Vietnamese Families with Special Needs was established in 2003 to respond to the needs of families in the western suburbs who had children with a disability. Operating out of Footscray and Braybrook, the group has since helped hundreds of families connect with each other and their community. Today the group is supported by Extended Families Australia and members also benefit from Extended Families’ philosophy to provide support, friendship, and to promote social inclusion.
The group grew out of a 2001 study by the Migrant Resource Centre in St Albans, which revealed that these families did not use any of the disability services available, partially due to the language barrier, but also due to embarrassment about child disability in general. Many mothers surveyed believed that it was their fault that their child had a disability, the result being that the families chose to hide themselves and their children from society.
Parents now get to gather every Thursday during school terms and share their experiences, meeting others in similar situations in an environment that gives them immense emotional support, reduces their stress, and helps them learn to accept their child and the brighter life that follows.
Since 2014, Arts Centre Melbourne has been host to the Betty Amsden Participation Program, an annual community event running projects designed to inspire and delight the entire city of Melbourne. Play Me, I’m Yours is the brainchild of British artist Luke Jerram – a highly visible public project that has reached more than 10 million people worldwide and involved installation of more than 1850 street pianos in over 55 cities across the globe.
The designs and images were inspired by patterns found on the Vietnamese Trong Đong Ngoc Lũ, representing ancient Vietnamese culture. The handprints covering the piano represent our supportive and collaborative community. The smaller handprints on the seat are made by group members’ children with autism. Vietnamese Families with Special Needs recently had the opportunity to participate with a piano donated by Paul Bilsby, and leapt at the chance.
Thuc, the piano’s artist, is a member of the group, and although women in Vietnam were not encouraged to study, she had always displayed artistic talent. With her father’s encouragement she applied to art school, and became their top student, graduating with the school’s highest award.
When Thuc moved to Australia she studied graphic design but did not work in the field, instead staying home to raise her three children. The Play Me, I’m Yours project gave her an opportunity to rekindle her love of art and painting, something she was immensely grateful for.
Running from January through to early February, the Play me I’m Yours project resulted in the installation of 19 pianos appearing in surprising places across Melbourne, a combination of art and music made available for spontaneous public enjoyment.
The group’s piano is now located at the Holy Family Church 46 Ballarat Road, Maidstone.
Extended Families can be contacted on 9355 8848, via facebook.com/Extended.Families, or their website extendedfamilies.org.au