I miss you already!

By Ha An and Quang Nguyen

The void and nostalgia struck us at our work table when our eyes glanced at the camera lying in the corner; like a habit, we reached out and turned it on. On the screen there were faces, smiles of the friends miles away in the North West, who came as visitors but left like friends.

The trail of memories flashed back at the glorious ceremonies glittering under the sunshine of Go Vap district. Everything had surprised us at its best, and our hearts were pounding immensely, adrenaline kept on rocketing with rapturous applause after each pupils’ sophisticated music performance. Wednesday was a puffy day at IKEA’s soft toy factory, a little break after “too many new things to digest” – Emilie, we had time to reflect on the implications of the previous iWitness visits and made timely revisions to the agenda.  Down memory lane again, in the haze of the morning dew, Cu Chi district appeared with its village schools, the atmosphere switched to a more casual state, which had granted us a ticket to our childhood with the indulgence of countryside treats and fun games with the children.

A rescue party: Marie and Dominique are in a mission

“Although the environment diversifies from one place to another ritually, the children remain the same! We witness the same naïve eyes, same cheerful faces, same curiosity, same courage, same creativity, same confidence, and for that reason, our trust in the work to promote Child Protection and Children are the most important people in the world, is once again strengthened!”, confirmed Anna.

The very last moments of us sitting together were to walk through the points of notice during the past week. Comments and ideas on how to meticulously prepare for the next iWitness trip were exchanged constructively. The consideration of delivering a social media package was highlighted, we recognized there’s a need for engaging and loyal messages about IKEA Foundation’s contribution as well Save the Children’s work on the ground.

“I miss you already!” shared Carin when we were at the hotel, ending the Friday visit as well as the iWitness visit to the Vietnam program. A week flew by so fast, but the memories of the laughs, the sharing, will last for a long time in our minds, an unforgettable week of the witness visit to the Vietnam program, November 9 – 13, 2015.

Visiting the pupils’ garden
Visiting the pupils’ garden


The interaction and the embrace

Located in Cu Chi District, the most affected area in Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) during the Vietnam war’s bombing and mining, and now the poorest neighborhood and destination of many migrant families, Phuoc Thanh Secondary school is simply quaint with its humble look of broken roof, scaling off paint, and falling apart windows.

Our visitors’ tasks today were extremely challenging. One task was to compete with the teachers to rescue the contestants who were eliminated from a competition on Child Rights and Child Protection with 100 participating pupils, one-ninth of the school. Another task was to pamper their (and everyone’s) stomach with all the jelly, spring rolls, yoghurt … cooked and sold by the pupils.

“I would suggest we have more activities like this, which suit the hobbies and strengths of the students. For example, the “Ring the Bell” competition attracts pupils who love reading like me, while the Food Fair interests more pupils who are into outdoors.”, shared Quoc Huy, class 8A3, as he was touring us around the yard with his great English.

Emily enjoys the conversation with Quoc Huy, grade 8
Emily enjoys the conversation with Quoc Huy, grade 8

“This is so meaningful to us, with the small money we made from selling the food, we can help our friends to go to school with us. In the project, there are many, many trainings for the pupils, and we understand that education is crucial for every child, it promises us a bright future.”

Huy is one of the dynamic members of the core team, the target group for piloting the new teaching method, which aims to create more space for the pupils to interact with their peers and their teachers.

“I asked the pupils, what the greatest thing about school is, and they said ‘The teachers’, and then I saw another pupil giving his teacher a surprise hug from the back. This best demonstrates the ultimate bond between a teacher and a pupil, which we believe is the major element of a child-friendly learning environment. Children will become confident only when the distance between teachers and pupils is shortened” Marie, Account Manager, Save the Children Sweden, was raising one of the main focuses of the project “Improved Protection and Quality Education for Migrant and other Marginalised and Vulnerable Children in HCMC”.

“It is so heartening to see that in this school, children are treated like the most important people in the world, and to play and to talk with these cheerful, smiling little people are the memories to cherish forever!” Dominick expressed her feelings after an eventful afternoon with the children, teachers, and especially parents.

