Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Sweet letter from one of CEF's grade 6 students to her sponsors

"My school has a variety of shady trees but the best one is the ‘terminalia catappa’ because of its large leaves that provide shade. I just wonder how old it is.

From far away the tree looks like a huge tree and many students can play in the shade it provides. The body of the tree is dark brown. It is quite sensitive to the weather of the four seasons. We can notice which season it is through the color of the leaves.

When autumn is coming the leaves change color from a strong green to yellow. I love the moment that the leaves start falling off the tree. It no longer has any leaves in winter, in the monsoon season.

We love the tree very much because together we have a lot of memories from being under it." 

About an ethnic minority student and her family ~ Guest blog by CEF staff Thuy

Last week four CEF staff did a research trip in Phuoc Son and visited poor families with high school students who have ‘good’ or ‘fair’ school results. Each student had a different, but difficult situation. I would like to introduce an unusual case of the Gie Trieng people, an ethnic minority community in this area. It is about ‘C’s’ family.

‘C’ will be in grade 11 this coming academic year. She dreams of being a doctor. Although living in a very poor family and not having educational support, such as extra tuition, ‘C’ and her siblings study very well compared to many other ethnic minority students. Last year all of the children did well and got ‘fair’ school results.

Her family is too poor to buy anything valuable. All the furniture in their house is second-hand and was donated to them by their neighbors. Her parents have 7 children. Her father died 15 years ago while her mother was pregnant with the youngest child. Since then her single mother has had to work very hard to look after 7 kids. She works as a farmer and in the forest collecting fire wood for cooking and selling. She also borrowed money from a Government bank for buying buffaloes and for supporting her children’s education. Unluckily her buffaloes were stolen. However it didn’t stop her making more efforts. She looks very thin, old, but strong. She seems to be very proud of her children when we talked to her about them. Her children also understand how difficult it is and they help their mother to do many things from housework to farming work.

The three older siblings of ‘C’ are already married and live with their own families. Her fourth-sister will be a 2nd year student in Quang Nam University next year. Her fifth sister will be in grade 12 next year at the same high school as ‘C’. Her youngest sister will be in grade 8 next year. The mother hopes that her children can complete their education, then have a good job and help their family.

Unfortunately many ethnic minority parents don’t care much about their children’s education but ‘C’s’ mother does even though she isn’t educated. They are also responsible and therefore nervous about borrowing money from the Government and take it very seriously as they want to make sure they can pay it back.

We at CEF hope that there will be more parents like ‘C’s’ mother so that more disadvantaged children can go to school and be educated.

A brave and independent girl ~ Guest blog by CEF staff Thuy

Working with disadvantaged students not only helps me to know how difficult it is for these poor families, but also makes me admire them very much.

Imagine what happens if you are 15 years old and your father has died, your mother has a lowly paid and unstable job as well as a big debt and your older sisters are already married and can’t afford to help you or your mother because of their own poverty. On top of that your older brother doesn’t help and just causes trouble for the family. Without money, support and care from your family will you be able to continue your studies?


And all of those problems happened to ‘T’ when she was only 15 years old. She is a young girl that I admire a lot. Understanding that her mother couldn’t afford her education anymore, ‘T’ went to a town about 25 km from their home to find a job. Luckily she met a coffee shop owner who is a good person, and now works for them from that time until now. 'T' has free accommodation and free food at the owner’s home. In the summer holidays she works from 6am to 11pm and gets US$115 a month. In the school year she works from 6pm to 11pm and get US$50 a month and she studies during the day time. ‘T’ uses this money for her education fees and for her personal expenditure. Another small sum which she receives for helping with her education she sends to her mother for paying the interest on their debt. The challenges of life just seem to make her stronger.

‘T’ dreams of being a math teacher. She will be in grade 12 this coming school year and she needs to spend more time on her studies this year. She is an example of one of the girls CEF wants to help with a scholarship. Your funds will be very meaningful in making girls dreams like 'T's' come true.

