Jesse Cottrell

Jesse Alejandro Cottrell (Association for the Empowerment of People with Disabilities - AEPD): Jesse began his advocacy work in San Francisco, California, working for a number of youth empowerment organizations and programs, including Park Sessions, which he helped to establish. Jesse earned a BA in Literature and Music from Bennington College in 2006. After spending three years as a bandleader and songwriter in New York City, Jesse returned to non-profit work as Associate Director and Development Coordinator at Salem Art Works, a regional arts center in Upstate New York. He was pursuing a Master of International Affairs degree at Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA) at the time of his fellowship. After his fellowship Jesse wrote: “My time in Vietnam completely altered my course of study at Columbia. As a consequence of the work I did with AEPD, my priorities shifted. My second year of classes at Columbia reflect that shift. Such a fundamental change in academic priorities reflects an experience that is as enriching as I could have hoped for."


19 Aug

When Phan Van Phong contracted a severe fever at age 1, doctors used powerful antibiotics to end his illness and save his life. Unfortunately, the allergic reaction he had to the antibiotics crippled him for life, making him reliant on a cane to walk. Soon afterward, his family’s poverty demanded that his parents leave Quang Binh for work, leaving him in the care of his grandmother.

Although he always felt loved by his family, he felt excluded from socializing outside his home. “I was always depressed at social gatherings,” Mr. Phong told me. “I felt different from everyone else. People looked down on me.”


Due to his disability, Mr. Phan felt excluded at social gatherings
Due to his disability, Mr. Phan felt excluded at social gatherings


In spite of his feelings, Mr. Phong was determined not to live the reclusive life that is common among Quang Binh’s persons with disabilities (PWDs). He remembers the chick that began his good business fortune. “It cost 4000 dong ($0.20),” he said. Mr. Phong raised the chick until it was large enough to sell for meat. He used the profits from this sale to buy several more chicks, which he in turn raised and sold, keeping a few chickens to produce eggs. Eventually the profits he made from his expanding flock allowed him to pay for a vocational course on automotive repair and construction. “The teacher saw I was a good worker, so he hired me when the class was over,” he said.

By the time Mr. Phong attended his first AEPD business training four years ago, he had already saved enough money to build a new home with a storefront in which he ran his own construction and repair business. Although the business was a relative success, making 70,000 dong in profit per day ($3.50), the small size of his shop’s roofed area prohibited him from serving the growing number of potential customers who requested his services.

“The money I received from AEPD helped me to build the enclosure over my main work space,” Mr. Phong said about a grant he received from the organization.”It allowed me to double my business. Now my shop makes 140,000 dong everyday.”


AEPD helped Mr. Phan double the size of his business
AEPD helped Mr. Phan double the size of his business


His relationship with AEPD also helped him deal with his depression. Through AEPD’s trainings, he met other PWDs who lived in his area, providing him with a supportive social network that has alleviated his social anxiety.

According to Mr. Phong, one of his primary motivations behind starting a business was to prove to the world that he could be a valuable community member in spite of his disability. He envisions a day when his shop is successful enough that he’ll be able to donate some of its profits to help his local community. With the newfound support he receives from other local PWDs and AEPD, that day may come soon.

Posted By Jesse Cottrell

Posted Aug 19th, 2012

1 Comment

  • Peggy

    March 10, 2017


    Where I grew up is almost so small you could miss it on a map if you did not know where to look! In 1960 there was a population of 300 and in 1970 it had blossomed to 310 (one gal had 6 kids in that decade!) So, here’s to Rosebud, Missouri, which has remained stuck in the ’60s for 50 years! Some things have chbeued-agsinessns gone and the people I knew have moved to the cemetary-but it is still a quiet, gentle town where almost everyone knows everyone else (of course, they are all related! ) Many fond memories of my childhood keep me company on many a day!

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