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.”