“I have been accompanying her in this type of activity four times. The more I engage in this project, the more I feel safe for my child to go to school, and the more she becomes open to me and my wife,” said Nguyen Van Sen, Tuong Vi’s father.

Continuing the success of the previous awareness raising campaign in the community, this time, in connection with the iWitness visit, and the Vietnamese’s Teachers’ day, the Phuoc Thanh Primary school organized a drawing competition on the theme addressing “Non-violence against children”.

Teaming up with Tuong Vi – class 2.1, was her father – Mr. Nguyen Van Sen, who is an unschooled farmer due to his parents’ economic background, “I have been accompanying her in this type of activity 4 times. The more I engage in this project, the more I feel safe for my child to go to school, and the more she becomes open to me and my wife. I am, myself, an uneducated person, and I am very happy to see that my daughter can go to school on behalf of her dad” “Daddy doesn’t know how to draw, I will teach him, I will teach him how to draw, how to sing, how to do math!”

And then she sang her favorite chorus, like a free birdsong, happiness beamed on both of their face.



By An Ha Nguyen & Nguyen Le Quang

Monday has never been our favorite day, especially when we have to be on the road at 7am, but An Nhon Secondary School really knew how to start our week off right.

From afar, our heart beats were already increasing as the drums were played so loudly, and when the bus dropped us in front of the school gate, our breath was taken away. Each and every one of us couldn’t stop ourselves from feeling overwhelmingly proud and honored when walking in between two lines of uniform-suited pupils, waving flags and clapping their hands.

“I would have not expected any image like what has happened, it goes far beyond my thought. I feel so proud and honored to be welcomed by everyone today”, said Carin, one member of the IKEA’s coworkers.

The Quan (2nd from the right) and his friends in the newly built library, which is the pupils’ initiative to replace the old one in Nguyen Viet Xuan Primary School. “This is the perfect location in the school yard for reading, quiet, close to the nature, and a lot of sun shine! What do you like about reading? I can make friends with books and I can be a librarian in the future! What advice would you give to other people if you are a librarian? Don’t damage books. Don’t tear the pages. It’s not an easy job, you know! What is difficult about being a librarian? Being busy keeping an eye for the pupils who want to borrow books” Photo credit: An Ha Nguyen
The Quan (2nd from the right) and his friends in the newly built library, which is the pupils’ initiative to replace the old one in Nguyen Viet Xuan Primary School.
“This is the perfect location in the school yard for reading, quiet, close to the nature, and a lot of sun shine!
What do you like about reading?
I can make friends with books and I can be a librarian in the future!
What advice would you give to other people if you are a librarian?
Don’t damage books. Don’t tear the pages. It’s not an easy job, you know!
What is difficult about being a librarian?
Being busy keeping an eye for the pupils who want to borrow books”
Photo credit: An Ha Nguyen

After a quick introduction of the visitors and the school hosts, the session started with six wishes from a special guest, Mr. Nguyen Ngoc Ky, who has been tirelessly making an example of overcoming disabilities to be able to write by foot and become who he is today, to pursue dreams in life “Dreaminess; Diligence; Patience; Creativity; Fierce; Luck”.

The reaction of 1.483 pupils’ first-hand encountered with a person, whom they have seen only in their textbooks, is truly a gift for us and the visitors. It was a pleasure to learn from the school the impacts the project has made to the teachers through various trainings on Child Rights and Child Protection, and Child Participation, particularly, the teachers are paying considerably more attention to the children’s voices and dreams.

“Physical punishment is no longer acceptable in the school, and there is no exception”, affirmed the principal, Nguyen Thi Ngoc Anh. An Nhơn Secondary school is one of selected 16 project schools, where hundreds of the most deprived children who migrating from other provinces to Ho Chi Minh city for economic reason are pupils and are benefiting directly from Save the Children’s project funded by the IKEA Foundation.

The hot weather of Ho Chi Minh City immediately cooled down, when we joined the pupils in seeding and watering the plant pots under the shadow of their hanging garden, one of the child-led initiatives. “I choose aloe vera, because its leaves are used as a medicine to heal the damaged skin, so I can help my friends when they are injured”, said My Tien – class 6B1.