Monday, July 27, 2015

My experience of doing education assessments in the mountains ~ Guest blog by Thuy

I was a volunteer and training at CEF over the last year and now I am working as a part time staff member. I have had a lot of chances to visit CEF children and two weeks ago I went to Kham Duc district which is very far from Hoi An. I was very excited because this was the first time I travelled to a high mountainous area to interview many poor families. I was accompanied by 3 of CEF’s staff; Quan, Thuy and Ngoc. I thought that this was an honor as well as a good opportunity for me. I have gained a lot of experience from this trip. 

We started our journey at 5:30 am. I was really tired because it took 2.5 hours by car and we had to go through the mountain pass to get to Kham Duc town.  Luckily the air in Kham Duc was fresh and comfortable. In order to visit the families whose children need support to access further education, we had to continue by motorbike and passed over many high mountains. It was a wonderful feeling travelling in the mountains to their homes.

 At first, I wondered how people could live in such a little-visited region where the obstacles of geography, transportation and education attainment, living standards, as well as economy are very challenging to overcome. Yet I was really surprised when I spoke with the many nice poor girls there. They are not only healthy but also sociable, good-natured and hard-working.

 I was able to relate to many of the families there as some had a background a little similar to myself. For example one of the dad’s of one of the family’s passed away when the children were quite young. The mother then became the breadwinner of the family and brought up the children. However, many were born into poor farming families who had no opportunity to go to school. So, at the moment, they only know how to cut down and destroy forests to cultivate rice and corn, collect firewood and raise pigs for extra income. 

Life for families in Kham Duc is very difficult. It isn’t easy for the widows who have very young children to raise and take care of. It is hard enough to have enough food to eat and clothing to wear, much less to provide them with access to further education. Thus, for the girls who are from the isolated and remote areas, to go to school means a happy and lucky day for them. 

Rice there is not to eat but to sell, for money for other things they need. Clothing is not warm as they can’t afford it. And studying conditions are inadequate. Inside their homes there is nothing valuable: no tables, no chairs, no desks, not even a kitchen. For learning there are no extra tuition classes, no extra books, and no internet as well. 

Nowadays as society is becoming more modern, academic and social knowledge has become expanded and updated. Children in cities have many advantages for learning, recreation and integration. However children in the high mountains only learn basic lessons in the textbooks, collect firewood and help their mothers in the forest. 

However, these disadvantaged children always have nice and natural smiles on their faces despite living with difficult conditions. They all have brilliant dreams for the future and study very hard in order to continue going to school. It is an unfortunate truth that even if they pass their university entrance exams, the possibility of them being able to continue receiving an education is slim due to lack of funds.

I hope that CEF will have more sponsors to support these children so they can have a chance of a better life in the future.

(Thuy & Quan's photos). 

Note from Linda:
If  you are interested in scholarships for these children please get in touch. c.e.f.vietnam@gmail.com

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Lack of education affects all aspects of ones life

I see very clearly here in Vietnam how the lack of an education affects all aspects of the families lives. This is an example of a CEF family I was thinking about today.

The father has had health issues since we first met him. I can't seem to find out what is wrong, what his health issues are, but there is always something wrong with him and they never know anything except the symptoms.

When we first met him it was his eyes; he had some rice grass stuck in one eye and it needed removing, then it got infected because he didn't follow the doctors instructions. Then they thought he had some brain problem, but what problem they didn't know. Now he has some bleeding from his nose sometimes and he has asthma now too. He has seen the doctor and is on medications. His health is deteriorating.

Why I bring up his case is he and his wife never really know what is wrong with him; they can only tell us the symptoms. They see a doctor and take the drugs; they don't ask questions, they don't ask to for a second opinion, or ask to see a specialist.

One of the advantages of being educated, is it brings about a yearning for knowledge and for answers to questions. Without an education you believe what you are told and don't ask questions. I know this is a generalization, but it is what I see here again and again with the families where the parents aren't educated. I see it is very dis-empowering for them and leaves them in a state of ignorance.

It brought it home to me that we who are educated take so much for granted. We are so blessed beyond description; we have the ability to lead intelligent, healthy, wholesome, empowered lives. The choice is ours, but without an education choices are highly limited and it affects all aspects of our lives . 

