Stories: Children, Communities, Futures

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Twenty-five years ago, ChildFund began its work in Vietnam; implementing child-focused development programs in the remote district of Ky Son, located in the country’s mountainous northern region.

Working in partnership with just four communes, home to around 200 children and families struggling with high levels of deprivation, ChildFund Vietnam focused its efforts on improving access to basic – and essential – needs.

Our earliest initiatives in these rural villages sought to reduce widespread child malnutrition; increase access to healthcare, safe water and sanitation; generate new livelihood opportunities for the low-income families; and improve the startling low school attendance rates.

Access to quality education has always been a pillar of ChildFund Vietnam’s programming. In a region of significant ethnic diversity, and where few children speak Vietnamese at home, it is vital that children and young people be given the opportunity to learn, and to overcome potential language barriers which can prevent them from accessing opportunities in the future.

Creating child-friendly, supportive, and engaging learning environments was key. Our team successfully worked in partnership with education staff, local authorities, parents, and young people to achieve this.

Today, teacher training programs, classroom and playground construction, new educational resources, and the creation of School Boards of Management mean that in Ky Son district 100 per cent of children now complete their primary education. This is a remarkable achievement.

Since those early days, ChildFund Vietnam has expanded its reach in the north of the country, and today works in 36 communes, in 12 districts, across three rural provinces – Hoa Binh, Cao Bang, Bac Kan – as well as the urban Hanoi Municipality.

In the last year alone, our projects reached almost 90,000 individuals, around half of whom were children and young people.

As the world for children has changed, so have ChildFund’s initiatives. We are now responding to the new threats to children’s wellbeing, with a focus on keep children safe from harm. This supports global efforts to progress target 16.2 of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals: to end all forms of violence against children.

Increasing, and affordable, internet availability is increasing children’s exposure to online abuse and exploitation. ChildFund’s Swipe Safe program is supporting young people to take advantage of digital technologies, while also ensuring they can take active steps to keep safe online.

Building safer environments is also a feature of our new partnership with the Vietnam Government’s Department of Child Affairs and Microsoft. Together, we have launched a new child protection application, which can be used by young people to report incidents of abuse and seek support.

ChildFund Pass It Back, a unique sport for development program, is giving young people in rural areas the opportunity to learn valuable life skills through organised community sport. With a focus on inclusion, over half of all players and coaches are girls and young women.

In the early 2000s, I spent several years working and living in Vietnam with my own daughter. It holds a special place in both of our hearts, and I am incredibly proud of our staff who show such dedication and commitment to changing the lives of vulnerable children.

Our achievements in Vietnam are also due to the strong collaboration with the Vietnamese government, civil society groups, individual and institutional donors, and the communities and the young people at the centre of our mission.

Together we are stronger. And together, we will continue to ensure more children in Vietnam can say: “I am safe. I am educated. I contribute. I have a future.”

Trang is a teenage rugby player from Hoa Binh, Vietnam. She has been playing the game for over two years now and anyone meeting her for the first time is impressed by her liveliness.

But what impresses people even more is what this 13-year-old girl has accomplished at her young age.

Understanding equality

“I love being part of ChildFund Pass It Back because I can make many new friends! I also learnt more about gender and why we should treat girls and boys equally,” says Trang. 

“In the past, I often cried to myself because my parents seemed to prefer my younger brother. Though my brother was stubborn and naughty, they were more on his side many times. I found it unfair, however, I didn’t say that to them.

“After I learned about the rights of children and gender equality from the Understanding Gender Module, I understood that people should not be discriminated against just because of their gender. Boys are no better than girls, we are both human. Boys or girls, we are both our parents’ children and we should be treated equally.

“One day, I tried to talk to my parents about how I felt and that sons and daughters should be equally loved and cared for by their parents. My mother did not say anything, but afterwards she has lessened her favour toward my brother.

“At times, when my brother and I had conflicts, my mother would try to solve it, she also asked my brother to behave, instead of making me be the one to have to apologise to my brother and make peace with him like before. I was happy that I had finally plucked my courage up to speak up.”

Finding her voice

Coach Dung, who coaches Trang’s team, says: “It is important to equip children with knowledge about gender equality. I believe that when children know their rights, they will confidently speak their mind and raise their voice.

“As Trang’s coach, I am proud that ChildFund Pass It Back’s Understanding Gender curriculum has helped her gain confidence to stand up for her rights.”

Trang’s mother says: “Each time when she returns from training, Trang tells us a lot of things. She is excited about going to the pitch, and always does her house chores in advance in exchange for our permission to go.

“In the past, she used to be a short-tempered child. If something upset her, she would get sulky and give us the silent treatment. Now she talks to us about these things and points out what troubles her and what makes her unhappy – she has stopped sulking.

“Witnessing her changes and her fondness for the sport, we are very happy and totally support her joining ChildFund Pass It Back.”

A young role model

Trang is now the captain of her team, and is looked up to by her teammates.

“Trang is a good player yet she doesn’t look down on or judge those who are not yet good at playing. Instead, she always encourages us to learn from each other to be better.

“She is also a good team captain. She often supports other players in the team who might be stuck with some rugby techniques. And, she also reminds us not to be defensive when someone gives us feedback to help us improve.”

She’s also well-liked by her peers at school. Trang’s classmates add: “In our class, Trang regularly helps other friends with the lessons. If we have something that we don’t understand, we feel comfortable asking Trang for help.

“Trang is a smart student, but she’s not snobbish about it and she never looks down on those who don’t perform well at school. Trang is always available to help others to study better.”

Coach is Dung very proud of that: “I realised that it is important for our players to have a role model to follow. And I was even happier that one of our players had become a role model for their peers. Anyone can be a role model.”

Building stronger communities

Trang adds: “I hope the program can spread everywhere, even across the globe, so children in other places of the world can enjoy learning and playing like us here.”

Using sport as a platform to equip girls and young women with important leadership and life skills, ChildFund Pass It Back supports girls and young women to reach their full potential.

Trang’s story shows how girls, even at their young age, can actively stand up for their rights and become role models in their local community.