Two weeks ago, I had the privilege of visiting a small village in Vietnam as part of my work with the non-profit, Better Life Vietnam. Better Life Vietnam works to help children rise out of poverty and stay in school. In many rural areas, children are not able to continue their educations because of family commitments or finances. Thus, this creates a cycle of poverty that can be almost inescapable. Even students that have worked incredibly hard to pass national entrance exams cannot attend university, and are forced into low-paid labor jobs.
I had no idea what to expect when I arrived in the village, or the emotional impact that the girls stories would have on me. Hearing their families share their struggles was truly powerful, and I am proud and excited to be a part of such an inspiring mission.
At just 16, Thuong has faced many struggles and challenges. Thuong lives with her grandparents, as her parents are working in Ho Chi Minh City. Her eldest sister was forced into dropping out of school at fourteen to support their family, and Thuong is worried that she will face the same fate. She is an excellent student, and participates in the farmwork as well as spending long hours studying for school. At 5am she wakes up, feeds the chickens, helps with her younger brother, and prepares breakfast.
Vu Thi Thu Trang
One of three children, she lives with her grandfather and disabled father. Her father faces discrimination and abusive employers in the workplace due to his disability. Although he wants to support his children he has faced many struggles. Her family raises chickens, and hopes to work with Better Life to create a sustainable work model to raise money for their children’s educations. Vu Thi Thu Trung wakes up at four in the morning to cook rice and begin work on the farm. Her grandfather had tears in his eyes as he discussed the value of education to him, and how he knew that education was one of the only ways out of poverty.
Phuong Thu’s story is one that touched my heart greatly. She lives with grandparents, as her parents abandoned her when she was quite young. Her grandfather has lung cancer, and she began to cry as she discussed how much she loved him and how badly she wanted to be able to care for her family in the future. Phuong Thu is interested in working with Betterlife Vietnam to study tourism and hospitality, and dreams of one day working in this field and being able to see the world and support her family. She knows that studying is a way to overcome her hardships. Therefore, she stays up until two in the morning poring over books.
Khuat Thi Nhung
I was not able to meet Khuat Thi Nhung personally, as she had left for school. However, her parents and grandparents welcomed me into their house with open arms. Her mother works in a garment shop, where she makes clothes for upwards of ten hours a day. She desperately doesn’t want the same life for her daughter, and realizes her daughters potential for success. Her dream for Khuat Thi Nhung is to see her become a teacher and be able to finish her education.
One of the most tragic stories we heard that day was that of sixteen year old Thao Linh. Her father left her family with a huge gambling debt. He even used the deed to their house to pay off his gambling fees. Most of the time during the visit, Thao Linh was in the back sewing garments for a factory. She only took a break to briefly have her picture taken, citing that the only way she could stay in school was if she continued to work throughout the day. They sell 100 of these pairs of pants for 30,000 dong (approximately 1.50$). Thao Linh wants to be a fashion designer when she grows up. However, most of all she just wants to be able to finish her education and support her family.
Hearing these brave, smart, and ambitious girls’ stories was truly powerful. I will never forget them, and am happy and proud that they will be receiving scholarships through Better Life Vietnam. I can’t wait to see the kinds of progress we can help these communities make.
Find out how you can help underprivileged children in Vietnam at their website, www.betterlifevietnam.org.
Whether you have the time to volunteer, or can give financially- both can change the future of these families and many others like them.
I left that day with a sense of gratitude for everything in my life. In addition, I left with a dream to help these families and make a difference. Privilege is when you think something is not a problem, because it’s not a problem for you personally. Some of us who were born into lucky circumstances think that we are more deserving of our privilege than others. We are not. We are not more deserving of rights than the other human beings that inhabit this planet. It is our job as global citizens to change the world for the better. The cycle of poverty can be broken. It’s up to us- right now, in this moment, to work towards positive change.