Monday, July 20, 2015

About CEF home visits in the mountains near the border ~ Guest blog by Ngoc

Last weekend, I had a chance to go to Phuoc Son district, a remote area far away from Hoi An. I have been there three times; however this is the first time I had a chance to pay visits to such poor families and it made me immediately want to help them. It was an interesting trip and I think that if anyone has an opportunity to go there, you too will be keen on supporting children there. 

We met many lovely girls who are from poor families with good school results. I really admire some of them who are just in grade 10 or 11 and yet have to cover all their school fees and living costs to continue their schooling. However, they still manage to always be ‘good’ students at school without even having extra tuition. There were some other girls that are working hard all time in the family farm and only have time to study at night but they still do well at school and have good results. 

I was impressed by a lovely girl, ‘T’, whose mother left home many years ago and she is currently living with her father and younger brother in a small house. Her father has been mentally ill since her mother suddenly left home and his health is not as good as before. For this reason she has to care for everything in the home including all financial issues. Fortunately she has a paternal aunt who lives next door and sometimes supports her a little bit. However the aunt is a hired laborer and her income is very low. As a result ‘T’ sells fruit in the market in order to make a living and support her family.

Her aunt told us while crying that she was unable to support ‘T’ if she passed the university entrance exam although she has been an excellent student for many years. Being asked about university, ‘T’ seems very keen on going to university; however, she realized that the chance for her dream coming true is very tiny. She also has to look after a grade 10 brother, at least until he finishes high school. Her opportunity to have tertiary education seems impossible now, but she would love to have that chance. 

Friday, July 17, 2015

Please See Children's Education Foundation's New Website

Our CEF website was very old and needed updating. I didn't have the knowledge or skills to do this work. CEF now has a completely new website to keep everyone abreast of our work here in Vietnam.

Two wonderful new friends encouraged me to take on the challenge of creating a new site.  Liat and Ziv very kindly showed me a website package and taught me how to use the tools so I could create a simple website that I could maintain.

Their knowledge and support has been hugely appreciated and I certainly would never have had the confidence to taken on this task without it. The website will be easy for me to maintain and I will be able to keep our donors, sponsors and supporters up to date with our work.

The link to the website is: www.ChildrensEducationFoundation.org.au

Please read about our work and we hope you will join us in our efforts to help impoverished and vulnerable Vietnamese girls to stay in school and complete their education.


Linda Burn
Founding Director and In-Country Manager - Vietnam
Children's Education Foundation

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Challenges in Learning English ~ Guest blog by Thuy, who is one of our university students and also part-time CEF staff

I’ve been learning English at university in my local province for 3 years. Although I’m keen on English, there are many challenges to master the language. 

While my major at university is English, I hardly communicate with English-speaking foreigners. I study lots of new English vocabulary but I have little chance to practice it. Also, since I rarely practice my English with native speakers, I feel nervous and scared to be wrong.

Fortunately, CEF has not only supported my education but also given me access to an English environment. Sometimes, I have a home visit trip with Linda and CEF staff. This is a good chance to communicate with Linda. Also I must write reports in English about the home visits.

And in this summer, I have been learning English with a volunteer (Mai-Thi) who is from the US. She is friendly and enthusiastic. She helps me improve my pronunciation skills.

I would like CEF to have more English volunteers so that the university students of CEF, like myself, have the opportunity to communicate in English. This would help improve listening skills and speaking skills as well as increase my confidence in English. 

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Helping People to Help Others ~ Guest blog by Graeme Burn

It’s not that easy to raise money. but it’s not that hard and it can be fun into the bargain. It’s partly about making it easy for people who want to give to dip into their pockets and part with a moderate sum. It’s also about giving them a good reason to do this. And at the University of Technology, Sydney we have been managing to do both for a number of years.

I work with English language examiners and support staff and every two weeks or so we get together at UTS to work. Its only for four hours but there’s enough time to pitch to them the latest reason why we need their help and give them an easy attractive way to part with their cash.

The latest reason was CEF’s water safety day - a fun day of games and activities for 80 children where they also learn how not to drown.