“I choose aloe vera, because its leaves are used as a medicine to heal the damaged skin, so I can help my friends when they are injured”, said My Tien – class 6B1, An Nhon Secondary School, Go Vap District, Ho Chi Minh City. Photo credit: An Ha Nguyen
“I choose aloe vera, because its leaves are used as a medicine to heal the damaged skin, so I can help my friends when they are injured”, said My Tien – class 6B1, An Nhon Secondary School, Go Vap District, Ho Chi Minh City. Photo credit: An Ha Nguyen

Before leaving Go Vap district, we had a chance to talk to little The Quan and his friends in the newly built library, which is the pupils’ initiative to replace the old one in Nguyen Viet Xuan Primary School.

“This is the perfect location in the school yard for reading, quiet, close to the nature, and a lot of sun shine!”, Quan started the conversation with a smile
“What do you like about reading?”, “I can make friends with books and I can be a librarian in the future!”
“What advice would you give to other people if you are a librarian?”, “Don’t damage books. Don’t tear the pages. It’s not an easy job, you know!”
“What is difficult about being a librarian?”,
“Being busy keeping an eye for the pupils who want to borrow books.”

Eight hours of touching emotions and eye-opening experience have flown, and so have our dreams for “Every child’s right to education”!



By An Ha Nguyen and Nguyen Le Quang

“Try this! Your planning sounds very fantastic, and this would be outstanding!”, said Oanh, a core-child to her peer, a little competition atmosphere has been aroused gradually among the pupils, and even the teachers from the selected project schools, during the preparation meeting for this year iWitness visit.

To the implementing team, and our local partners, this annual activity is truly a great event to showcase the breakthroughs we have achieved, and to express our appreciation to the ‪#‎IKEAFoundation‬ contribution to the project Improved Protection and Quality Education for Migrant and other Marginalised and Vulnerable Children in Ho Chi Minh City.

Since the official announcement of the visit has been sent, it has become a mutual motivation among the stakeholders and the children, everyone is so willing to pay extra efforts with the only hope to best represent their sketched pupil-led projects. In addition to the regular sessions, teachers and students of the Soft toy for Education/IKEA Foundation-funded project have started buzzing with rehearsals, trainings, and trials to lay the groundwork for the field trip.

Photo credit: Yến Phạm
Photo credit: Yến Phạm

Our (SCI) project staff attended their discussions to provide technical assistance, and each time these arch smiles would get us to answer a different bunch questions about every activity they could think of. Just by looking at their sparkling eyes, we can clearly see their excitement being triggered while we tell them about the opportunities for introducing their own initiative to the visitors.

“Don’t you see our green ‘Babylon garden’ up there? I can’t wait to show it to the visitors!” said Hien (middle of the photo), a little girl who is an active core child of the primary school Phuoc Hiep.

The tentative schedule of the visit has been submitted and approved by the local authorities. By now, everything is on track and we’re ready to take the iWitness ambassadors to the project schools, where they will first encounter the children for whom they have sold the toys, they also will join hands with them to realize their ideal child-friendly school.

Due to the constraints of timing, we would regretfully have to spare Business Associations for another visit, and focus our resources on an exciting week with the children benefiting from this project, which is hopefully full of surprising and joyful moments.

Improve maternal and child care through doctor and nurse trainings


The children born into ethnic minority groups are three times likely to die than those of Kinh majority group. There are many factors that cause the higher mortality rate among children under five in ethnic minority groups. Among them is the lack of trained doctors and health workers for mothers and children in remote mountainous communes.

Last week, Save the Children helped train 21 doctors and nurses from three provinces of Yen Bai, Dac Lac and Ca Mau to improve the quality and consistent care for mothers and children. This a week trainer training aims to popularize the new standard of health care at all district, commune and village levels.

This is a part of Save the Children maternal and child care programme that has supported 8 provinces to improve maternal and child care services through the use of hospital-to-household care continuum model since 2005.

“I see that this training course meets our desired effect. Especially, the practising trip helped us understand theory much better and faster” Tran Nguyet Hoang, a doctor from Ca Mau Province said.

