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GVI's Sapa Work Highlighted in News

May 6, 2011

This article originally appeared in Vietnamese in the Education newspaper (Giao Duc). It was translated by GVI intern Nguyen Minh Giang. Only GVI is mentioned in the article because most local agencies are more familiar with the umbrella organization of GVI and not necessarily each distinct international or U.S. partner. In actuality, the projects and impact referred to in this article about San Sa Ho are the result of the vision and efforts of Skelly Drive Baptist Church of Tulsa, Oklahoma. 

Cat Cat is a village 2.5 kilometers southwest of Sapa town. It is the center of San Sa Ho commune, where the H’mong ethnic minority lives. It is well-known for its beautiful stream (named “Vang”) and for its handicrafts and traditional blacksmiths’ metalwork. The four villages are scattered throughout the commune and not easily accessible because of the uneven, winding roads.

San Sa Ho has many natural attractions such as trekking trails and eco-tourism, therefore it is not categorized as a “Level 3” commune, ie. it is not considered extremely poor. Nevertheless, the standard of living is low and the rate of poverty is high: 148 households out of 546, or 27.1%. All students have to walk to school, some from homes that are more than 9 km (5.6 miles) away from the centre of the commune. The level of education is low and the community still practices customs and traditions that are considered “backward” such as early marriage, superstitions about death and funeral, or slaughtering a water buffalo for a wedding banquet to serve the whole village. Factors like these greatly affect local education efforts, especially when it comes to trying to motivate students to stay in boarding schools. Educators are always asking the question How? How to maintain regular attendance? How to develop the school and its qualifications? How to talk to villagers who don’t want their children to go to school (even though they know the importance of education)? Often the answer to the questions is that conditions are so harsh in a place like San Sa Ho – and in the remote, highland areas in general - that the notion that students can persuaded to attend school is considered a “fairytale” or “pipe dream.”

In recent years, efforts to improve the quality of education in remote areas have focused on two issues: improving quality and quantity of boarding schools and lunch programs, and increasing the numbers of boarding students (ie. students who are poor and who live far away from the school.) In addition to teaching, teachers also have to prepare meals, look after the dormitory students and regularly go to the villages and to students’ homes to persuade them to come to school. Teachers are also appointed to help their students in the evenings with homework and other preparations for school the next day.

Although a big push has been made to mobilize students to stay in boarding school, developing quantity and quality of boarding schools has been difficult because communes are not prioritized in Program 135, a national poverty eradication program. This means that boarding school students and children from families below the poverty line only receive VND 20,000 (USD1) per month in government financial assistance. They do not have enough money to support their daily routine, so that children can go to school is a dream. All the students expenditure depends on school’s budget. So, how can the children live with vnd 20.000 per month? Teachers and school staff contribute a little of their already low salary to help the school and the students, but this is only a “drop in the bucket.”

In order to deal with the difficulties of poor infrastructure and lack of finances, the schools depend on domestic and foreign financial assistance from organizations and individuals. One such international organization is GVI, an American organization.

GVI has cared for San Sa Ho school in a wide range of ways: helping the school to have computers, providing reverse-osmosis filter machines so that every student, teacher, staff and worker can drink clean water, providing financial assistance to pave the schoolyard and build a front gate and providing winter jackets for the students. In addition, the organization directly assigns its volunteers to go to class to share knowledge and experience, for example setting up a water filter and also teaching how to use it and talking about the importance of health and hygiene.

The enthusiasm, care and support of the GVI organization brings warmth, fun, happiness and confidence to all the students and teachers in the school. In this way, GVI contributes to school’s mission to foster literacy in the highlands. To develop and improve boarding schools and lunch programs, San Sa Ho school needs the help of agencies and organizations like GVI, an American organization to provide them better meals, warmer clothes and nicer classrooms. Efforts like this make the students’ parents feel better when they send their child to school, motivate and inspire students to study better and help teachers to focus all their energy on teaching and educating. With GVI’s support, San Sa Ho leaders can improve the educational quality at schools, fully complete the mission of school, and help education play a role in changing the lives of local people.

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