Saigon Children: Building Better Futures with Education

Haoi Bao was a young man stuck in the cycle of poverty. His father passed away when he was only in the first grade, leaving his mother with the full responsibility of providing for their family.

 Haoi’s mother worked as a babysitter and his older brother began work in a factory. The two incomes could only cover the family’s basic needs; school costs were out of the question. Then Saigon Children  stepped in.

“Without the help of Saigon Children, I doubt I would have been able to graduate high school and certainly not college.”

Hoai is now gainfully employed with a production department in his district. While he is by no means living the life of luxury, he has overcome the difficulties that life has thrown at him with the help of Saigon Children.

His story is not unique. The reality of inequality of education is real in Vietnam. This is what inspired the formation of Saigon Children in 1992 and has been sustaining their mission every since. Their goal is to help disadvantaged children have a fair start in life.

They believe in education as the great equalizer an in the past twenty-five years they have made an impact in the lives of many by building 480 classrooms in 186 schools and awarding 35,000 scholarships.

“Our mission is to enable disadvantaged children and young adults in Vietnam to reach their full potential through receiving a quality education relevant to their needs.”

Education in Vietnam

Saigon Children believes education is a path out of poverty, but if a child does not live in the right place, their path might be harder to travel. Education in Vietnam consists of 12 years of basic education following by optional higher education like in many parts of the world. Five years of primary school are required for children, but it’s not unheard of for children to fall through the cracks. In 2000, only 92% of primary school aged children were enrolled in a program and only two-thirds of children completed those compulsory years of schooling.

Due to the growing population of Vietnam, there is currently a rise in private schools, creating an greater inequality of education for children in poorer families. Private schools often require families to pay in advance in a lump sum or pay a non-refundable admission fee. For many impoverished families a large payment of any kind is impossible. This fee is on top of other expenses that families have to cover for school aged children like textbooks, school supplies, and uniforms. Private schools often do provide bus transportation and cafeteria lunches, two services that make things much easier for working parents, but they come at an additional cost.

Children in primary and secondary levels need to be competitive to get into private international schools and then one day into a study-abroad program for higher education. This is the goal for most families as international schools provide so many more opportunities than public schools, particularly those in rural areas. Attending an international school and then later on a good higher education program is important because a degree from one of these better institutions provides more opportunities and job security as an adult.

Parents often take on huge financial burdens to fill in gaps in schooling left by ill equipped schools. Parents frequently pay for private classes in English and various school subjects in order to make their children more competitive as some high-ranked high schools have a mere 5% acceptance rate of applicants.

Responsibility to Rural Areas

Because of the competitive nature of education, rural students are often left far behind their urban counterparts. Many rural schools are both understaffed and underfunded. It is not uncommon for already poorly paid teachers to use their own income to provide classroom supplies.

Rural areas often have to employ teachers who have not been adequately trained and do not have access to professional development. Teachers use passive learning, the standard in Vietnam, where students are required to sit quietly while the teacher lectures.

Rote memorization and intense exams are the standard.

The worst part is that many rural children have to drop out of school before graduating in order to support their families. These families face the dilemma not of, “Can we afford school expenses or not?” but “Can we afford to feed everyone or not?”

Practical Steps

Saigon Children understands the challenges facing the children they so desperately want to help. Their aim is to provide children and young adults with practical tools to escape poverty and have a better future.

Saigon Children has been closing the educational gap between urban and rural children using this mindset.

They have poured $12.5 million in donations into supporting children in the following ways:

Scholarships and support–  In 2017 alone, Saigon Children gave out 2,000 child development scholarships. These scholarships provide for school fees, textbooks, and uniforms. It’s not all about the money, though. Saigon Children works with families to make sure kids have what they need to be successful. If a child needs to work to help provide food for the family, the family can be given an rice allowance. If a child needs transportation to get to school, a bicycle can be provided. They tailor scholarships to children to make sure they get what they need. One child might really be in need of glasses, but another might really need support and encouragement from a community mentor.

Building and improving schools– In 2017 alone, 12 new schools were built, but quantity is not the only focus. Saigon Children is helping to change the standard passive learning environment in favor of one that is more friendly and supportive of student success.

Work ready programs-  Saigon Children annually has 10,000 enrollments in short term work ready programs like IT, English Instruction, Nursing, Hairdressing, etc. The end goal is creating a future for young people.

Special Needs Programs– Saigon Children has created over 55 special education programs that provide training for teachers, caregivers, and parents. They are innovating and providing desperately needed training for teachers of special needs students. Many children in their program are blind, deaf, or disabled. They need teachers who can help them.

Saigon Children’s practical steps have led to real measurable results. Their efforts have contributed to a decreased dropout rate and an increase in participants who go on to find jobs. You can help them make a difference in the lives of children. 

Find out how you can help contribute to Saigon Children. 

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