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Thanh Nien News Article

At Just Massage, come also for a good social cause

Thanh Nien News/ Thanh Nien Weekly
By HUONG LE

(TN-HANOI) Besides a stable income, there’s one more thing that Nguyen Thi He likes about being a massage therapist: it teaches her patience. "I’ve become calmer and more focused," the 23-year-old said. "I like making others feel relaxed and relieve their stress." Ms He does her job mostly from feeling and touching though. Because of astigmatism, she can’t see that much, about 1/10 in one eye and 2/10 in the other. Her father and brother also suffer from serious visual impairments. About two years ago, her father brought home a flyer after attending a meeting held by their local community’s association for the blinds. It recruited young adults with visual impairments to get training and work as massage therapists in a newly-opened facility opened in Hanoi.

He applied. "I didn’t know what this would lead to. I was curious but I knew the project’s mission was meaningful." After six months of training and another course at a local hospital to receive a certificate to work as a massage therapist, He started her stint at Just Massage, a massage facility located in Hanoi’s Ba Dinh District. In 2007, it was opened as collaborative project between local NGO Action for the City and a US international non-governmental organization. The project selected a group of young, visually impaired, unemployed in Hanoi and its suburban districts to receive training from professional therapists. They were then granted employment at Just Massage and can earn a stable income.

According to its manager, Tran Nha Thanh, on one hand, Just Massage stands for economic opportunities, personal empowerment and dignified work for the visually impaired therapists. On the other hand, it also means that coming here, you purely get just a great massage. Thanh said Just Massage functions as a social enterprise, meaning the profits would go back to help train other young adults with the art of massage. "That allows us to make a greater social impact," she said. At Just Massage, the nine therapists working to make it an art. Here, customers can choose from a wide range of services, from having a Shiatsu massage to aromatherapy or a Swedish massage or even pre-natal massage for pregnant ladies. With Shiatsu massage, light to medium pressure is applied with fingers, feet and elbows along channels or “meridians” that helps to balance and free the flow of physical and mental energy.

For Swedish massage, a combination of aromatic oil and long flowing strokes can reduce stress, relieve muscle tension and promote an overall feeling of relaxation. Thanh said when the facility was first opened, 80 to 90 percent of the customers are foreigners. "We don’t even have a budget for marketing. It was all word of mouth. The customers come here not just for the professional and clean massage; they come to support a cause. Now, our Vietnamese customer base has been expanding, which is a good sign, that the society has gradually changed their perception on disabled people and their contribution to the society" Now the facility serves about 700 customers a month and that also counts those who come several times a week or a month. But according to the manager, it took Just Massage many months to even break even and earn profits. And difficulties arise when there are also those who mistaken its work. "In Vietnam, the image of a massage facility can have some negative connotation attached to it. We want to create a professional well-being place in Hanoi, help our therapists gain confidence and integrity into the society by giving them a just and fair wage, professional skills and good working condition" Thanh said.

The place also receives request to train message therapists for different spas and resorts. For now, Thanh said they still look for additional funding from philanthropists, INGOs, private sector and other sources in order to train more therapists Before Just Massage, 27-year-old Le Thi Thuy Dung used to work at other massage facility. She said here’s different; you learn how to greet and communicate with a customer and make their whole experiences as enjoyable as possible. Jane Hughes works for an US-based NGO in Hanoi and frequents here. "Here you are treated in a friendly way," she said. "They always ask you to sit down and have a drink before and after your massage. It’s all a serene, warm feeling."