November 20 is Vietnamese Educators’ Day, a day on which students show appreciation to their teachers by giving them small gifts or flowers or by preparing special performances or compositions. Vietnamese culture places a very high value on education, and teachers are well-respected for their commitment to helping children develop into accomplished young adults.
But in many of the rural, marginalized areas of the country, the harsh realities of daily survival often compete with a child’s ability to attend school. Rather than being a time of self-discovery and imagination, childhood in these areas is often muddied with conflict, violence, pressure for early marriage, and poverty. Positive role models, especially for girls, are rare. But fortunately, every once in a while, a very special person appears who creates a large impact in the lives around them -- and very often, this special person is a teacher.
In Long Hau Lower Secondary School in the Mekong Delta region in Vietnam, two very special people, Ms. Lien and Ms. Phuong, have started to change the lives of many of the local children. Both have dedicated their lives to preparing the local children to become confident and capable young adults equipped to navigate a sometimes challenging environment. Both are teachers -- and we honor their passion and commitment.
Ms. Phuong is one of Room to Read's social mobilizers who works with students on our Girls' Education program. She works closely with 54 girls from the school, and with her warm and welcoming demeanor, has developed close relationships with the girls and their families. She is well aware of the family situations of each girl and pays special attention to any signs that the girls may be at risk for dropping out of school because of economic or social pressures. Ms. Lien, the school's head teacher, is very supportive of the work being done by Room to Read and Ms. Phuong and ensures the program is implemented as best it can be in her school.
Both Ms. Lien and Ms. Phuong are strong proponents of the life skills component of the Girls’ Education program -- these include special workshops to develop self-confidence, self-awareness, decision-making and problem-solving skills. Girls often face extreme gender bias in education and beyond, and the goal of our life skills training, both for the girls and their communities, is to enact change in attitude and behavior so that girls can thrive equally in society.
Starting this year, the whole school district of Can Giuoc, of which Long Hau School is part, has adapted the Room to Read model of life skills training to include the entire student body, both boys and girls. With the strong support of the Minister of Education, the school management board and the commitment and teamwork of Ms. Lien and Ms. Phuong, all students now participate in and benefit from life skills trainings on Saturday mornings.
Ms. Lien plays an active role in this expanded program and expresses her enthusiasm, “We really believe that young people need life skills. Thanks to the training we received from Room to Read, we now have many reference documents on life skills, and Ms. Phuong and I can act as resource teachers and model facilitators to train other teachers.”
Ms. Phuong doesn’t mind that her Saturdays are now filled with the extra life skills workshops. Other teachers are joining her sessions and those of Ms. Lien to receive on-site training so that even more students can participate in the program. Though she admits her job is very tiring and time-consuming, Ms. Phuong stays happy and motivated in the knowledge that her students will gain something valuable and useful for their daily lives.