A Journey Toward Lasting Change
Education for Change. These three words are engraved in my head and heart and were always my sole compass guiding me throughout my Loreto Vietnam journey. However, the journey was not always easy, and we were often challenged.
“No, it’s impossible to run STEM activities in our school as it sounds abstract and complicated.”
“How can Loreto Vietnam support our vulnerable children while they can hardly read or even obey?”
“Why do we need a change?”
Our Loreto Vietnam team members faced such questions and doubts almost daily from our local partners, teachers, students, and parents. However, our passion and commitment to Education for Change were unwavering. We had many heated debates, but luckily, with bubble tea as the peacemaker, we found the best solutions to all the tough questions.
We implemented a fantastic Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) program, providing STEM equipment and hands-on learning in An Giang province. 2,000 students and 200 teachers benefitted from this program. Incredibly, two-thirds of the “young scientists” from our STEM clubs are girls. I cannot forget To To, a Year-5 student who demonstrated her excellent solar energy fan project and said, “I’m so proud that our girls can learn science and be great innovators. Living in a land full of sunlight, I dream of being a scientist or inventor creating more solar energy-oriented projects to support local people”. Doesn’t she sound amazing?
I also cannot forget Lan, a happy Year 5 student who could not hide her surprise and joy at being one of the first visitors to the new toilet blocks exclusively designed for the girls at B An Phu Primary School. For the past five years, Lan, her friends, and her teachers shared a toilet block with no formal separation between boys and girls. It had no door, no ventilation, and sadly no clean water. Loreto Vietnam worked closely with the school and local authorities on a needs assessment and situation analysis.
We decided to build a new, separate toilet block exclusively for girls and renovate the current block for boys. Safe and clean water systems were installed. Furthermore, health promotion and education modules were delivered to the school’s teachers and students to help them stay away from hygiene-related diseases and inform the community about new ways to ensure COVID-19 prevention. Under the School Sanitation and Health Education Program, Loreto Vietnam rebuilt and renovated toilet facilities for 71 schools with separate blocks for boys and girls and trained 30,000 students in practical health knowledge and skills.
Further to this, more than 4,000 underprivileged children were supported by Loreto Vietnam to transform their journey to school under the Wheels for Education program. Easy bicycle transportation (and a new helmet!) ensures students attend school regularly and travel safely.
Along the journey, we have been doubted, questioned, challenged, and even rejected. It is so simple to give up and keep doing the traditional activities. We chose a much more difficult route but a much more rewarding one. In the end, our resilience over 25 years has seen equal opportunities for more than 100,000 disadvantaged children striving to go to school, learn and grow each day. We are beyond grateful for the Vietnamese Government’s recognition of our committed and long-standing presence in Vietnam and our dedication to working with Vietnamese youth in the areas of education and health. Proudly, we see the footprints of our founder, Sr Trish Franklin, and ours in all the villages and communities we have visited. It is not only the educational projects to be sustained but also the love of all the local people and beloved students when sharing our Loreto story and social impact initiatives.
My four-year journey with Loreto may end today, but I am sure many will continue on this path and make it more beautiful and meaningful for our children and community. And myself? Once a member of the Loreto network, forever a member. I will continue to promote social justice and education opportunities for all in the spirit of Mary Ward and the Loreto Sisters.
Author: Dung Ngyuen, Former Executive Director, Loreto Vietnam
Feature Image: Dung Ngyuen with students of Loreto Vietnam