Dr Vo Thi Hoang Yen completed her PhD at La Trobe. She is a polio survivor who contracted the disease as a two-year-old in her remote village in Dong Nai province, Vietnam.
In 2005, with three other people with a disability, she founded Disability Research and Capacity Development (DRD), a non-profit organisation based in Ho Chi Minh City whose guiding vision is to create ‘an equal and non-discriminatory society’ for people with disabilities (PWDs). Over the past 13 years, DRD has directly assisted 15,000 people with a disability through skills and capacity building activities, scholarships, job placements, donations of assistive devices and computers, and, using social media, a website on laws for the disabled and a digital map showing accessible public infrastructure.
In 2018, Dr Yen was awarded the 2018 Ramon Magsaysay Award, in recognition of her ‘dauntless spirit and prodigious energy in rising above her condition; her creative, charismatic leadership in the sustained campaign to break down physical and mental barriers that have marginalised PWDs in Vietnam; and for being a shining, inspirational model for the young in her country and elsewhere in the world.’ The Ramon Magsaysay Award is described as ‘Asia’s premier prize and highest honour, celebrating greatness of spirit and transformative leadership in Asia.’
On acceptance of her award, Vo said:
Dr Vo Thi Hoang Yen
For me, it is a great honour to accept this award on behalf of people with disabilities in my home country and other developing countries, because I am one of them, who are considered as the poorest of the poor and the most vulnerable of the vulnerable. It is all types of discrimination and the struggle of people with disabilities for a more decent life that have inspired me to do my best to make a change. This good cause transformed me from a helpless person with no future into a determined leader and a change agent with a challenging-but-worthy journey.
This award reaffirms my belief that everyone is born equal in dignity and worth, and that everyone is entitled—as a human right—to live life to the fullest extent of his or her abilities. It strengthens my hope that we can have more support and resources to build a better society that addresses the needs and wellbeing of people with disabilities. We all want to live in a world of love, peace and happiness, but as Mahatma Gandhi said, ‘You must be the change you want to see in the world’. If we make ourselves better persons, we will change our world.