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Lives touched by STREETS
In the H’Mong village in the western highlands province of Dak Nong where Van grew up, poverty determines most people’s fates. Early marriages, unplanned pregnancies and limited education are common amongst ethnic minorities in Vietnam. She is the third child in a family with 10 siblings; both of her older sisters stopped going to school to get married when they were still teenagers.
Fortunately for her, the vicious cycle of poverty was broken when she was accepted into the STREETS program. “As a girl who grew up in an isolated, rural area, I had difficulties in the beginning learning about cooking and speaking English. But I did not give up. I really liked to study culinary terminology so I was motivated to memorize this very quickly.”
Van’s life has improved dramatically since graduating. The most important change has been her confidence and way of thinking. “I am more proactive when searching for new chances to develop myself. I can now realistically dream of becoming a Head Chef at a famous restaurant.” As the most successful member of her family, she can also support her younger siblings to ensure that they complete high school and have other life possibilities, too.
Having lost both his parents to AIDS by the time he was only 6 years old, Tung along with another brother were raised by their older brother, an unskilled laborer in Da Nang City. Unable to afford school fees, Tung was forced to drop out of school in the 8th grade to work in a motorbike-cleaning shop.
When Tung’s former teacher told him about STREETS, his older brother straightaway suggested that he should apply. His older brother saw the opportunity and did everything he could to support Tung’s move to Hoi An to study.
“It was the first time in my life that I had to live apart from my brothers. I was worried and afraid of learning anything new,” Tung says. The enthusiasm of the teachers and staff at STREETS helped him grow from a shy boy who could not understand even the simplest English into a confident, fluent English speaker.
Thanks to the skills gained at STREETS, Tung now has a career with a stable income that allows him to repay his brothers’ sacrifices. “Last year we renovated our house and I can’t fully express the pride I felt when sharing my success with my family.”
Abandoned at 2 months old, Thao spent her childhood at an orphanage in Hue, in central Vietnam. Upon graduating from high school, she learned her dream of becoming a physical education teacher would never come true because she did not reach the college’s height requirement. At 18 years old, she had plenty of ambition but was left without a plan for her life.
When she learned about STREETS she realized that another door might be open to a brighter future. “I was so nervous during the application interview for STREETS because I didn’t know a single word of English. But I was determined to join the program.”
After graduating and working for a year at the STREETS Restaurant Café, Thao had the skills and confidence to move to the five-star Laguna Lang Co Resort in Hue and then the Salinda Resort on Phu Quoc Island. During a visit to Salinda, a manager from the Fairmont Hotel in Singapore noticed her professionalism and enthusiasm and offered her a chance to move to Singapore. “I could hardly believe that I’d been given such an opportunity for my career and my life!”
“I had nothing except some pieces of clothing and a hazy mind,” An said when describing what life was like at 18 when he re-entered the secular world.
An’s mother abandoned him and his four siblings when he was only 4 years old and his father passed away several years later. Recognizing his dire situation, a monk invited him to live and study at Quy Thien Pagoda in Hue.
The life of a monk didn’t suit An and he decided to leave the pagoda when he turned 18. His family refused to accept his choice and denied him support or sympathy.
An’s sister, who lived in an orphanage, introduced him to STREETS as a way to escape his stress and sorrows. He soon realized that STREETS was not just a vocational school or charity organization, but a community and home in which each member has a chance to grow and develop. He became the first Trainee at STREETS to receive a perfect score on all final tests.
With a stable salary and excellent career prospects, An is now confident that he will one day start his own business to help his brother and others by giving them a job.
Loan gave birth to her first child when she was 19 years old, as is common for Raglai ethnic minority women. Like many in her community, she dropped out of school in the 9th grade to get married. Soon after, her husband suffered a motorbike accident, forcing her to become the family’s sole provider. Loan foraged for wood and fruits and did arduous farm work to make ends meet.
Loan was surprised when a woman from an NGO told her about the STREETS’ program. She was eager to apply but had to wait until her son, only 10 months old at the time, grew older. Her mother and other members of the village objected to her decision. “They did not believe a woman like me could achieve anything significant.” However, Loan’s husband understood her desire to study and supported her, agreeing to take care of their child while she was gone.
“Joining STREETS changed my life in ways that I could only dream about.” Others from her small village have since applied and been accepted into the STREETS program, as Loan has become a role model for young women in her community.
Vu’s foster mother lost her eyesight in a tragic battle during the war with America. Disfigured and depressed she chose to live alone and impoverished. Yet, when she met Vu, an abandoned infant in their small, poor village by the Thu Bon River in Quang Nam Province in central Vietnam, her mother instincts overwhelmed her and she couldn’t turn him away.
It was not easy for a blind single woman to raise a child. Though she worked as hard as possible, some difficulties were insurmountable. When Vu was in grade 10, he went to live at an orphanage in order to continue his studies, returning home on weekends to be with his foster mother. After finishing high school, he was accepted into the STREETS program. Fond memories of his foster mother cooking only by touch, taste and smell compelled Vu to study culinary arts.
In the years since graduating, Vu has maintained and nurtured a special relationship with STREETS by quietly, patiently and diligently working his way into the position of Head Chef for both STREETS eateries. He still goes back and forth between his workplace and home to take care of his aging foster mother.
When people hear about Hieu’s difficult childhood, they often have an emotional reaction. Liver cancer claimed her father’s life when she was 13 years old, shattering her family. The health of Hieu’s mother was too poor to hold a regular job and her siblings were forced to leave home to survive. Hieu found meager work assisting a local rice farmer with her food stall in the market, struggling to complete 9th grade while working daily from 5am until 9pm in a tiny stall kitchen.
When Hieu joined the STREETS’ program, she developed a sense of optimism. Despite a poverty-stricken past that would have discouraged many others, she learned to set lofty goals. “Confidence, responsibility, punctuality and discipline are virtues that became habits in establishing my professionalism.”
Hieu nourished this mature attitude by working for a year and a half at the STREETS Restaurant Café after graduation. She later joined Vinpearl Hoi An as a Commis Chef, where her talent was quickly recognized and she was invited to join the opening team for Vinpearl Phu Quoc. When she returned to Hoi An Hieu was promoted to Senior Chef.
Nam was abandoned at a seaside wharf when he was just a few months old. An elderly woman who worked as a porter in the local market took pity on him and looked after him until he was 10 years old. When she could no longer afford to raise him, Nam was sent to an orphanage in Hue, the ancient imperial capital. Without a family to support and guide him, he stopped going to school in the 9th grade.
Nam did not speak a word of English when he came to STREETS. He also needed to adjust to the rigorous training schedule. “I did not want to feel embarrassed around other classmates, so I studied hard, especially grammar and pronunciation. Each day I tried to memorize 20-25 new words.”
After graduating, Nam was hired as a Bartender at the five-star La Siesta Hoi An Resort & Spa where he was soon promoted to Team Captain. He then took a position as a Server at the renowned Four Seasons The Nam Hai Resort. In his free time, he mentors children in his former orphanage who want to join STREETS.