Friday, June 28, 2019

Interview of CEF's Ms. Thuy Dinh ~ Guest Blog by Beverly Short

Thuy Dinh lives 11km from Hoi An but travels to and from each day to her job with CEF. She has been with the organisation for a little over a year, working in a variety of districts including working with other staff on the scholarship program for girls from mountainous ethnic communities, and recently with 17 students in closer communities that she can so easily identify with.

25 years old and an English Language graduate, Thuy comes from a poor farming background.  Being the only girl amongst 3 other siblings, it was only her brothers who were encouraged by their parents to stay at school and continue their education, even though they had limited ability – a common practice in the village she comes from.

Thuy describes herself as being a ‘fair’ student whilst at school but she had no money for extra tuition so decided to study alone.  At the age of 15, she realised that English was the subject she was least good at, so decided to undertake her own extra study again to improve her knowledge and skill.
In her village, Thuy is of the first generation of Vietnamese to graduate from High School.  Her parents, and their generation, mostly left school at the age of 9 or 10 to begin their lives, like their parents before them, as farmers.

Thuy’s determination and hard work paid off and she was accepted into university.  She hadn’t told her parents before she applied so was delighted when they told her they would assist in any way they could to finance her studies.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough to see her through so Thuy worked for a shoe company for 6 months to save money prior to starting and, like many of her fellow students, worked during her 4 years at university by English tutoring, waitressing and nannying.

She discovered that having a degree didn’t necessarily mean that she could walk into a job.  Thuy explained to me that many students pass their degree but don’t necessarily have top marks, or they lack work experience - possibly volunteering.  They might also lack in communication and computer skills, as well as confidence, and all of this impacts their work opportunities.  The ongoing mentoring and skills workshops that CEF run regularly for the students in their programs ensures that the girls who graduate are more equipped for the outside world and are infinitely more employable.

In Thuy’s own words: “My students take me as a model.  I tell them don’t blame your difficulties on your circumstances. It’s up to you.  You have to find a way to overcome it. For example, when I was at university I didn’t have much money so I had to borrow a student loan, find a part time job and I had to share a very small room with 3 other girls where we also cooked together to save money. This inspires and motivates my students and they begin to make their own life.”

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Interview of CEF's Ms. Vy Nguyen ~ Guest Blog by Beverly Short

Like the 60 students she supports in the CEF sponsorship program, Vy Nguyen knows exactly what it’s like to be poor and want a good education.  Now married with a 10 month old daughter, 28 – year old Vy has been working with CEF for 3 years assisting the students under her mentorship through all levels of education up to, and including, university.

Vy graduated from university with a degree in English, specialising in Business English.  She counts herself as being lucky as her parents encouraged her to finish school and continue with her studies.  She had no mentorship from either her parents or her teachers, though, and was unaware of the variety of subjects she could have studied when she left school. Her family were also unable to provide her with a computer to do her own research, so she applied to do English as this was her strongest subject in school.

Vy considers mentoring to be one of the most important aspects of her position at CEF and prides herself in knowing each of her 60 students personally – 8 of whom are at university.  She talks to them once every month and visits them twice per year. In between those times, if the girls have any troubles with their studies, their friends or their family, Vy’s door is always open to listen and help in any way she can.  The women working at CEF describe themselves as ‘big sisters’ to the girls that they mentor, and Vy is no exception.

Vy had no mentor during her education so was unaware of not only what subjects she could study at university, but what careers were available after graduating.  She ensures that all the students under her care are armed with the best possible knowledge so they can make considered choices as to their future.  She told me that if she had known more, she would most likely to have studied Japanese or Korean, as well as English, and pursued a career as a translator.

Lacking knowledge of careers, on graduating Vy began to apply to hotels for a job in tourism.  She described not being accepted into anything as ‘failing’, but I reminded her that she wouldn’t have been doing what she’s doing now if she’d gone down that path; that it didn’t work out for her because, frankly, her talents were needed elsewhere.  She went on to become a translator and Personal Assistant for an NGO that helped children with disabilities before starting work with CEF.  Her duties with CEF are varied and include giving talks on child abuse and human trafficking as well as being ‘big sister’ to her students.

In Vy’s own words: “I feel very proud of my students and myself, knowing that I am encouraging them to get good grades. When they tell me that they are satisfied with their choice of subject at university it makes me feel good and motivates me to continue my work with CEF. I know that in the future their parents and their sponsor will also be proud of them.”

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Interview of CEF's Ms. Thuy Tran ~ Guest Blog by Beverly Short

Thuy Tran’s bright smile and cheerful demeanour are contagious. The 32 year old has been bringing her enthusiasm and upbeat personality to CEF for the last 4 years where she manages ethnic children from the Phuoc Son District – a mountainous area near the border between Vietnam and Laos. 
After studying Hospitality Management at University, Thuy applied for a volunteer position within a local NGO and was very quickly hired as a fulltime member of the staff. For the next 6 years she experienced firsthand the eagerness of the poor children to go to school and learn, but how they were hindered by the economic instability of their families. 

