By Olivia Parkinson
Having spent the last two weeks in the province of Hai Duong, it has been interesting to observe equality within the community. Education is not free in Vietnam. However it is highly valued and as a result parents work extremely hard to ensure they can earn enough money to send their children to school. It is prioritised. In the case of a family who are very poor and unable to afford it, there is a financial support system which is means tested. This results in nearly all children having the opportunity to access education. The children of the mountain communities have less access to education, due to having to travel large distances to attend. In these remote, but very beautiful parts of Vietnam, education is not as valued due to poverty and the consequent necessity of youngsters sometimes having to leave school to work and bring in additional income for their families. These communities live without running water or electricity. In general however, education is seen as a means to a better life here with English being a priority.
The Centre for Sustainable Development Studies (CSDS) with whom SERVE is partnered here in Vietnam, offer a Bright Future Fund to provide those with more challenging financial circumstances partial or full grants to attend university. These students work with the CSDS on some of their projects, in return, giving back to the community. Within the rural community, there is a pressure on girls from less well off families to leave education in order to marry or help at home. This fund ensures some of these girls can further their education to provide a better future for themselves.
University reflects an equal demographic between male and female students. Equally, most courses have both gender representations although there are some jobs here which are gender specific. I was fascinated when working with the children to learn that men do not work as nurses here. It is solely the job of women. Equally, police officers are predominantly men, with women only involved in the traffic core.
Most interestingly, I’ve learned that Vietnam supports diversity, and the younger generation is embracing differences in sexual orientation. A vibrant LGBTQ+ society exists in larger cities, with the winner of Miss International Queen Pageant (an international competition for transgender and transsexual people) 2018, Huong Giang, being from Vietnam. She has been embraced in Vietnam as a symbol of change and modernity.
Vietnam constantly surprises me with its beauty, its emphasis on and appreciation for education, and its move towards a modern and inclusive community where differences are accepted and embraced.