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Lives touched by STREETS
At 16, Sang gained sponsorship to a local English Center for H'mong children in Sapa, where she learned about STREETS. “My mother didn't want me to leave Sapa," Sang recalls. The tenacious teenager finally persuaded her family to let her go to STREETS in HoiAn. Sang excelled during the 18-month program. After graduating, Sang began her career as a Commis Chef at the Fusion Maia Danang Resort, then after several years she returned to her hometown of Sapa and continued her career at the acclaimed Victoria Sapa Resort and Spa. Sang sends part of her income home to support her family. They have a newfound respect for the ambitious young woman. "My mother cries and tells me she is proud of me," Sang said.
Van's mother died when she was just 15. Van's father soon abandoned her and her younger sister. The girls were forced to live with an aunt and uncle, who could provide little more than basic shelter. Van was desperate to find a way to support herself and her sister when she heard about STREETS International. "When I arrived, I was scared," Van says, "but everyone was really kind to me and I felt welcome." Just two weeks after graduating from STREETS, Van was hired by the Hyatt Regency Resort DaNang.
The professionalism and enthusiasm she learned at STREETS did not go unnoticed by the Hyatt. In her first year, Van was awarded 'Employee of the Year,' winning an all-expense paid vacation to Singapore. She has proudly continued her career at Hyatt successfully working her way up to a Room Service Team Leader.
Dieu grew up in an orphanage in Hue. His father died in a flood and his mother, unable to care for her son, abandoned him at an orphanage. "STREETS changed me a lot," he says, "I am confident now." After graduating from STREETS, Dieu was hired as a Commis Chef at the luxury Anantara Hoi An Resort, where he was specially selected to teach guests at the daily cooking classes. "I love to see the guests happy," he says with an infectious smile.
Dieu moved on to the InterContinental Danang Sun Peninsula Resort . Eager to explore further, he was one of our first graduates to go abroad where he earned a position at The Sun Siyam Iru Fushi in the Maldives. After several years he returned to Vietnam and is now the Junior Sous Chef at Grand Mercure Danang . He continues to support his mother and is now preparing to build a proper house for her in his hometown of Hue.
Phan grew up extremely poor in the outskirts of Da Nang, about 30 miles (48 kilometers) from Hoi An. He was raised on land contaminated by Dioxin during what the Vietnamese refer to as the 'American War.' He was accepted to STREETS at age 19; Phan says he never thought he would be lucky enough to have such an opportunity. He found the rigorous training program difficult. "I pushed myself to go on. STREETS taught me how to do that," he says. After graduating, he was selected for a cook’s position to work under the Executive Chef at La Maison 1888, the only Michelin three-star restaurant in Vietnam at the Intercontinental Da Nang Sun Peninsula Resort. Phan says, "I do everything for my heart, not for the money."
After several years he married and started his family with a son. Then he moved back to his hometown of HoiAn as a Demi-Chef de Partie in a cozy Hoi An Villa resort. Most recently he decided to take an entrepreneurial leap and opened his own BBQ food cart, serving tourists at the HoiAn night market.
Phuong grew up on the Cham Islands with no running water, healthcare or high school. After graduating from STREETS, Phuong started her career at the renowned Four Seasons Resort The Nam Hai as a server before being promoted to a Supervisor. After several years she continued her career in the high-end luxury market at the Park Hyatt Saigon as a Service Team Leader, before another promotion in her exemplary career to Assistant F&B Outlet Manager.
Phuong helps support her struggling parents and relatives on the Cham Islands with basic necessities. She also helps mentor recent STREETS graduates. "I am so lucky to have STREETS and to have a family. It makes me hurt because I know there are people who have it more difficult than me; it is my dream to help people." Most recently, coming full circle, we celebrated her return to STREETS as a Restaurant Service Manager.
Abandoned by her mother, Suong grew up with her grandparents in rural Quang Nam Province. Her grandparents were subsistence rice farmers who struggled to feed the family. At 18, Suong was forced to work in a sweatshop shoe factory. Suong learned of STREETS and completed an application. Without a phone and desperate for the opportunity she knew STREETS presented, Suong biked three hours to check the status of her application and learn that she was accepted.
Since finishing at STREETS, Suong has worked at the luxury InterContinental Danang Sun Peninsula Resort, as a server in their Michelin 3-star La Maison 1888, before being promoted to Bartender, a position that allows her to provide her son all the good care and education she was denied.
Do was orphaned at 12 when his father died and his mother abandoned him at his grandfather's house in rural Quang Nam Province. Three years later he was left at an orphanage in Hoi An. Do spoke only a few words of English when he came to the program, "At STREETS we must learn to speak English everywhere," Do says, "Mr. Neal wants us to even dream in English!" Do thrived in his culinary studies. "In the kitchen, there is so much action. You are never bored."