After 6 years Thuy resigned from her position as the NGO’s funds we
re running low and she believed they should be spending their money on projects and not on her salary. During that time of unemployment she started her own charity with some of her friends which assisted underprivileged primary and kindergarten age children with school supplies and taught workshops on personal hygiene.  It wasn’t long, though, before Thuy was snapped up by Linda Burn of CEF Vietnam and the rest, as they say, is history.

Not only does Thuy support children in the ethnic community from the Phuoc Son District under the CEF programs, she also trains older girls, who have already gone through university and want to give back to their community, to give workshops on personal hygiene and nutrition. She told me how she proudly watched one particular ethnic student grow from a shy, unconfident young girl into a mature and strong young woman who felt able to give community workshops to nearly 150 children at a time, and go on to be a teacher herself.

It is an ongoing battle for the women who work for CEF to stress the importance of education to the parents in these ethnic communities where children are encouraged to leave school to work on farms or in paddy fields to bring money into the family home.  There are exceptions, though, and Thuy told me of one woman who had 7 children and was without a husband.  At 70 years old, she still does manual work daily in the scorching heat to help support her children through their education.  Unfortunately, she is in the minority.

It’s not a given that graduates from University in Vietnam will get a job so Thuy coaches the students in her care to get the highest possible grades, to network with other teachers and schools, and continually improve their communication skills to increase their chances of employment.

Since working with CEF, Thuy has noticed that the dropout rate of students from the programs has decreased.  She believes that this is, in part, due to the life skills workshops that CEF offer.  They teach the girls about sex education, healthcare, nutrition and sanitation which leads to less teenage pregnancies and improved health. The girls also begin to understand more about the ‘outside world’ and that University isn’t the only option for them after High School as there are many careers available such as cook, waitress or hairdresser.  There is a gradual realisation that there is more to life than having children at a young age and working on a farm.

In Thuy’s own words: “The sexual education workshops we teach are not only for the girls to understand how to protect themselves and to use contraception.  We teach them how to deny their boyfriends sex, if that is what they want, but to also still have a good relationship.”

Monday, June 24, 2019

Interview of CEF's Ms. Kim Chi ~ Guest Blog by Beverly Short

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.”

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Interview of CEF's Ms. Ngoc Do ~ Guest Blog by Beverly Short

Along with Kim Chi, Ngoc Do is one of the founder staff members of CEF Vietnam, working with Linda Burn, the founder, for nearly 6 years. Not only did she find her future career with CEF, she also found love, and Ngoc is married to a former CEF staff member with whom she has a 6 month old baby boy. 

All the women who work for CEF have 6 months maternity leave but are never replaced during that time.  Each of the 5 other women share that person’s workload as they do whenever anyone is sick, has exams, or needs to be away from work for any period of time.  I experienced a very happy work atmosphere with young women who are close, and are kind and supportive of one another.

Ngoc was studying English Language full time at University when she applied for a volunteer position with CEF which, she believed, would help improve her English for her desired career as a Tour Guide. Unbeknownst to Ngoc, Linda saw her as a potential employee and offered her a part-time paid position within the organisation.  Although she knew that this would have an impact on her study, she took the position and went on to successfully complete her degree whilst working part-time - supported by her co-workers during exam time, and motivated by the inspiring work of the organisation.  

Although Ngoc comes from a poor family, she grew up with supportive parents and, along with her brother and sister, was encouraged to complete High School and go on to University. Her father completed High School and went on to College, but her mother, although a gifted student, was forced to leave school at an early age which led to hardship.  She didn’t want the same life for her children so she and her husband funded them, and encouraged them to educate themselves.

As well as admin and accounts work, Ngoc covers sponsorships in Dien Ban district around 30 km from Hoi An and mentors 11 students and works on several support programs.

In her own words: “My favourite part of this job is visiting the children.  I love to get close to them so that they can share what they need with us so we can help them. I also always love the Water Safety Day.  The children work hard all year and many of them live in remote, mountainous areas and they haven’t had the chance to see the beach or come to Hoi An. I also like the soft skills workshops where we have taught things such as time management, communication skills and how to interview well.  These things are so important.”

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Accidental meeting with the mother of students

I was walking through the market in the mountains in the township of Kham Duc when I came across the mother of twins in our sponsorship program who are both in university. She grows vegetables for her family and sells some to earn money to help support her family.  

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Artwork by a CEF student

I love this interesting drawing by one of our young CEF students in the sponsorship program, as it is so full of life. So much is included on a small piece of paper ~ the lotus pond, the lady carrying chickens in her two baskets, the boy flying a kite, the scarecrow and children walking under the arch.