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OneHeart, Issue 04
AUTUMN 2019 – SPECIAL ISSUE – CALL TO ACTION
By Cathy Lam, Treasurer (VANGO Network), Co-Founder & President (Our1World)
Over the years, I said these words every time I parted from our two children. The meaning changed–from toddler to adolescent years, and then into adulthood, but the core idea is always the same: Be good to yourself, so you can be good to the community.
Be good and find your place in the world and navigate through the oceans of life while being mindful of how your actions affect others.
Be good and truly hear your own voice as well as others. And be the voice for those who cannot find theirs, or have yet to find the courage to do so.
Be good and learn from your mistakes, turning them into lessons that can be shared with others.
Be good and include mental health as part of the whole physical self. If you cannot find happiness, it would be hard pressed to be physically healthy nor will you be able to help others.
After eight years of a stable engineering job with decent salary, I walked away. I was not satisfied in a corporate male-dominated, or maybe I was just bad at engineering. It took a family sabbatical trip around the world for me to realize my true purpose–to be good to this planet. Working with many groups in California, I advocated for the environment until eventually, I found myself back in Việt Nam and with the Vietnamese American Non-Governmental (VANGO) Network.
VANGO’s mission has seen many changes through the years, but the vast knowledge transfer and compassion-focused care of each member has always driven our collaborations for capacity-building in the communities we serve. In the past, VANGO had been discussing how to best develop the community with so little funding, longing to create an environment, a family, for youth to grow and thrive. Finally, in 2009, we met Thien-Nhien Luong, the brainchild and champion behind Design Capital Asia’s Healthy Initiatives through Peer Education (HIPE), which was later adopted as one of our main initiatives and ultimately has been an ideal home to many of our inter-organization collaborations. Who would care most to take care of the environment and the community than the youth who will have to live in it?
Collaboration is hard work, but when it succeeds, the payback is multi-fold. In addition to their other health trainings, they also adopted my environmental protection campaign. “My” ideas faded and changed into OUR ideas, and now, almost ten years later, THEIR ideas. We are proud of these youth. The HIPE family has grown into a special Mái Nhà HIPE (a “roof/home/family”), a safe, respectful, nurturing, and creative environment where they can feel comfortable to bloom at their own pace and in their own way.
Come join us today! This July 2019 was a whirlwind. Thien-Nhien and I went to Huế to hold strategic planning sessions to finally begin RONG – Roles of the Next Generation which was introduced at the 3rd VANGO conference in 2007. (More later) We also celebrated our first five university graduations from HIPE Cohort I. Lots of happiness and tears of joy filled this trip.
Finally, recognition must be given to the teachers, the principal and staff, the parents, and the officials in Quảng Phước commune of Quảng Điền district for trusting us a great deal in those early days. The collaborative vision and expertise from so many of you have given us encouragement and the Strength of many, the Heart of one.
With warm aloha from our ohana (family) to yours,
An update on HIPE
We cannot believe how much this program has grown since its inception, from just 12 students to over 120 active PHEs today. And if you want the actual numbers, as of December 2018, HIPE had trained 631 middle and high school students to provide its curricula to 73 schools in Thua Thien Hue Province, educating 71,312 students total. And we are so proud to announce that students from our very first cohort of PHEs have begun graduating from university and are making a confident transition into their careers, including one who has just joined the staff full-time.
We want to take this space to specifically thank our HIPE staff, Huyền Nữ Phương-Vinh, Phạm Văn-Ngọc, Võ Thị Kiều-Hân, and Lê Thị Nhật-Hằng. These are the hidden faces behind this entire operation, who have not only kept this program running but also developing and thriving. We’d also like to especially congratulate Kiều-Hân, currently expecting her second child due next year!
With its growth, HIPE’s curricula has also changed to reflect the needs of the community. Today, HIPE PHEs teach health sessions in their middle and high schools about sexual and reproductive health, child sexual abuse prevention, gender roles and stereotypes, and healthy relationships (new).
Additionally, in 2018, VANGO received funding to, with DCA, conduct its first independent evaluation of HIPE. After a year of thorough evaluation, we recently released the full report and the Executive Summary available is available on our website. HIPE has successfully established a competent task force of PHEs and volunteers, who play a critical role in effectively organizing and implementing HIPE health education and community projects.
Three key findings are as follows:
- PHEs reported statistically significant knowledge gained about health as well as skills to implement activities in schools and communities.
- Students in rural schools and communities also assessed the quality and effectiveness of HIPE curriculum to be good and helped to make a substantial improvement in their knowledge of gender concepts and reproductive health.
- Most of the PHEs, students, and community members (teachers and parents) believed that it is necessary or very necessary to provide knowledge of gender, sexual, and reproductive health to youth and the community.
For more information and the latest news with HIPE, please check out the HIPE Team Facebook page.