Just two weeks after graduating, Do was hired at the renowned Four Seasons Resort The Nam Hai. Earning three promotions and being named an ‘Employee of the Year.” Do was a rising star at The Nam Hai, when he was offered a dream job as executive chef at The Rachel, a prominent, new restaurant along the Han River in Da Nang. "I can do anything because I believe in myself and trust myself now because STREETS believed in me!" He is now the very respected Sous Chef at the renowned 5-star Naman Retreat Danang.
“I did not know that there could be options in life to choose from. I did not dare to dream for anything because my family was so poor,” Thi Van says. In the H’Mong ethnic minority village in the western highlands Province of Dak Nong where she grew up, poverty determines most people’s fates. Van 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. “As a girl who grew up in an isolated, rural area, I had difficulties in the beginning when 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,” she says proudly
Having lost both his parents to AIDS by the time he was only 6 years old, Dinh Viet 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. His expectations for life were heartbreakingly humble. “My only dream at the time was to be lucky enough to wash 20 motorbikes each day, so I could earn 140,000vnd (about 5usd) per day,” he recalls. To achieve that goal, he worked everyday from 7am to 7pm.
“I’ve learned to see difficulties as just phases in life. If I fall down, I know that I will get up and receive an important lesson in the process. So I never give up,” Nguyen Thi Phuong Thao says proudly.
Abandoned at 2 months old, Thao spent her entire 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, Thao hadplenty of ambition but understandably lacked confidence and was left without a plan for her life.
“I had nothing except some pieces of clothing and a hazy mind,” Bui Quang Nhat An says when describing what life was like at 18 when he re-entered the secular world.
An’s mother had abandoned him and his four siblings when he was only 4 years old and his father passed away several years later. His relatives couldn’t afford to raise him, but recognizing his dire situation after his father’s funeral, a monk invited him to live and study as a novice monk at Quy Thien Pagoda in Hue.
But the life of a monk didn’t suit An and he decided to leave the pagoda when he turned 18, just as he was preparing to be promoted from a novice monk. His family refused to accept his choice to leave the Pagoda and denied him support or any sympathy.
He moved to a small rented room and earned a meager wage as a coffee shop server while his life seemed to pass without meaning or direction. When An’s sister who lived in an orphanage introduced STREETS to him, he saw it as a means to escape his sorrows and stress
K Thi Loan gave birth to her first child when she was only 19 years old, as is common for Raglai ethnic minority women who live in the small, remote village in Ninh Thuan province, in central Vietnam, where she is from.
Like many in her community, she had dropped out of school in the 9th grade to get married. Soon after marriage, her husband suffered a motorbike accident that left him disabled and unable to work. She was forced to becomethe family’s sole provider. Loan foraged for wood and fruits and had to do arduous farm work to make ends meet. She could not imagine any other way to live; she had never left her small community or met any foreigners.
Nguyen Do Van 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 for the rest of her life. 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. Knocking on the door of each house in the village, she asked for milk for Vu and proceeded to raise him.
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 had to go to live at an orphanage in order to continue his studies, returning home most weekends to be with his foster mother.
The day my mother learned that I had graduated from my training at STREETS in Hoi An, she was overjoyed because even in her wildest dreams she could not imagine that her thin, poor daughter would ever speak English fluently and have a good job,” Nguyen Thi Hieu says when describing the happiest moment of her life.
When most people hear about Hieu’s difficult childhood, they often have an emotional reaction. Liver cancer claimed Hieu’s father’s life when she was just 13 years old and his passing shattered their family.
The health of Hieu’s mother was too poor to hold a regular job and Hieu’s siblings were forced to leave home and find jobs in different provinces to simply feed themselves. Hieu found meager work assisting a local rice farmer with her food stall in the market.
Thanks to that woman’s generosity, Hieu returned to school and completed 9th grade while also “working very hard in the tiny stall kitchen to cook, wash dishes and serve food from 5am until 9pm every day.”
“I’m thankful for being given a solid foundation that I can build on to reach into the sky from,” Nguyen Van Nam says with confidence shimmering in his eyes. Nam was abandoned at a seaside wharf when he was just a few months old. An elderly woman who workedas a porter in the local market took pity on him and looked after him until he was 10 years old. But unfortunately, she was too poor and eventually could no longer afford to raise him and Nam was again forced to fend for himself. He was sent to an orphanage in Hue, the ancient imperial capital 3 hours north of Hoi An.
Without a family to support and guide him, he stopped going to school in the 9th grade. While struggling to survive, Nam heard the inspiring story of an older girl from the orphanage who hadcompleted her training at a program called STREETS in Hoi An and now worked at a famous five-star international hotel. Her success story stunned him and led him to seek out other STREETS graduates to learn their stories. They could all speak perfect English and had good jobs with stable incomes.