Peter Cornish wrote AsiaLIFE’s Community Focus column for two years. Here he looks back at some of the organisations the column highlighted.
Over the past couple of years at AsiaLIFE I’ve written a lot about people who are working to benefit the community, using the magazine as a platform to raise awareness of what they are doing to bring about social change. People who put others before themselves, who see the inequality and disadvantage that surround us as expats in Vietnam and are determined to make what difference they can.
I’ve wanted to draw attention to the commitments those amongst us in the community are making, and the causes they support, perhaps encouraging others to think about what they can do too. People like Thomas Farthofer, an investment banker originally from Austria, who founded Sao Bien in 2016 to provide basic schooling to disadvantaged children in remote, undeveloped areas of Vietnam.
Others like Cac Lam, founder of Seam The World, who harnessed her passion for fashion to make a difference to the lives of disadvantaged children, giving them hope for a brighter future; Ann Maasbol, whose organisation Make A Small Difference (MADS) helps provide basic infrastructure such as health-care, education and clean water in rural Vietnam, or Jan Peeters whose Live and Give initiative has supported communities with education and employment opportunities for the last decade.
Some have created organisations that bring together like minded people, such as Ben Mawdsley whose Audium army holds regular food drives around the city, giving out bags of much welcome sustenance to people sleeping rough on the streets. Suzanne Hook who, orphaned as a child, founded Allambie Orphanage to provide as many children as she could with a loving, supporting home environment, and Marie Watson whose team at Hope Unending work to confront sexual abuse and human trafficking by providing training to at-risk communities.
I’ve also written about larger organisations operating in and around Ho Chi Minh City, tackling specific social issues and creating impact on the lives of many. Friends For Street Children Association was founded by Thomas Tran Van Soi in 1984 to help reintegrate street children back in to society, and prevent them from ending up on the street in the first place. As well as providing food, shelter and medical care, they prioritise educational development that children need for a brighter future.
The Shelter Collection, working in partnership with Little Rose Warm Shelter (LRWS), tackles a broad range of culturally sensitive issues including school dropouts, exploitative child labour, drug addiction, HIV/AIDS welfare, sexual abuse and human trafficking. Little Rose provides shelter, opportunity and support to vulnerable young girls in the city, especially those who have suffered from sexual exploitation and abuse, creating a safe environment for them to recover from past trauma and rebuild their lives.
Harnessing the collective support of teachers, staff and students, ILA’s Community Network (ILACN) creates measurable impact on the lives of disadvantaged children in the communities where ILA operates. By partnering with non governmental organisations around the country the network funds multiple projects that help to provide health care and educational support that creates impact in immediate and sustainable ways. As the network grows, their focus turns from changing lives to changing generations.
Other people have chosen to apply sustainable business practices to solving social issues, setting up social enterprises in Vietnam to address the root causes of inequality and disadvantage. One example of a successful social enterprise operating in Ho Chi Minh City is Dependable Progress, founded by Gabriel Meranze Levitt and Nguyen Thao Dan, which provides skills to marginalised women that enables them to get well paid work as domestic helpers.
Another is Bright Solutions, set up by Fiona Briers as a place to help vulnerable women gain financial stability and independence by providing them with vocational training in sewing and handicraft productions Women are then given access to international markets where their craftsmanship has value, and the opportunity to earn a sustainable income.
Colin Blackwell and Paul Bapoo saw opportunity and founded Enablecode, a software company that employs computing experts with disabilities. Now with over 15 staff, the company collaborates with organisations such as UNICEF to bring employment opportunities to a greater number of people, providing high quality web and mobile app development, as well as digital marketing support to clients all over the world, all done by disabled coders in Vietnam.
The Shop of Hope, founded in 2008 by Bret and Stacy Tarr, offers support to people throughout Vietnam neglected by society, facing poverty, hardship and the prospects of a bleak future.They provide training and employment opportunities to underprivileged Vietnamese youth who often struggle to find work, helping to bring financial stability to individuals and families with wages above the national minimum.
Life Project for Youth is a French non-profit that puts street youth through an 18-month training programme for disadvantaged young adults living in conditions of extreme poverty. Building on the entrepreneurial skills that many develop through a life on the streets, the programme helps build confidence in their abilities, allowing them to further develop their entrepreneurial skills and professionalism.
Organisations tackling environmental issues have featured frequently, especially Clean Up Vietnam which has become a leading support group for the clean-up movement throughout Vietnam. Others include Adopt A Spot, the social enterprise initiative that was set up to provide sustainable funding for Clean Up Vietnam, and Let’s Do It!, which played a central role in organising World Clean Up Day 2018 in Vietnam.
As a result of the commitment from groups like these, the zero waste movement in Ho Chi Minh City has gained traction and social change is happening as people become more aware of their environment and their responsibility to look after it.
Together, motivated and resourced by the community, we are able to make a difference where the difference is felt, improving the lives of those around us and creating a stronger community for all.