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Meeting the learning needs of Vietnam’s forgotten children
Every year UNIS Hanoi, rolls out an extensive service learning programme as part of the IB curriculum on offer. Designed to give every Middle and High school student the chance to serve and engage in the community, these 40 programmes address real needs. The Huong La Centre service learning programme, which receives an additional grant from the School’s Birthday Gift Fund, is just one of such programmes that’s truly transforming lives.
Over 435,000 children living with disabilities in Vietnam are currently not in school, according to official UNICEF data*. The shocking figure suggests that despite the Government’s efforts to provide education for all, this vulnerable group is still experiencing extreme marginalisation.
And with more than 80 per cent of differently-abled children living in rural areas of Vietnam, these young people have all but been forgotten, shunted into the shadowy corners of society and left to their fate.
Yet for one group, hope is now on the horizon. And it’s all thanks to a new collaboration with UNIS Hanoi.
Through the School’s Birthday Gift Fund, residents of the Huong La Centre for children with disabilities are learning to learn for the very first time. The children, who have often been abandoned, will be receiving lessons from their very own carers, the Nuns, thanks to an innovative ‘skills transfer’ initiative developed by UNIS Hanoi teachers. In addition, the Huong La children will benefit from regular visits and interaction with UNIS Hanoi students, as part of the School’s service learning programme.
Describing the significance of the development, the manager of the Centre, Sister Hai, says “For years I have tried to find ways to offer education to my ‘angels’ but nobody was willing to teach them. We are so happy that UNIS Hanoi is training us to be the teachers so that our children can learn basic maths, Vietnamese, arts and sports.”
Located in the poor, rural province of Bac Ninh and under the auspices of Bac Ninh’s Catholic Church, the Centre is home to 29 children and 2 adults. A home away from home, the children are loved and well cared for by a team of 11 Nuns who consider the care they give as their life’s mission to these earthly ‘angels’. “We have farms, a fish pond and we rear chickens with which to feed ourselves. We also make candles, which we sell across the country, giving us a small but needed income” shares Sister Hai.
Love, self-sufficiency and benevolence have been the hallmarks of the Centre’s success, but education remained the one desperate need they simply could not provide. But in 2013, UNIS Hanoi parent, Mrs Flavia Breu-Kobler, found the answer to their problem. She explained, “I, along with a friend of mine, heard about UNIS Hanoi’s Birthday Gift Fund and we applied for a grant on behalf of the Huong La Centre. We asked the School to devise a programme that would be effective and sustainable.”
In 2014, UNIS Hanoi gave $4500 to provide consultation and training services in special needs to the Nuns as well as to start the service learning group.
Since then, two Elementary School Teaching Assistants, Hoa Dang and Mai Dang receive a small stipend, visiting the Centre twice every quarter. “So far, we have assessed 16 children, 11 of whom we believe have the ability to learn in a structured way.” explained Hoa. She added, “When we returned to Hanoi, we developed Individual Education Plans for each child, which we will hand over to the Nuns at our next visit.”
Hoa and Mai who are both trained teachers with backgrounds in special needs education, will share basic teaching skills with the Nuns in order to empower them to be the children’s permanent teachers. “We wanted to ensure we could create a programme that was long-lasting. The best way to do this, was to equip the Nuns so they can continuously deliver the much-needed education.”
The Nuns, says Mai, have welcomed the opportunity to learn new skills. “They did not realise that children with disabilities still had the capacity to learn. Now that they do, they are delighted.”
The Huong La Centre has recently created a classroom where the children can receive their lessons on a regular basis. In addition, as many as 10 UNIS Hanoi high school students have been visiting the centre regularly, providing much needed social interaction.
MSHS art teacher, Nora Graham is one of the two teachers that supervises the Huong La service learning programme. She says the Huong La children are special. She added, “At first it was a little scary for our students to interact with children with disabilities, but they recognise that these children are wonderful and that they really appreciate the social interaction.”
Grade 9 students, Khanh Linh has been a part of this service learning group for two academic years. Commenting on why she chose to volunteer again she said, “I felt the children were really friendly and energetic. I enjoy organising craft activities for them and they enjoy it too.”
“Social stimulation is extremely important” confirms Sister Hai. “We do get a lot of visitors to the Centre, but they rarely stay for a long time and interact with our children. It makes a big difference to our children when they get to spend a day having fun with other children. It gives them such joy.”
UNIS Hanoi, through the Birthday Gift Fund, will continue the teacher training workshops for the nuns for the next two years, with the students taking an increasingly lead role in helping to deliver education.
It is clear to all involved that UNIS Hanoi has already made a major impact and as Nora said: “This is just the start of a great relationship for both UNIS Hanoi and Huong La.”
*Data cited in: Readiness for Education of Children with Disabilities in Eight Provinces of Vietnam / UNICEF/ 2015
By Akofa Wallace
School Storyteller: email@example.com