Life for the boat people on the Huong river in Thua Thien Hue province was tough. Whole families squeezed into small living quarters, sheltered from the worst of the elements by a plastic sheet masquerading as a roof. But plastic sheeting does not keep out the chill, and with nowhere to keep warm, insufficient clothes and nowhere even to wash (the river was too cold), cold weather was something to be dreaded.
So when the government stepped in and built new apartment blocks to house 7,000 “boat people”, hope of a better life sprang up. But the streets of Hue City turned out not to be paved with goldLow wages or unemployment and mountainous debt are the order of the day for many families. Vietnam is not a rich country - its GDP per head is $2,343, compared with Germany’s $44,470 - and there are few jobs and no job creation schemes. The training programmes are often ill suited to the needs of youngsters and employers. Many children have had to drop out of school and find work, at markets, selling snacks or collecting waste. The risks of this are obvious: Working children, especially girls, are highly vulnerable to abuse, addiction and exploitation.
TUI Care Foundation and Plan International are working together to give these children an opportunity to build a brighter future, by providing 350 young people with vocational training and experience. Hue is an upcoming tourist destination so many of them will train to work in the tourism industry, gaining hospitality experience in a restaurant.
The four-month course includes two and a half months of vocational training at a local training centre, and a six week paid internship in a training restaurant in Hue called TRE – the Vietnamese word for bamboo. The professional experience the students gain helps the young women and men secure permanent, good quality jobs.
With an Asian and European menu, the restaurant will be aimed at visitors looking to sample the local cuisine and is expected to attract between 150 and 200 customers each day. The revenue it generates goes towards the cost of the training and it is expected that the restaurant will become self-sustaining within three years, allowing the initiative to provide ongoing support and opportunities to more disadvantaged young people.
The project also takes additional measures to support the youngsters and their families. More than 20 community saving groups have been set up to help families increase their economic security – as well as putting cash aside, they learn financial skills - and small loans have been made available to 160 parents of working children. Scholarships and donations of school equipment have been provided to help children stay in education, and safe public spaces, such as playgrounds, have been provided for almost 2,000 children. Work is also being done to raise awareness of child protection: those same children are being taught about violence against young people, and local govermment and economic institutions are being provided with data on child protection risks, gender inequality and the economic situation of disadvantaged families.
Ly, a 17-year-old girl who received training as a hairdresser through the project, says: “I can support my family now and I can spend my time volunteering to help other young people. In the children’s events, I practiced performance with street children and sang a song in front of an audience of hundreds of people. I felt proud of myself and gained more self-confidence.”
Plan International is an international child welfare charity which works in 51 countries across Africa, Asia and Latin America. Plan works to reduce poverty, protect children from violence and improve their access to education, training and sexual health