Sao Bien. Room for Education is an Austrian non-profit organisation established in 2016. It was founded by Thomas Farthofer, a former fund manager and investment banker, whilst he was volunteering in Hanoi in the spring of that year.
Thomas was deeply affected and impressed by what he experienced during his time in Vietnam, the openness, kindness and readiness of others to help those less fortunate than themselves. Inspired by this, he decided to offer a long-term, sustainable approach to the work he was doing rather than simply volunteering his time and efforts
Sao Bien was founded with the objective of providing basic schooling to disadvantaged children in Vietnam. It set about doing this by building schools in remote parts of the country. Thomas returned home to raise much needed funds then relocated again to Hanoi to manage the project. He is supported by his board members who manage the risk, finances and administrative aspects of the programme.
Despite ongoing efforts of the Vietnamese government to improve education, there remain areas that are undeveloped in the schooling offered to children. This is particularly the case in remote regions with poor infrastructure, meaning without roads or transport, many children are unable to regularly attend school.
With the government’s help, Sao Bien now provides access to basic schooling for children aged between six and eleven years old, particularly in remote provinces with a high proportion of ethnic minorities. Operated by experienced project managers, they can ensure efficient delivery of their projects, and operate a lean organisation with minimal administrative overheads.
Most aid projects operating in this sector provide support in areas where it is needed, but which also have a readily developed infrastructure. What makes Sao Bien unique is a focus of efforts on the country’s poorest regions, frequently isolated, particularly in bad weather. Logistical and administrative problems can pose costly barriers in these locations, which often means they are ignored by other aid or governmental organisations.
Another innovative approach of Thomas and his team is close cooperation with locally based organisations and authorities. Active involvement of these groups supported by carefully negotiated contracts and agreements, ensures the development of much needed infrastructure, plus assurance that it is used in the way intended.
As the presence of international organisations grows in these regions, so too does awareness of the problems their inhabitants face. Key to Sao Bien’s success is continued development of their relationships with local communities, so they can continue to work together offering children access to education.
Local companies are employed for the construction of the schools, and local authorities, heads of schools and teachers consulted through every step of the process. Communities are benefiting in the projects right from the start. As a result, they are motivated towards the improvement of their infrastructure and environment, and their gratitude for the international aid is tangible. What better motivation could be asked for?