As a child, back-to-school shopping was something I always looked forward to – shiny notebooks, colourful crayons, a sleek-looking backpack, a new packs of pens, cool highlighters – all the things that helped prepare me for a new school year. I was lucky. Back-to-school shopping is a luxury that many students around the world don’t get to experience.
During my travels in Vietnam, I’ve met smart and motivated children who have so little, and when given a new pen and notebook their eyes sparkled with possibilities and gratitude. I recently learned about Project Sprouts in Hanoi, an organisation run by volunteers that works passionately to provide educational tools and basic items to disadvantaged students in the rural community of Son La. The work that the international and Vietnamese volunteers do through Project Sprouts is the kind that has a ripple effect on the whole community.
Hardships in Son La
While many students in Hanoi and around the world excitedly participated in back-to-school shopping last month, volunteers at Project Sprouts have been brainstorming ways to collect school supplies and basic items for disadvantaged students in Son La Province, situated in the northwest of Hanoi.
In contrast with Son La’s beautiful green mountains is its startling poverty. According to the World Bank’s Vietnam Poverty Analysis report, Son La has an overall poverty headcount of over 70 per cent. Most families make less than $15 (VND334, 710) a month and struggle to provide their children with even the most basic of school supplies.
The children in Son La are mainly of Thai, Hmong, and Kinh ethnic minorities. Showing great desire to learn, some students walk up to an hour or more to and from school each day. Many walk without a backpack to carry their limited school supplies, and during the winter, some walk in the cold without a warm coat.
One school and one student at a time
Project Sprouts’ mission is to work together with friends and local partners in the hill-tribe community of Son La Province, Vietnam to help provide the educational tools necessary for success, one school and one student at a time. In just two years, the volunteers at Project Sprouts have managed to deliver over 500 backpacks and supply kits, as well as 800 coats and boots, and have even constructed two restroom facilities for schools who were previously without access.
Project Sprout’s volunteers meet monthly to brainstorm ideas to help the children of Son La receive the education they deserve, despite the challenging circumstances they are in. The group is diverse – from the US, South Africa, Ireland, Egypt, and Vietnam – but all share a common passion, to support marginalised children to access education. Anita Hummel, the Founder of Project Sprouts said, “We’re trying to make a difference in the lives of these children and to show them that education is important. At Project Sprouts, we believe that education is a way to help alleviate poverty.”
The volunteers are dedicated, and ask their friends, family, and wider network to support the cause. Many meaningful projects have sprung up from their efforts. For example, in Hanoi, Project Sprouts has partnered with the international community and international schools to develop the ‘Buddy Backpacks Programme,’
Project Sprouts has also raised funds and collected supplies through clothing sales and drives. Around October each year, the group makes a trip to Son La to personally deliver these valuable items to students and teachers in local communities. Receiving these items from Project Sprouts is the closest experience to back-to-school shopping for the students.
Many hands make light work
Project Sprouts welcomes new members to get involved brick by brick, tearing down the wall of poverty that deprives the students of Son La from accessing education. Monetary donations help Project Sprouts buy the necessary supplies that can make learning easier and more enjoyable for students and teachers alike. In the near future, Project Sprouts is looking to build more toilets in schools to improve sanitation.
As a volunteer for Project Sprouts, you can help collect donations of schools supplies including writing utensils, crayons, and paper. Since the mountainous region of Son La gets very cold during winter, Project Sprouts also collects winter clothing such as coats, under garments, boots, and socks for boys and girls aged 3-12, to help keep them warm and in good health throughout the year. To show your support for the project connect with Project Sprouts on Facebook and visit the website: http://www.project-sprouts.com.
By Mai Kathryn Brand