Kim Chi is 30 years old from the Duy Xuyen district, roughly a 15 minute drive south of Hoi An. One of 6 children raised by a single mother, she grew up and still lives there so knows first-hand the struggles that children face in this underprivileged area. Now married with 2 daughters of her own, Kim Chi has spent the last 6 years as a CEF Vietnam staff member. In fact, she was one of the original 2 staff members that Linda Burn, founder of the organisation, hired. Her background has had a profound effect on how she now lives her life, and the career she has chosen to help poor and disadvantaged girls continue their education.
Kim Chi’s siblings were like many of the children in Duy Xuyen in that they left school at around the age of 7 years old but, due to her academic ability, Kim Chi was encouraged by her mother to stay on. Education isn’t completely free in Vietnam and parents must contribute to their children’s schooling.
When these parents rely on low-paid manual farm work and selling produce such as vegetables, it can be very difficult to keep their children in school – therefore putting pressure on the children to leave school and raise an income to help support the family.
When Kim Chi was around 14 years old, her mother was unable to work and could not continue to fund her education but Kim Chi’s drive to go to university so she could improve not only her own life but that of her mother, prompted her to talk to her uncle, who knew of an NGO-run children’s home where she could apply to be housed, fed and funded to continue her education at the local High School.
Initially, as the new girl, it wasn’t a happy experience for her, but she realised that the young girls were being bullied by the boys and stepped in to be their protector. She became their ‘big sister’ and supported them through their time there – a role she still embodies as mentor to the 37 girls under her wing in the CEF programs.
At University, Kim Chi was mentored and was able to share her struggles with someone who supported and guided her through tough times. Every month, her own students check in with her to share their experiences and Kim Chi is there to listen, guide and help in any way she can in order for the girls to overcome their difficulties and ensure they are strong enough to continue with their studies and push to do well. Once again, she is the protective ‘big sister’.
She always knew that she wanted to work for an NGO. From her own experiences growing up in an underprivileged background, being supported by an NGO to continue her education at High School and then on through University, she knew she wanted to give back and change things – hence her focus and drive for all the girls in her care through CEF.
In Kim Chi’s own words: “I want to give back to someone else to help them with their education. While I work with CEF, I always think that I am lucky.”