And the teenager is now putting his talent to good use, raising millions of VN dong to help the country fight the COVID-19 pandemic by selling his paintings.

But what makes Long’s achievements all that more remarkable, is the fact he has been unable to speak or hear since he was born.

“Long is very meticulous and always commits to his work,” said his mother Phung Thi Hieu.

“Perhaps his difficulties to communicate bring him into his own introspective and emotional world.”

From a very early age, Hieu knew there was something different about her son. She could see his artistic talents shine through even when he was just a baby.

Teenage painter,help fight Covid-19,selling paintings to raise money,fighting COVID-19
DETAILED: A street corner in Tran Nam Long's painting.

She noticed he was fascinated with colours and shapes since early in his childhood so enrolled him into an art class to try and nurture his skills.

But the sudden death of his father meant his lessons had to come to an abrupt end.  

Hieu said: “The monthly fee of VND400,000 was too much for us at that time, so his first lesson was also his last. I felt so sorry for him and I had to find ways to continue his course.”

Teenage painter,help fight Covid-19,selling paintings to raise money,fighting COVID-19
BOND: Tran Nam Long and his mother. VNS Photo Paul Kennedy

After winning an art competition at an early age, a teacher spotted his talents and offered him free courses.

To this day, that teacher is still Long’s idol.

“We sent five paintings to the competition, and two of which were given the highest prize,” his mother Hieu said.

“After the competition, a teacher named Huu Chinh offered him free art courses, because he really loves Long’s talent and appreciates his passion for art.

“Long took to this art teacher like a duck to water. Long really likes and admires him a lot. Until now, Chinh is still his idol.

“There were days Long work for a full three hours after school with his teacher. He is also the one who helped Long to unlock his artistic instincts.”

Their small home began to soon fill up as Long painted more and more, turning their tiny house into a gallery.

He can regularly be spotted strolling around the neighbourhood in Ha Dinh, notebook and pencil in hand making sketches of everything he sees.

 
Teenage painter,help fight Covid-19,selling paintings to raise money,fighting COVID-19
IMPRESSIVE: Portrait of the mother. VNS Photos Kieu Trinh

Outside their home in the family’s front yard, he has his easel set up painting every spare chance he gets. For a child who cannot speak, art is clearly his way to communicate. 

“Normally, the mother must be the one who understands her children most, but Long is not like others," Hieu said.

“He cannot hear which is a huge barrier, and at first I didn’t know sign language. We always misunderstood and it put a lot of pressure on me. I was so stressful that sometimes I could only look at my child and cry desperately because I didn’t know what to do to connect with him.

“Long is also a shy child. So there was more pressure and things became more difficult.”

But when he has a paintbrush in hand, Long comes out of his shell, much to his mother’s delight. Now, despite struggling herself to feed her family, she and her son have decided to help those less fortunate, by selling his paintings to raise money for those fighting COVID-19.

Proceeds from the sale of a recent painting were donated to the Vietnam Motherland Front Committee to support the government stop the spread of coronavirus and he hopes to sell more in the future to help the cause.

Teenage painter,help fight Covid-19,selling paintings to raise money,fighting COVID-19
GOOD DEED: The painting of 39 To Hien Thanh villa was sold to raise money for those fighting COVID-19

As for Long himself he has managed to learn to communicate through sign language.

Speaking with the help of his mother, he said: “I draw a variety of topics such as hometowns, cities, hills, flowers, bicycles and other daily things. I draw based on pictures and my imaginations.

“I love drawing and I often sketch every Sunday afternoon with my mother.

“I really like the French architecture. It was hard for me at first when I started to paint to sketch it, but now everything becomes easier for me.”

There are many amazing works of art painted by Long, but one that stands out is a portrait of his mother.

Hieu said: “After finishing a portrait of me, Long asked me, ‘Why so sad? I can see it in your eyes. You are lovely. I love you very much.’”

These words are enough to melt the heart of any mother, but when spoken through sign by her immensely talented but hearing- and speaking-impaired son, she feels they take on a greater meaning. VNS 

Nguyen Kieu Trinh

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