The sun was shining brightly over Vietnam's Long An province on October 16 and over Can Giuoc Secondary School. Sundays are normally quiet on school grounds, but this is an exception—with more than 40 graduates of Room to Read’s Girls’ Education program on campus for the annual alumnae meeting.
All of the attendees have completed secondary school and most are scattered among colleges and universities in and around Ho Chi Minh City. Each year, our team invites these girls from four provinces to return to the local high school for a meetup, to share successes and swap advice on school, friends, love and life away from home. Through these meetings, the young women are able to retain connections they made in secondary school and refresh what they learned through the program.
The day’s activities began with an exercise in reflection and goal-setting called Vẽ lại “cây cuộc đời (the tree of life). Each one of the young women was given a blank outline of a tree and art supplies, with instructions to add flowers and fruit to represent personal success, leaves for future goals, worms for obstacles and roots for motivation. The girls then shared their experiences with the rest of the group—including Room to Read staff.
One scholar, Nguyen Thi Yen Xuan spoke of how the life skills training she received had helped her achieve greater independence: "I have gained a scholarship for university, learned how to use a computer and become more confident compared to my classmates."
Another girl, Vo Thi Kim Tram, agreed. “I have gained interpersonal and leadership abilities,” she said. “I know how to set clear objectives for every activity and how to prioritize well.” She also shared her motivation to continue in school with the group. “My sister only completed grade two," she said solenmly. "I have to do more.”
After sharing their stories, the girls reflected together on the mutual challenges they have faced since graduation and those that lie ahead, including transportation, finding accommodations and balancing school with work.
Nguyen Thi Ngoc Phuong voiced her frustration that her journey to school every day requires a commute of more than 2.5 hours. Another girl, Nguyen Thi Cam Giang, who takes three separate bus trips to get to school each day, was comforted to hear that other girls had experienced struggles similar to hers.
After the sharing period, the young women were led in a resume writing workshop by our local team and discussed their individual career goals. Girls like Nguyen Thi Ngoc Thao, who just graduated with honors in Intermediate Medicine, provided inspiration for others like Tran Thi Cam Hong who currently works eight hours in a factory every day and studies accounting in the evenings.
For our Girls’ Education program team in Vietnam, these alumnae meetings are not only a chance to catch up with former scholars, but also to see their hard work in action. Every day, throughout the surrounding provinces, these girls are putting their education and life skills training to use. They are confident, empowered young women and role models in their communities, armed with the tools they need to succeed.