“All of us were very excited to apply the knowledge we have learned to real work, and share useful experience to our colleagues” Tran Van Quang – a doctor from Yen Bai Province said.


Children as Agents of Change


“I like the club because we learn about how to adapt to climate change and have swimming lessons so we can stay safe if there is a flood. This is my second year in the club.” explains Nguyen Ai Hanh Dung, class 5/2 of Gia Thuan primary school in Tien Giang.

Children’s club meetings are held monthly or bimonthly in both the community, targeting out of school and vulnerable children, and in schools. These child-led sessions encourage all children to work together on climate change awareness raising and to become agents of change in the classroom, school and community.

This year Dung has been selected for Club President, and on this particular day she actively chairs activities around “Practicing skills to adapt to climate change”. Club members perform a role play about actions to adapt to climate change, take part in a game matching ‘do’s’ and ‘don’ts’ for reducing climate change, and draw a vision pictures of their dream school, in consideration of likely changes in climate. Besides the important knowledge they are gaining, Dung believes the best thing about the club is being able to organize fun activities for her friends to help them learn and build their confidence to share information, plan and promote change within their community. What she has learned at the club is also shared with her family at home. “I’ve told my family that we need to grow trees to help the environment and reduce climate change”. Dung has also taught her family about what to do if they are caught in the middle of a storm or a whirlwind. When asked about the future, she said “I’d like to help more and more friends and their families learn how to adapt to climate change and reduce activities that lead to global warming.”

To promote child-led knowledge sharing and build resilience of families to cope with climate change , children in Tieng Giang are also participating in a household energy and water saving campaign. After collecting their home electricity and water bills and examining their family’s resource consumption, children are taught resource saving actions like turning off lights and electrical equipment, ensuring water taps are tightly closed and re-using water. Children share their learning’s with their families and put knowledge into practice within their own homes. Each subsequent month children analyse their bills to monitor progress in reducing their usage.

In the first three months of this project over 8.4 million Vietnam Dong (AU$514) was saved across participating communities; a huge saving for families and the environment, achieved by children. Furthermore, it is hoped that the knowledge and skills children have gained during this action campaign will remain with them for life, by saving resources and money children are learning to building the capacity of households to cope with unforeseen impacts of climate change.

The children’s club and home assessment are part of a broader Save the Children’s “Child -Centered Climate Resilience” in Tien Giang Province which aims to support children and their communities to manage the impacts of climate variability and to increase the government body’s responsibility in meeting the needs of vulnerable children and communities.

Save the Children launch project to support vulnerable communities to mitigate the impact of disasters

Save the Children and  Prudential Vietnam yesterday launched a programme in partnership to support communities in disaster-affected areas of Dien Bien, Hai Phong and Tien Giang. This three- year programme aims to increase the disaster preparedness and resilience of 6,000 vulnerable children and 30,000 community members.


The Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) in Vietnam project aims to improve the safety of 12 schools, reducing the risk and impacts of disasters, through training for teachers and children on disaster preparedness and methods to reduce the consequences of disasters. The project will also support communities to organise disaster prevention drills and develop plans for better resilience, as well as advocating for the use of risk reduction education in communities and schools.

The project is funded by Prudence Foundation and implemented by Save the Children in coordination with the Ministry of Education and provincial centres for flood and storm control from 2015 to 2017.

Every year, two million people are estimated to be affected by the frequent storms and typhoons that hit Vietnam. The majority of them are children who are living in high risk areas. In 2013, the country was hit by 13 storms including two devastating typhoons: Nari and Wutip which caused the death of 87 people and an estimated US$275 million of damages.

Wilf Blackburn, CEO of Prudential Vietnam said: “Prudential Vietnam’s mission is to touch and enhance every Vietnamese household. As a leading provider of insurance, reducing and mitigating the impact of risk is of utmost importance to our business. CSR is an effective way for us to reach out to as many people as possible and children are always one of Prudential Vietnam’s priorities. They are the future of any country, but unfortunately, are often the most vulnerable. We have initiated a number of child-focused activities to date such as offering scholarships and our Breath of Life campaign to help newborn babies, which have been well recognised by the government, local authorities and communities.”

