Mai’s parents were soldiers who took part in battles at Road No. 9 in the central province of Quang Tri during the Vietnam War. They got married in 1974 and delivered Mai in 1978. As victims of toxic chemicals, their daughter is blind.
Mai’s father took her everywhere to seek treatment. In 1980 he took Mai to the Central Eye Hospital to meet a famous professor. However, the professor refused to graft a new retina on the girl because it was a very difficult case.
In 1990, the father sent his daughter to the Nguyen Dinh Chieu School for blind children in Hanoi, where Mai’s aptitude for English language was quickly revealed. In 1996, Mai won the first prize at an English contest for 6th grade students of Hai Ba Trung District, where her school was located. After that, she won the second prize for writing and the first for speaking at an English contest in Hanoi.
Joan Woodward, a member of the contest’s jury, was very surprised at Mai’s ability. She taught English to Mai in her spare time at the Hai Ba Trung Cultural House.
Several months later, Mai went to the US to study at a school for the blind in Philadelphia with Ms Woodward’s assistance. After that, Ms Woodward helped Mai to enroll in a private school for blind students in Washington.
After one year studying there, the head master of the school told Ms Woodward and Mai that only American nationality students were exempted from school fees; others had to pay around US$30,000 per year.
The head master told the story about a poor American woman who helped a Vietnamese blind girl to study in the US to a reporter of the Olympian Newspaper. The article moved the heart of many readers. A rich woman presented Mai with $1,000 and promised to pay all her school fees.
Teaching people who share the same plight
Graduating from high school, Mai entered Philadelphia University. However, it is very difficult to become an excellent student when Braille books for blind people are rare. Mai had to study normal books and absorb literature through the voices of her classmates and volunteers.
Mai recorded literature works, lectures, etc. onto tapes to study at home. Every night, she translated lectures and stories that were 5-6 hours long into Braille and saved them in her computer to research. She didn’t sleep many nights for all of her studying.
Each time she had essays, Mai had to spend the whole night translating Braille into English to submit to her teachers. Every night, in a small room, famous literature works of the world were being absorbed by a blind Vietnamese girl.
At the Master’s of Literature graduation ceremony at Arizona University, the audience warmly applauded the speech of the Vietnamese blind girl. Mai said she wished to seek a job in Vietnam after two years teaching in the US to bring the knowledge that she had studied in the country to Vietnamese people sharing the same plight