Visiting Vietnam – learning from best models on the ground

by Stacey Choe

What started as a site visit to OneSky’s early learning centre in Danang for a few members promptly developed into something that would feature more than early childhood education and development when members started suggesting more programmes to visit. In the end, we also visited Pacific Links, KOTO, Saigon Children, and met with LIN Center for Community Development  and Vietseeds.

One of our members was keen for members to meet with Pacific Links, an anti-human trafficking organisation. With the recent tragedy in UK with Vietnamese migrants, this was definitely an issue that everyone was curious to learn more about.

A student of Pacific Links showcases her work

What the group quickly learnt was that despite Vietnam’s fast-paced development, many in the rural areas were left behind. Ill-equipped with the right knowledge, education and employment, they were sometimes tricked into thinking that the options offered by smooth-talking human traffickers were infinitely better than the little prospects they had at home. What is needed in Vietnam is beyond economic prospects, but more awareness of the risks, better control from government, and improved opportunities locally.

We also got to meet students that are supported by Pacific Links through their SEEDS and GEMS programmes. The students were very impressive with their motivation, articulation and even their commitment to give back to others.

Children experiencing OneSky’s model of play-based learning

OneSky did not disappoint – the demonstration model was extremely well-run, with a creative and imaginative environment and children who were active and engaged. OneSky’s programmes are based on the Reggio-Emilia model, which focuses on play-based learning. Despite the centre’s popularity, they only take in children from the poorest households. Since they rely heavily on overseas funding, the model is not very replicable around Vietnam due to its high costs.

However, what was more scalable, and was co-funded by APC members, was the training provided for home-based caregivers. These caregivers often take care of up to 40 children and providing them the model, tools and support is key in improving the care that the children will receive.

In Ho Chi Minh City, we were given a presentation by LIN Center, an eco-system building organisation supported by one of our Vietnamese member, that explained the social sector in Vietnam. What we learnt was that due to government regulations, it is now extremely difficult, if not impossible, to register as a charity or non-profit now, whereas it appears easier to register as a social enterprise though there did not seem to be clear benefits. Receiving overseas funding for non-profits is another huge challenge, and LIN Center has been helping many small grassroots programmes to receive funding.

The founder and CEO of Vietseeds, an NGO providing scholarships and mentorships to Vietnamese students also wowed us with their passion, comprehensive programme and careful planning. Interestingly, when an APC member set up a scholarship in Stanford for Vietnamese students, Vu, Vietseeds founder later, was one of his first beneficiaries. After connecting years later and hearing their story, he immediately funded them.

Visiting KOTO, Know One Teach One

We then had lunch at KOTO, Know One Teach One, a social enterprise that provides marginalised and at-risk youths with a 2 year residency, providing hospitality training and other life skills support. We got to meet the restaurant manager, chef and service staff, who were all alumni of the programme and were very moved by their stories. Also supported by our member, KOTO has ambitious plan to expand their business in order to scale up, and founder Jimmy Phan is excited to execute his retirement plans!

Chatting with students at saigonchildren

We ended the trip with a visit to saigonchildren, a non-profit established for over 20 years, and also supported by another APC member. Due to its longer history, saigonchildren has a very good relationship with the government and is able to “guide” government towards gaps and better ways of doing things by engaging government officials to review their programmes. The organisation builds schools, runs vocational programmes, and has recently started special education programmes.

It was hard to believe that we squeezed in so many visits and exchanges in less than three days – we had to continue discussions on buses and the working dinners always ended later than planned. But we were able to meet with inspiring youths, local philanthropists on their own journeys, and as always, continue to bond with each other during the trips through our discussions.

With the staff of Saigon Children

We look forward to the next learning journeys in 2020 – please join us if you still have not experienced learning first-hand with other fellow philanthropists!