Lunch makes a world of difference

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IDEAS MAN: Hoàng Hoa Trung and children in Nậm Pồ District, Điện Biên Province.

Kiều Trinh

It’s unfortunately quite common for children in Việt Nam’s remote mountainous areas to drop out of school because they simply don’t have anything for lunch. In response, one young man launched a project offering them free meals so they could stay in class, and he hopes such help won’t only be limited to disadvantaged children in the country in the future.

Hoàng Hoa Trung, a lifelong volunteer, has found widespread support for his initiative. Tens of thousands of kids have received free lunches since his project got underway, which helps them study better.

Having started to do charity work at the age of 17, Trung founded a number of volunteer projects, such as “Light of the Mountains”, “Power of 2000”, and “Nuôi Em”.

In 2009, he and his friends travelled often to mountainous schools and began to learn of the difficulties facing teachers and students in remote areas. They began to raise funds to donate books and other necessities to the children and even build toilets at the schools.

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REASON TO STAY: A simple lunch can encourage children to remain at school all day.

In 2012, when he had just turned 20, he raised enough money to be able to replace 20 makeshift bamboo classrooms. While doing all this, he found that many students not only live far away but also have nothing for lunch. Many went home at lunch-time and didn’t come back in the afternoon, while many others dropped out altogether.

“In 2014, we helped build some satellite schools, but many children were still dropping out,” he said. “Some classes had 20 students in the morning but only four or five remained in the afternoon, because they had nothing for lunch and would just go home. Some would go into the forest looking for fruit. Their parents worked in the fields, and didn’t go home to cook lunch.”

“This is why we started the ‘Nuôi Em’ project, which aims to help children in schools in remote areas have a proper lunch so they stay in class for afternoon lessons. With just a small amount of money, around VNĐ1.5 million a year, a sponsor can provide a student with lunch every day. Sponsors can help as many children as they wish, but each child receives support from only one sponsor. Sponsors are updated monthly and can visit the boy or girl they support.”

In the project’s first three or four years, it supported less than 100 children. Gradually, news of the project spread throughout the community and a large number of people responded.

Anh Đào, a teacher at the Golden Leader centre in Hà Nội, is one of the enthusiastic sponsors.

“At first, I only helped a few children, but one day Trung told me that there are 334 children that had their sponsorships disrupted. I told him I would sponsor 10 more and would ask others for help. I always say to my students: we have a comfortable life here in Hà Nội, but in the mountains there are many children who don’t have the chance to go to school. Without a proper education, they might become involved in deforestation or drug smuggling. City kids would then be among the first affected. So, we can protect our children by helping disadvantaged children elsewhere.”

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TANGIBLE SUPPORT: A child and her sponsor. Photos Nuôi em Project

The project helped 5,400 children in 2018, then 12,000 in 2019 and 20,000 last year. Trung hopes the figure will reach somewhere between 30,000 and 40,000 this year.

He also runs the “Power 2000” project, where small sums are donated every day and many people have worked together to build more than 4,000 satellite schools in remote areas around the country.

His team has mobilised as many resources as possible to get the job done.

“Our core team has only 10 members, but we have more than 300 volunteers as well,” he said.

“We use chatbots to send children’s information to sponsors and messenger group chats for sponsors to communicate with teachers at schools to offer better support. The Central Committee of the Hồ Chí Minh Communist Youth Union also supports us in legal matters, auditing, and surveying, as well as in our operations. We have adopted a range of management measures and coordinate closely with local authorities, so while we only have 10 members we can manage tens of thousands of children’s records.”

The project also has ambitious goals of helping children outside of Việt Nam. “I have spoken about the project with many other volunteers at international forums,” he said.

“Many found the idea worthwhile and successfully replicated it elsewhere around the world. I hope to be able to develop it to help children in Africa. My plan is that for every 10,000 children that are supported in Việt Nam, there will be 1,000 children in Africa receiving similar help. And for every 100 schools built in Việt Nam, one will be built in Africa. When I shared the idea of helping children in Africa on Facebook, 800 people said they were willing to help.”

Trung was honoured this year as a Model Young Vietnamese in the field of social activities and was also included on a list of 30 people under 30 with outstanding influence and achievements in 2020 by Forbes Vietnam. VNS

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