One progressive Vietnamese company is turning trips to Halong Bay into education for hill tribe kids.
12 years ago, the overnight flight from Saigon to Sydney was a rather pleasant affair in economy. One could stretch out almost horizontally over the empty seats and get a relatively good nights sleep. In 2015 however there is no such luck. VN 773 is booked solid with Vietnamese diaspora returning from visiting relatives as well as those who remained after the American War, curious to see the sights of the great southern land.
Of course by this time, it had already become apparent that Vietnam had greatly improved its standard of living since my last visit. Gone were the beggars, touts and tourist scams. In their place was a growing middle class eager to make the most of the school holidays and enjoy the nations attractions just like the foreigners.
United Nations figures governing quality of life appear to support these observations. Between 1980 and 2013, Viet Nam’s life expectancy at birth increased by 8.3 years, mean years of schooling increased by 1.2 years and expected years of schooling increased by 3.3 years. Viet Nam’s GNI per capita increased by about 364.6 percent between 1980 and 2013.
Emerging from these numbers are companies such as Vega Travel that can count itself among the 700 vietnamese social enterprises that now exist. Family owned and operated, Vega runs guided tours the length and breadth of Vietnam diverting some of its profits to assist the education of children in the Bac Ha area. In co-operation with 2 schools from Singapore, they donated money to build four kindergartens for nearly 500 impoverished children including furniture and other amenities.
Despite the achievement of this goal, Vega continue to provide support as Mr Kien Tran points out:
“Nowadays we change to offer everyday tools and educational tools, once a year and some gifts as clothes and books”
Just like OHO’s Health Venture Project with CLAP in Nepal, the effort to empower children with the gift of education requires on-going investment of time and money.
While Vietnam’s human development index still remains relatively low, smart operators with a social conscience, like Vega, are placing the nation on the right path to alleviating poverty and improving the quality of life. Who knows, those kids at Bac Ha may even find themselves on the red-eye to Sydney in the years to come.