“In 2015, there will be many other projects and initiatives focusing on children and this DRR project is one of them. We are very happy to have Save the Children as the partner for this meaningful programme, from which thousands of children will benefit. In the event of an emergency they will be able to protect themselves and help keep others safe.”

Save the Children’s Country Director Gunnar Andersen said: “Save the Children has 20 years of experience in emergency response and disaster risk reduction in Vietnam. Children are always the most vulnerable during emergencies and Save the Children works to ensure they are safe and protected”.

“In partnership with Prudence Foundation, we work closely with local partners to support vulnerable communities, including children, to better prepare for natural disasters. We have provided them with knowledge and skills in order to reduce the negative impacts of natural disasters, and to build a more comprehensive and effective model of child-focused, community-based disaster risk management in disaster prone provinces. By empowering individuals, this project is expected to have a long lasting impact on communities which will ultimately save lives.”

Prudence Foundation has been supporting DRR programmes in Vietnam since 2012. In collaboration with Save the Children, the Foundation has previously funded a project to increase awareness of disaster risk reduction and the possible negative impacts of climate change for children and community members in disaster prone locations in two Mekong River Delta provinces of Dong Thap and Tien Giang from 2013-2014.

Read in Vietnamese Press Release – March 30 – Vietnamese

Put smiles on a child’s face


One of the most rewarding bonuses in my job is that I get to see what impact our programme have made on children. I have witnessed the interaction between a child and his/her sponsor and how this relationship means to the child.

It was my second day of working at the project site. I had to deliver a sponsor’s letter to a six-year old girl – Thuy. She is a very shy and didn’t want to say a word to us as Save the Children’s staff. I have a poor experience of working with children at her age. Thuy speaks only basic Kinh or Vietnamese language and she just started to learn writing. Later, I learned that she was happy to receive a letter from her “big friend” [our private sponsor] from a foreign country but she was a little shy to show her joy of seeing the letter.

After that day, I started to be dipped in work other than delivering letters to our sponsored children. Together with local community volunteers, we organize events and activities to improve children’s living and education environment and conduct household visits to deliver letters from our sponsors. I have had more opportunities to see the joy in the eyes of children we are supporting when they received letters from “their friends”.

But the girl I met for my first working day was really impressive so that I would like to come back to see her. I just received another letter from Thuy’s sponsor so I asked my supervisor for a chance of delivering the letter for her, and I got it.

It took two hours to get to Thuy’s house on a 20km mountain route. Thuy was playing with her friends and became quiet again when she saw me. After I suggested that I could take some photos for her, she was getting a bit more comfortable. When I told her that I was bringing another letter from her sponsor, she was suddenly excited. She took the letter, opened the letter and read it slowly. She became friendly and even asked me to stay with her family.

 On the way back to the office, I was thinking if there is someone out there who cares for a child’s life, he/she absolutely put a smile on the child’s face. What else could be more important than a child’s smile?

Letter Delivery Brightens Everyone’s Day

After traveling winding roads through the mountains of northwestern Vietnam, I finally arrive at the school. Being given the chance to deliver sponsor letters is always the most enjoyable task. Seeing me, children wave their hands and give big smiles, with visible curiosity in their eyes. “It’s so great. This is the first time I got a letter from a person living in another country. It’s also amazing that my sponsor is Vietnamese. You see, he knows Vietnamese and he writes me in Vietnamese. I’m so happy.” says Duc, a third grader. Hoang Thi Huyen (11400281) shows the letter she writes for her sponsor Ngan, 7 years old, jumps up and down when receiving a letter from his Italian sponsor. “Let’s see the photo and letter my friend gave me. That’s an adorable girl. She is 7 years old, just like me. She is really pretty, right?” Ngan asks me while reading the letter from her sponsor. Like Duc and Ngan, the other sponsored children show bright smiles whenever I deliver their sponsor letters. “I’m really excited. I have never heard about America before and I know nothing about it. Now, through my sponsor’s letters and photos, I know what it looks like…. Well, there is a very beautiful sea there.” Tu, a first grade student, shares. “I will tell him about my friends and school. I like drawing very much. I will draw pictures for him.” Nguyen Thi Kim Ngan (11400279) show the letter she gets from her sponsorAfter saying goodbye to the children, I leave the school with my bag full of letters and drawings and feel so happy. Connecting children from this mountainous area to their sponsors living on the other side of the earth is such meaningful work

The biggest gift of Mother’s Day

By Lim Lynette

As a child growing up, I remember my mother saving the best cuts at dinner for me, making sure my clothes were ironed, that I had books for school and saw a doctor every time I ran a temperature. At that tender age, I already knew that all a mother ever wants is for her children to be healthy, develop well and thrive when they grow up.

