15 May School - The ex-street hope

Nov 19, 2007

20 years after the Innovation (or Đổi mới) policy, Vietnam has succeeded in making its people's lives better off and achieved a staggering annual growth rate at around 7,5% in the last decade. Had it not been for the Asia financial crisis, we would be even better now. However, as we all know, fast growth is also accompanied by a widening gap between the rich and the poor. Modernization has forced so many people in less affluent regions to flood to big cities in search of better lives. As a result, they are often left unemployed and homeless due to lack of skills and knowledge.

Children from those families therefore are not able to go to school and have to make a living by shining shoes, selling chewing gums, lotteries, flowers and stuffs along the streets. We call them street children or "bụi đời". Having to work to support their family at a very early age, they are inevitably exposed to hunger and social evils such as sexual abuse, labor exploitation, drugs addiction, prostitution and petty crimes. Consequently, the street children become the burden of the city community and especially the booming tourism industry.

In an attempt to alleviate the situation, schools like the 15 May School have been built. These are often public schools operating on limited budgets allocated by the state. For years, they have played a crucial role in providing shelters and education as well as vocational training for these disadvantaged children. The particular school mentioned in this entry was set up exactly in the year when the innovation policy was implemented. It has been a shelter to around 30 kids and is now catering less than 10. Besides academic teaching, vocational training such as cooking, hair and beauty, vocational English are also provided. Despite bureaucratic obstacles, the school is moving forward and achieving substantial results with the support from international volunteers from VSO and countless other sponsors and donors who have generously given the school financial aids and material donations.

Brought to the school in May 2007 by a friend of mine, I have been working there as a translator for 2 volunteers from VSO, both of them work as financial management advisers. My job is to assist them in their communication with the school, translating documents from English to Vietnamese and vice versa. I also help during discussion meetings between the school board and the volunteers. Their job is chiefly involved in preparing a long term and sustainable plan for the school to provide extra curriculum activities, maintain its relationship with the sponsors and donors as well as raising funds. Until now, we have successful set up 2 projects at the school. one is sponsored by SAGA, a UK Charitable Foundation, to provided assistance for 7 young students who are leaving the school for independent life. Another from the Society of Petroleum Engineers (SPE) supports a vocational English program set up by SEALNet, a Stanford-based leadership network, in the summer of 2007, to equip the children with sufficient English skills for their future, and a Scholarship Fund to give grants to children in need within the school. During the time working at the school, I have had valuable opportunities to meet with great people from around the world and within the school who are so kind-hearted and enthusiastic about caring for the disadvantaged children.

Tomorrow, as the school celebrates the Teachers' Day, it is granting scholarships worth of more than 30,0000,000 VND (nearly 2,000 USD) or half of the yearly allowed fund from SPE. Children ranging from grade 1 to University students are getting money to partially reduce their family financial burden of letting them go to school instead of making them to work. The least amount of money is worth of 500,000 VND (nearlly 30USD), for this academic year. Another half of the fund will be awarded at the end of the school year. Seeing those funds being used effectively, I cannot help feeling happy about what I've contributed to the efforts made and what the children are benefiting from those efforts.

A brighter future is lying ahead of them and one day they will be able to contribute to the society.

You can visit the school website at: http://www.15mayschool.org