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I never thought that setting up a not-for-profit organisation would be easy. Before setting up School 4 Kids I had very little knowledge of the environment in Vietnam and all the requirements to set up official NGOs. I started this project with my friends in 2013 after a charity trip to Phieng Canh – a small rural village about 200km away from Hanoi. We realised that the children in rural areas had difficulties in obtaining education, either because of their financial background or the school facilities.
There were only five of us at the time and we were all full-time employed already – but we decided to run a crowd-funding project to get as much support for a new school as possible. We successfully raised $12,000 in 45 days, and we used the funds for a new school for 100 children.
We thought it would stop there, as a once-in-a-lifetime event. However, we were introduced to many more disadvantaged areas and got to understand more about the complexity of education distribution in rural mountainous areas. We then decided to reactivate the project with a vision.
Now, School 4 Kids is a community project with a mission of supporting education for children in remote areas by providing infrastructure and educational opportunities. All activities of our project are funded through crowd-funding.
I truly believe that education is the key to building better people for a better future. At School 4 Kids our motto is “Starting with a school”. We believe that a new school is a physical change that begins a sustainable process, and by renovating or rebuilding school in rural areas these children will have better results and increase their opportunity for higher education.
We have a deep concern for female students in rural areas as they’re mostly forced to drop out of school when they finish third grade to support the family or enter under-age marriages. We hope that by changing their access to education, these girls will steadily get out of the old traditions.
In the long run, we expect to not only change their education by giving them books and organising workshops, but by getting them involved with new concepts that help them sustain these changes for generations.
After I graduated from RMIT Vietnam, I worked for four years for State Capital Investment Corporation – the largest sovereign fund in Vietnam. However, I am one of those 'renaissance souls' that cannot stand routine paperwork. Since my first involvement with volunteering during my first year at RMIT I always wanted to work for something more meaningful and inspiring.
In 2013 I was introduced to the Global Shapers Community in Hanoi by a World Economic Forum (WEF). I was very lucky to be among the 50 Shapers chosen to attend the WEF Annual Meeting in Switzerland, and was the first Vietnamese under 30 to be selected.
This happened during a critical time when I was considering taking a totally new path in development. I was nervous, confused but excited. This opportunity made me realise how little I had done, and how I needed to improve myself to catch up with these amazing people.
But leaving corporate was definitely not an easy decision. When I told my family and friends what I wanted to do there were different reactions. Some people looked at me like I’d been hit in the head, some patted me on the back with complimenting words. My family was particularly worried, but supported my decision - I am grateful for that.
In Vietnam, where most young people live in big families and have their career path settled by their parents, being self-employed gives you the chance to really understand yourself, your limits, your strengths and how to maximise them. Also, being self-employed makes you more responsible for things you do. Last but not least, it allows you to dream big.
As an emerging country, Vietnam is full of potential and promising opportunities. The rapid development of technology has allowed younger generations to be engaged faster, with more resources to achieve their goals.
Studying at RMIT was completely different from our traditional lectures where the teacher does all the talking and the student’s job is to copy it down. We were encouraged to develop our ownership and entrepreneurship by actively running our own clubs or projects, and to openly discuss with our lecturers and staff. The curriculum was well developed to suit the Vietnam market, while giving us plenty of new perspective from a foreign education.
Last but not least, the strong RMIT Vietnam alumni network, which I treasure, is very helpful for us to stay connected and support each other when needed. This has not been a common practice for Vietnamese universities until now.
The most rewarding aspect would be the children’s laughter and love for us. We’ve met parents who have started sending their children to school instead of making them take care of house chores or work in the paddy fields. For us, this is already huge progress. We still need time to measure and evaluate our program, but it will be so rewarding if the next few years can prove that our work is beneficial to them.
My recent inspiration is a lovely Hmong lady who has been running a local traditional textile and batik cooperative in Ha Giang, about 30km from our site project. For Hmong women, there are still many limitations, such as not being allowed to get out of the village or communicate with guests, and they are not encouraged to go to school.
Recently, she approached and persuaded the men in the village to let their wives and daughters be part of her work – helping each and every woman in her village to actually seek a new way of development. With her strong influence, she has been able to form a Woman Committee to protect women from violence, educate them about birth control and strengthen their voices.
Chau Nguyen Huyen studied at RMIT Vietnam, graduating from a Bachelor of Business in Commerce in 2008.
Top and background images: Chau Nguyen Huyen pictured in her hometown of Hanoi. Photos by Ehrin Mackey.