By Jenny Malina, Semester at Sea, Spring 2017

Welcome to Fifth Avenue NYC I thought to myself driving through the city streets in Ho Chi Minh City! Meanwhile, disembarking the ship in Vietnam felt like stepping off the plane on a tropical island. I pictured myself strolling down the beach buying hand-embroidered dolls and keychains in St. Lucia as I walked through the market set up near port. Contrarily, our drive to the airport brought me to 5th Avenue in NYC with its fancy designer stores, modern buildings, and luxury American brand hotels. As seen, Vietnam is in a state of transition with a lot of room for social ventures to bridge the gap between socio-economic classes.

The Production Workshop for Disabled People is a large retail store setup in a warehouse-like structure, surrounded by an outdoor sculpture garden, along the route to HaLong Bay. It aims to bridge the socio-economic gap that plagues Vietnam by offering the unlucky disabled population work they can handle. Because of the Vietnam War and Agent Orange, the country has a proportionately large disabled population relative to other developing nations. The Production Workshop recognizes that despite these people’s partial disabilities, they can sit up and perform unique work, such as painting, embroidering, sewing, making toys, and designing souvenirs. In response, the management team provides a workshop and leadership team to house the facilities and run a self-sufficient operation, effectively. To further contribute, management looks after the sales stats to help maintain high margins. Opening the facilities to tourists has likewise augmented its success by increasing shopping traffic and revenues.

Proportionately high disabled populations tend to have high unemployment rates and high demand for government aid as disabled people struggle to find job openings they are capable of fulfilling. To mitigate these effects, the Production Workshop for Disabled People employs nearly 80% of their sales people and 100% of their crafts people from the disabled subset of the Vietnamese population. In doing so, the venture helps keep individuals out of poverty, while simultaneously stimulating the economy. Moreover, tourists have taken an extreme liking towards the facility, often using it as a rest stop and shopping spree on their way to HaLong Bay, one of the largest tourist attractions in Vietnam.