Shark Uma's copper-wire artworks offer steady income for people with disabilities

Nguyen Nhat Minh Phuong in the past often gave donations to worthy causes or organised charity events for people with disabilities. But she realised one day that she wanted to do much more than that.  

Shark Uma's copper-wire artworks offer steady income for people with disabilities
Portraits are made of components shaped with copper wire and other materials. VNS Photos Viet Dung

After quitting her job as a teacher because of a throat ailment that made it difficult to speak, Phuong noticed some paintings of her favourite flower, the lotus, which inspired her to make copper-wire artworks.

Though she had no professional art background, Phuong had already been making jewellery out of copper wire as a hobby for years. So she decided to take those skills to make more intricate artworks, experimenting with different tones and colour combinations.  

"During the day, I would make jewellery to sell and then would stay up late to work on my artwork. Some days, I only had four hours of sleep," the 33-year-old said.

At Shark Uma, the company that she opened less than two years ago in HCM City's Go Vap District, visitors can see colourful portraits, landscapes and still lifes made with copper wire shaped to form hair, faces, leaves, and other intricate details.  

Phuong had attended or organised charity events to help disabled people for many years, but she found that simply cooking meals or giving gifts to disadvantaged children did not really solve their problems. 

She then decided to teach them handicrafts so they could earn their own living.

Through word of mouth as well as forums for people with disabilities, Shark Uma recruited employees who were taught craft-making skills, beginning with shapes, patterns, colours and materials. 

For the pictures, components made with copper wire are put together and adjustments are made later, if needed.

Because copper wire in Vietnam has a dark colour to better conduct electricity, Shark Uma has to import more colourful wire to better suit their artworks. The shop also uses aluminium and zinc wire, as well as gems and beads to make more detailed art.

In addition to domestic buyers, Phuong's business exports its products to New Zealand, the Philippines, the US, France and Japan.

Shark Uma's copper-wire artworks offer steady income for people with disabilities
Nguyen Nhat Minh Phuong (right), owner of Shark Uma, uses sign language to communicate with her hearing-impaired employees.

Training workers

Phuong works with her staff closely, helping them with small steps, while communicating with sign language with certain employees.

Training others is difficult and requires a great deal of patience, particularly since many of them initially knew very little about art, according to Phuong.

"At first, they thought they could never do it. I had to help them with the most basic steps and motivate them," she said, adding that she encouraged them to overcome their challenges because of their difficulties finding a job.

 

"My first employees were hearing impaired, so communicating with them was really hard. It was like a completely different culture. I had to learn sign language and get to know how they think so I could work with them."

The staff typically works together on one item, using their individual parts that they made to create a finished picture.

The employees' income from Shark Uma helps them live a better life, and some could support their families.

Shark Uma's copper-wire artworks offer steady income for people with disabilities
Shark Uma employs people with disabilities who make arts and crafts out of copper wire. 

​Duong Thi My Huyen, who has worked at the company for nearly two years, was born with muscle atrophy that deformed her body, making it hard for her to speak and breathe.

After graduation from college, Huyen had difficulty finding a job but then she found out about Shark Uma, which later hired her.

She now has a stable income and has savings to deal with arising problems if needed. She does not have to rely financially on her family or anyone else.

"When I first came here, the job was really difficult and demanded a great deal of meticulousness. My hands kept shaking while I held the pliers, and bending the wires was challenging. But with everyone’s help, it became easier for me," she said, adding that Phuong is like a sister to her, and that she is very happy at the company.

Le Nhat Nhi Dong, has been working for more than six months at the company. He said through sign language that everybody gets along well and that the company is "very nice".

Dong initially had problems with bending the wires, but everyone's help made it easier for him.

With two years of experience under its belt, Shark Uma plans to further promote its products and have the hard work of the community of disabled people more wildly acknowledged. 

"The most important thing is that we inspire others with disabilities and show them that nothing is impossible. They can still have a normal, happy life and a job that brings value," Phuong said. VNS

By Viet Dung

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