and then went to his mother’s apartment. She was so kind, gave us tea, and showed us Khiem’s artwork. It was an incredible night full of miracles; a meeting that should have been impossible, but wasn’t.

Since that time, Khiem and I have kept in contact via email and Facebook. He has asked me hundreds of questions concerning Deaf in America, Deaf rights, education standards, etc. Needless to say, this has been an incredible learning experience for me! 🙂 The point is he made clear he was not very comfortable with using our money for his education until I made clear to him that this was not only education for him but for the rest of Vietnam Deaf. We are empowering him with education so that he can empower the 250+ Deaf in his group and push forward Deaf rights for the Deaf in his nation.

I have no doubt we were meant to find Khiem. He is an incredible Deaf individual who has already done so much for his country. This is why I feel we can trust he will put his all into his American education: he has already done so much to prove himself a Deaf leader in his nation.

It is amazing how things work out. I ask that each of your search your hearts and find a way to support Khiem’s education.

There is so much good in the world! We want to support Deaf Dreamers who do the most with their current circumstances and give them opportunity like Khiem. Thank you for supporting these efforts!

Life is oh-so-good!


Another painting of Khiem's
Another painting of Khiem's

Another painting of Khiem's
Another painting of Khiem's


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