I have found that raffles are a good way to entice my colleagues to give and there are always a few people who have great prizes they like to donate. This last raffle was no exception. Nicky donated a getaway weekend by the ocean, Frank came up with a bottle of Mumm champagne and there were two other desirable prizes: some Spode pottery and an incense burner.

I spread the raffle out over at least two weeks to give everyone who wants to the chance to buy tickets and by the time we got to the draw not only had we raised over $600 but there was quite a degree of excitement as the winning tickets were drawn.

It was delightful to see the delight on the faces of the winners and also to feel the warm support of all those who had participated in some way to raise enough to cover over half the cost of the water safety day.

A big thank you to everyone who gave so that children in our programs now know what to do if they get into trouble in the water.

Selling biscuits keeps two CEF girls in school each year

Sunday, July 12, 2015

The father of one of our CEF girls has died

Today is the funeral of the father of one of our CEF girls and our staff will be attending.

I was sad and not prepared to hear of his death, as only recently he was well and up and around. We have known him over the last five years, so we  knew he possibly didn't have long for this world, but as his health sometimes picked up dramatically due to traditional herbs I kept positive and hoped he would recover. The herbs helped reduce his pain and on and off his vitality increased so much he cycled, rode his motorbike and went to family celebrations.

He will now be able to rest in peace and no longer suffer; this is good for him, but also for his family, as they have suffered too over the years.

Breaking the Shackles ~ Guest blog by Brian

On our recent round of visits to the supported students of Phuc Le Village we stopped by to say hello to the mother of one of our young students who has now progressed to university.

I have to say that never have I seen anyone more proud, than this mum is of her daughter, 'T'.   With support from a CEF sponsor, 'T' has just completed her second year of a Business Studies / Economics Course at a Hanoi university; and is doing very well.


                                  In her first year of college - 2014
                            In her final year at high school - back in 2013

The Strength To Go Forward ~ Guest blog by Brian

We generally think of the support provided to the CEF students as being to give them a chance in life that was not afforded to the generation that preceded them.  It come to me on my most recent visit to the students of Phuc Le, that in circumstances where adversity has been particularly cruel, that the same support could well mean the ultimate survival of a whole family.

When I struggled with how to convey this little story, our founder, Linda, provided me with some words of wisdom, which helped set me on the path.  Quote:- “our work is not all fun and joy, there is fear, anxiety and worry for some and there is sadness about some situations.”

The case in point concerns a family that representatives of CEF, myself included, have come to know well from numerous visits over the past eight or nine years.  A family of five; mum, dad, two girls and a boy.  Lovely people; but plagued by mental health issues afflicting the twenty year old son and the father, who suffers from serious memory lapses.

The girls of the family, 'Q' and 'L', are both CEF students.  They have responded to the help provided by producing excellent results and are two of the most promising students in the Phuc Le group.  Q has just completed Year 12 and seems assured of a place at university.

Until recently the mother has been the lynch pin of the family, being the primary bread winner, caring for her son, assisting her husband during his bad times and encouraging and supporting her daughters to do well in their schooling.

                                       The girls mother ~ October 2014

One should never have favorites in the type of role the writer has filled, visiting these families over the years.  But I must confess to having really warmed to this family.  Hence, I became concerned two years ago when informed that Q and L’s mum had a serious health issue; alarmed at the deterioration in her condition last year; and devastated to learn in my visit in June that she had only weeks, if not days to live.

                                    L & Q with mum  ~ May 2014      
Whilst I was very affected when invited by the girls to say my goodbyes to their mum, and by the actual experience of doing that, I was subsequently uplifted by the strength shown by those same young women in the face of such cruel circumstances.

                                           Q and L with mum  ~ June 2013            

There is the ubiquitous grannie living nearby to assist; however, it is evident that the future of the family now rests in the hands of Quynh and her younger sister.  Were it not for the support rendered by generous CEF sponsors, which will enhance the income earning capacity of these young people, the family would be facing a dire situation.  There will undoubtedly be many hurdles to be overcome; but thanks to you, the sponsors, the family has been endowed with the strength to stay together and carry on.    