But what the best mothers have to offer is sometimes simply not good enough. In urban slums, rural and remote areas where many mothers themselves are malnourished, lack social protection, and access to health services and education, what she can offer her child can be extremely limited.

Simply put, a mother’s greatest dream is for a child that survives and thrives, but it remains a dream for many in South East Asia.

That is not to dismiss great strides made in parts of the region. On Save the Children’s 2014 State of the World’s Mothers report, Singapore has again been ranked 15th out of 178 countries, ahead of Japan, New Zealand, UK and USA. Cambodia (ranked 132nd) and Vietnam (ranked 93rd) have both made significant improvements in maternal and child health over the past 15 years; Cambodia reduced lifetime risk of maternal mortality by two thirds while Vietnam reduced that by half.Children in Thailand (ranked 72nd) are now 40% less likely to die before their fifth birthday than they were 15 years ago.

Indeed, these overall improvements are impressive but they also mask huge disparities in terms of maternal and child well-being. These can be in terms of the divide between the rich and the poor or between urban and rural communities. In both Cambodia and Vietnam, a child living in rural or mountainous areas is 2.5 times more likely to die than a child living in an urban area. In Laos, less than 5 per cent of the poorest quintile have trained help when they deliver their babies, compared to 90 per cent in the richest quintile.

Globally, nearly half of the 6.6 million children dying each year die because their bodies are so weak from lack of the right nutrients to fight off common illnesses. Many babies are born small as a direct result of malnourished mothers, which highlights the critical importance of better nutrition for women and girls. In Cambodia alone, 40 per cent of the children are stunted, many of them from poor and rural communities. Children who are stunted at a young age will not develop mentally and physically as they should, making it even harder for them to break out of the poverty cycle.

Breast milk is widely regarded as one of key solutions to protecting infants from stunting. It is the single best source of food and nutrients for any infant – breastfed babies are less likely to be malnourished, have stronger immune systems, less susceptible to obesity and diabetes later in life, and have a higher IQ than non-breastfed babies. Mothers who breastfeed their babies too are less likely to die from post-partum hemorrhage and contract ovarian and breast cancer later on.

Yet because mothers are not provided with a supportive environment to breastfeed their children, many are on formula or other liquids at just a couple of weeks or months old. Mothers working in informal sectors do not have the maternity leave they need, some are unaware of the benefits of breastfeeding due to aggressive marketing of breast milk substitutes, while others lack support to persevere in exclusive breastfeeding.

Women also need protection in order to have babies only when their bodies are ready to conceive and deliver. A teenage girl is twice as likely to die from pregnancy complications as a woman in her twenties. In parts of South East Asia, teenage pregnancy is on the rise and with a lack of sex and reproductive health education and availability of safe abortion services, girls are left having unprotected sex and seeking illegal abortions to handle unplanned pregnancies. For instance, Thailand currently has the highest rate of teenage pregnancy in the region, at 54 per 1,000 live births, with many other girls seeking illegal abortions as the country forbids it except for cases of rape or serious risk to the mother’s health.

In order to improve the well-being of mothers and children, deliberate choices need to be made by families, communities, corporates and governments to support and protect them. It is ensuring that every mother and child has access to a health worker, is supported in breastfeeding, protected from childbirth until a suitable age and is able to go to school.

All a mother wants is for her child to survive and thrive. This Mother’s Day, Save the Children calls on families, communities, corporations and governments to give mothers the best gift they could ever ask for: a supportive environment for them to raise their children.

Op-ed – SEEA Version Final-Vietnamese


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