“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. Early marriages, unplanned pregnancies and limited education are common amongst ethnic minorities in Vietnam.
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. Though Van succeeded in finishing 12th grade and graduating from high school, she thought her life still had few possibilities. Fortunately for her, the vicious cycle of poverty was broken when she learned about and was then accepted into the STREETS program.
During her 18 months of training, Thi Van studied and apprenticed to be a professional chef, as well as gained English and essential life skills. “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.
After graduating from STREETS, she started her career as the only female Commis Chef at the Hotel Royal Hoi An –MGallery’s European kitchen. She attributes her success in the five star hotel’s kitchen to the STREETS’ emphasis on learning the small things as well as the big ones! “I pay attention to details such as noticing how many guests are staying in the hotel so we prepare the right amount of ingredients in advance. I also keep the kitchen clean so that others can work easily.” Van wins the affection of everyone in her team with her bright smile and thoughtful work.
She was even recognized recently as “Staff of the Quarter.” Thi Van’s life has improved dramatically since she enrolled in STREETS more than three years ago. She admits that 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, too.” As the most successful member of her family, Thi Van can also support her younger siblings to ensure that they complete high school and have other life possibilities, too. Whenever visiting home, she eagerly cooks for her parents and says: “They love my dishes a lot. It seems like they are eating joy.”