Charitable school building programme celebrates 20 years
  • | TP, | March 12, 2013 08:20 AM

Three members of the Vietnam Children's Fund have worked to build 48 schools throughout Vietnam over the last 20 years.


A school built by Vietnam Children’s Fund in Gia Lai Province

Building schools not statues

Vien Phuong Lan, a member of the volunteer group said the US-based fund was established to raise money for disadvantaged children in Vietnam. She has used a part of her apartment as an office for the fund’s work in Vietnam.

“As this is a charitable fund, we’ve tried to minimise administrative costs to prioritise our main work. We have only three members in Vietnam and aren’t often in the office,” Lan said.

In the 1990s, some US veterans remained so affected by their time in Vietnam that they raised money to build a statue to commemorate those who had died during the war. However, when they returned to Vietnam, they instead decided to build a school as a more fitting memory. A primary school was built in the central province of Quang Tri, a former battle field, in 1993,” she recalled.

An engineer Sam Russell agreed to act as a volunteer to help the construction of schools. He then became director of the fund in Vietnam.

When a project to build the second school in Vietnam started in 1994, Sam needed someone to help communicate with local authorities and people. Vien Phuong Lan, who worked in construction and was good at foreign languages, was invited to join his team.

"At that time I was so busy with my own company. I decided to join Sam’s team with the hope of helping something,” Lan said.

They then invited Nguyen Thi Xuan Thoa, an engineer from the Ministry of Construction to take part in the work.

Travelling to disadvantaged localities

Sam Russell and Thoa (second and third from the left) at the construction site of a school in Nam Dinh Province

“I was studying at makeshift schools during the war. However, many children in underprivileged localities are still studying in similar substandard schools,” Lan noted.

They have travelled throughout the country looking for suitable locations. After they complete the required procedures for the project, the provincial government is responsible for selecting a local contractor for the construction.

“We often build two storey eight-classroom primary schools with two support rooms” she said.

As schools are located in disadvantaged localities, it often takes five to six months to complete construction.

“In some places like Ca Mau, it took us a year to build a school due to difficulties in the transportation of materials. I often have to conduct five trips to the construction site for supervision,” she said.

Contributing more

Students at an old school in Gia Lai

Sam will return to Vietnam at the end of this month to attend the launch ceremony for the 48th school in Vietnam in Dak Lak Province’s Buon Don District.

In order to work as volunteers for the fund, Sam, Lan and Thoa have to overcome a lot of challenges.

Sam’s wife works in other countries, while he spends time in Vietnam. This means she also has to look after their two adopted children.

Meanwhile, Lan has to balance her time for her own company, family and volunteer work.

Over the past 20 years, the fund has helped build 48 schools in over 40 cities and provinces across Vietnam.

“We hope that more donors will contribute to our fund so we can continue our job in the time to come,” Lan added.

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