Music Bridge: Songs of Strength
Since 1994, Creative Work Fund (CWF) has awarded $13.7 million in grants to advance the creation of new art works through collaborations in a variety of disciplines. This year, CWF is awarding 16 grants to Northern California artists to collaborate with local nonprofit organizations to create new traditional and visual works of art. We are so happy to announce that they have selected Music Bridge’s multi-instrumentalist and composer Vanessa “Vân-Ánh” Võ’s Songs of Strength (SOS) project as one of their grant recipients!
SOS will bring together artists from different cultures, including but not limited to Iranian singer/songwriter Mahsa Vadat and Silicon Valley Artist Laureate Demone Carter, to share the voices of immigrants, especially women of color. This collaboration between VANGO and Võ will serve as a creative platform for positive social impact and youth empowerment for our target underserved communities. We will have the opportunity to engage Bay Area youth to explore and share their voice through these artistic media and even contribute to and participate in the final performance.
The world premiere of SOS is set for mid-2021. For more info about SOS and her other projects, please visit www.vananhvo.com
I AM HIPE – A Featured Peer Health Educator
Nguyễn Thị Hồng Nhung
With us from the start, Nhung recently graduated from Da Nang University of Economics, majoring in Auditing. Nhung has never ceased to amaze us with her unending drive to push herself to achieve even beyond the goals she sets for herself.
This is her story, in her words:
“I was born in a poor village, and since I was young, I have not had any opportunity to interact with the modern education system. Even in the early years of working with HIPE, I still had not figured out how to meaningfully educate young people. In high school, I understood that it should be a spreading educational style, not a one-way education style like I was used to, which is why HIPE is so special.
I am the eldest sister in a big family to peasant parents. When they saw that I had positive thoughts and did good activities, my parents were very proud and excited. They even encouraged my sisters to join HIPE—to play more, learn more, act more, and change more positively themselves. My family loves HIPE, even my grandfather. He always supports and is the representative for his girls to attend HIPE parent meetings. Joining HIPE since it was just born, I feel honored to witness the maturity of this spiritual friend. What HIPE brings to everyone is really meaningful. And I think anyone who joins HIPE is the result of that effort, including myself, too.
I never thought I could stand in front of a class of 30 friends and talk about strange topics. But I did it when I was a kid in secondary school. It was fabulous and adorable. HIPE also helped me understand how our world is being destroyed step by step and what I need to do to prevent it and the values of life through lessons about GRACE (Gratitude, Respect, Accountability, Courage, Engagement). I still remember, under the hot noon sun, we went house by house discussing dengue fever, then to the market to clean and share about reducing plastic by giving out reusable bags. Such a really hard time, but we did it many times. In our hearts, we did it together and did it for a noble purpose. There are countless things I learned from HIPE, but the most important thing is how to have a better life–not only for myself but for everyone.
Now, I have graduated from university. Although I have not found a satisfactory job, I have never given up. Because in HIPE, I learned that it’s never too late to do something. In the future, with whatever I do, wherever I live and whoever I am, HIPE is always an inspiration that I will share with my friends, colleagues, and children. Like the way I received it 10 years ago.
All I want to say is I love HIPE so much and thank you for being a part of my life.”
Introducing RONG: Roles of the Next Generation
RONG has been on the back-burner for a while since the 2007 VANGO Conference, just a distant dream. As we deepened ourselves into the work in Việt Nam, we realized that RONG’s true home lies in Việt Nam to those we had been serving all along. The where, when, and how? We were still figuring out. But the who and why? We knew the answers to those questions, and that’s all we needed to drive us to make it happen.
Ten years into HIPE, we have seen the true short- and long-term benefits of having a reliable, encouraging, and challenging support system through adolescent years. That’s what we’ll do with RONG—provide a local physical space that can ensure the key features needed to foster positive development in ways that the community could not otherwise.
We like the idea of ‘rong’ (as in rong biển “seaweed”) and its role in the marine ecosystem. RONG is the structure, RONG is the home, the food. If we bring RONG and all of its benefits, life will naturally flourish from there.
The strategic planning sessions in July kicked us into motion. We’re in the nitty gritty of figuring out the overlap between what Huế needs, what our strengths are, and our mission to create this sustainable home for future generations in Huế.
This idea is finally coming to fruition, and we hope you will join us in this journey.
We are here for Huế!
Development cannot be done in a vacuum
By Thien-Nhien Luong, Secretary (VANGO Network), Co-Founder & President (Design Capital Asia)
We sat with beaming smiles next to Nam, a 4th-year university architecture student and 7th-year HIPE Peer Health Educator. The first PHE accepted for a loan of this kind from our organization, he was receiving a Sustainable Economic & Employment Development (SEED) capital loan to start-up his new business. Trang and Ngọc, two of his fellow PHEs studying economic development at Huế University, stood by to support him and other loanees with contract conditions and signing, as interns of the SEED program assisting with application, selection, contract, repayment, and evaluation processes.