Friday, July 10, 2015

Budgeting lesson for some of CEF's tertiary students ~ Guest blog by Kim Chi

The budgeting session this afternoon for the CEF tertiary students went very well and it was exciting to do this for them and with them. I taught them at CEF’s home office and there were only six students because the others live too far away to be able to get here. They were very serious about the session and listened carefully. 
At the beginning they didn’t even know what budgeting was. But after half an hour of working on questions and answers they understood what budgeting was about and how important it was and why they needed to do know how to budget. They then made budgets for themselves and shared them with each other.

It was quite easy for some of them to do a budget in theory, but in fact there are many changing aspects in life which they can't know in advance. I explained to them how to make their budget more realistic by looking at it sometimes and altering it if there has been something normal (such as flu) or something dramatic (like a death in the family)  happen to them, as this makes their budget change. 
The budget is not only to help them to make plans for paying their education fees, but it is also very useful for their life. I was very pleased with our tertiary students’ attitude about the budgeting session, as well as being very happy to share with them about my real life experience of budgeting.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

About First Aid Training for staff ~ Guest blog by Thuy

First Aid lessons are very useful and important for CEF staff because we often have activities together with the children. Also we do not just work at the CEF office but also in remote areas; in the mountains. 

Even though all of us already learned First Aid when we were at school, it is not enough as we do not remember it all and some of that information has been updated since we studied it before.

 Jane, our nurse-volunteer who currently works at Dong A University taught us very interesting information which helped us retain it, and she updated all our First Aid information.

Nurse Jane teaching CPR

We learned a lot of helpful theory like CPR and about how to help with First Aid at accidents and with common injuries. What we learned included how to give basic First Aid and how to do some treatments of some common injuries such as treatments for bruises, cuts, sprains, broken bones, burns, bites, stings, rashes, and how to deal with allergies and anaphylaxis, choking and electrocution. Besides teaching us First Aid Theory, Jane didn’t forget to teach us the practical with us then practicing applying bandages for sprains, slings for broken bones and sprains, bandaging for bites. applying splints, doing CPR and putting the ill or injured person into the recovery position.

Kim Chi putting Thuy into recovery position

                                                           Thuy practicing CPR

We also shared our experience and knowledge of traditional First Aid with nurse Jane. Of course, some are the right thing to do and some are the wrong thing to do, but we wouldn’t know if we didn’t talk about them, so it was very good to be able to do that.

Nurse Jane with CEF's full-time staff

We really enjoyed the lessons! Thank you very much Jane!

Sunday, July 5, 2015

The Grannies of Phuc Le ~ Guest blog by Brian

The village of Phuc Le in the northern Province of Thai Binh is really a microcosm of rural Vietnam. And nowhere in the village is the culture of the nation more represented than in the families of the 35 students supported by CEF.

On my most recent visit in June of this year, I gained full realization of what a major role 'the Grannies' play in the lives of these families.  It is quite common for three and sometimes even four generations of a family to reside in the same dwelling and the role that 'the grannies' play is generally not a passive one.

Despite advancing years and the ravages on bodies of a hard life, those still in good health play an active role in the daily lives of their family.  When one arrives to visit a student it is not unusual to find a granny caring for the children while the parents are working in the family rice plot, or absent from home working at a distant factory.  On other occasions one cannot help but notice these beautiful oldies pottering in the kitchen or performing other household chores while we are interviewing our student with mum or dad in the living area.  But it is also evident that ears are cocked and granny doesn’t miss a thing of what is being said with regard to her treasured grandchild.

In the Vietnamese culture this caring is also reflected in the respect, bordering on adoration, shown to the older generations.  Those who are ailing are treated with great tenderness and indeed on their passing photographs and tributes to them appear and remain on the ever prominent family altar. Ancestor worship remains an important element in Vietnamese culture.

As an aging guy myself I find it very easy to interact with the village grannies.  Through our translator we share some laughs.  But how I regret my laziness over the years in not becoming fluent in the Vietnamese language; for I could think of nothing more pleasant than sitting in a village garden listening to the wonderful life stories that these great people could tell and boasting about our respective grand kids.