HIPE youth like Nam who have received year-round young leadership training and life skills when participating in HIPE, now have access to SEED capital in addition to scholarships and career development opportunities. It has not always been like this. In the mid 90s, I joined friends to provide scholarships to poor students to stay in school, to give microloans to struggling family businesses to enable economic development, and to take in abandoned or neglected children to offer food and shelter. Our intentions were good but our solutions were mostly one dimensional and developed in a vacuum. Ten years later, we have redirected our development work to examine the root causes of poverty, to pilot and implement community-participatory interventions, and to build more collaborative and effective partnerships. For example, our SEED capital program’s mission is to develop local economy and business philanthropists, and ultimately, to create or retain employment by providing capital and business training. From 2010-2016, we provided equipment capital between $2,000-$15,000USD to small and medium sized businesses to purchase equipment to support business growth. They repaid by donating products, providing vocational training, or creating jobs in the equivalent value of the loan. Our belief was that if there was a prosperous and caring business community, there would be trickle-down of wealth or economic opportunities and commitment to care for others in the community as well. The immediate short-term outcomes were positive because of the triple bottom line—business growth, donated products and service, and job training and creation. Yet, true lasting long-term impact is both costly and not very feasible.
In 2016 witnessing poor families and disadvantaged communities in rural areas continuing to struggle with youth leaving school at a young age to work, some even moving alone to other cities for better employment and economic opportunities, we were forced to think differently and began to work more collaboratively and holistically with the communities we served. We found that the agricultural sector, though declining, employs about half of the population in Việt Nam. In response, we redirected SEED capital to target struggling rural agricultural communities. Since relaunching SEED in 2018, we have issued a total of $40,000USD to 20 agricultural family businesses from rural villages, where we already have youth empowerment and community development initiatives. Our belief is that family economic stability provides much better support of growth and development for youth in the long run. 6 out of the 20 agriculture and food family businesses have children enrolled in HIPE, a year-round youth development program.
While we are proud of how far SEED has come, we still have much to do. For example, with testaments of farmers wanting to pass the farms to their children, we want to see a younger generation using efficient technologies to be less laborious, resource intensive, and degrading to the environment. This means the next phase of SEED will be about more meaningful business development and training for loanees. Additionally, SEED is not only about generating income and retaining or creating jobs, but it is also about seed/startup funding for young people with entrepreneurial and/or innovative ideas, such as Nam’s milk-tea business, which will eventually be an access point for health and environmental protection education.
Community development is very similar to epidemiology, my chosen career path. The epidemiologist studies a disease in a population to understand the incidences, distribution and transmission, and patterns and trends to propose intervention and control measures. When possible, we study various determinants of health and social conditions, i.e. education, environmental, cultural, and economic factors. Then, we design intervention measures and widely implement with multiple partners. Similarly, DCA’s community development methods are based on need and feasibility data, driven by results-based impact and backed by sustainable solutions, passing knowledge and skillsets to local peoples.
Nam has been a PHE in HIPE for the last 7 years. In 2014, he led HIPE’s community mural initiative to transform the small fishing village Mỹ Khê to a known tourist destination with vibrant beautiful murals on very homes with messages about environmental protection and beautification. Now with SEED, he is starting his own business to generate income to support his last few years pursuing an architecture degree and to create jobs for his aging parents who can no longer labor long hours on the farms. We have grown with Nam, and our programs have also been redesigned to meet the growing needs of youth and young people like Nam, Trang, and Ngọc. It is this type of collaborative efforts and holistic development interventions with successes that we hope to replicate and expand.
By Megan “Xoài” Aikawa, Design Capital Asia
The students in HIPE are smart, kind, silly, driven, and, most of all, loving. When cô Cathy cried on the last day of her annual trip, I also teared because the love in the room for and from her was overwhelming, and because I knew and was afraid that I would fall in love with them too, which meant there was impending heartbreak when I left Hue and returned to America.
I originally came to Hue to learn about the culture of the people in order to better localize and develop the new Healthy Relationships curriculum, and in the process, I learned about myself. Truthfully, I don’t think I understood who I was or what I care about until I met the people in Hue, who have taught and, most importantly, shown me what it means to love each other. Above all, love each other.
Not only has my life changed, but I’ve also changed, and for that, I will always be thankful. I look forward to the many times we see each other again, in this life and any others.
CALL TO ACTION
With the ongoing needs of our local at-risk students and disadvantaged communities, your help will make a huge difference. Please help us to assist these young lives!
- $250 supports HIPE’s Young Leadership Training and Peer Health Educator stipends. Keeps students from a high-risk family and village in school.
- $300 funds scholarships for trade schools, vocational programs, college, and university. Allows well-rounded youths from poor families to pursue higher education while continuing HIPE participation.
- $500 supports community-based health protection projects and the annual community health fair. Enables HIPE youths to bring health education and promotion material to their communities and sustain community health coalitions.
- $750 funds HIPE school administration training and coordination. Sustains school-based HIPE curriculum and training, making comprehensive health education accessible to students in school settings.
For more information, please feel free to contact us at:
30212 Cedarbrook Road, Hayward, CA 94544
+1 (714) 330-3589