In 2017 my partner, Ian and I set off on a few adventures mostly involving motorbikes as Ian is a truly passionate biker. Two of these outings involved visiting a couple of charities. We had such a wonderful experience learning about them, getting involved with them, writing about them and then promoting them, that I wanted to do more and learn more.
So, at the turn of 2018, we set off again to Asia, first stop Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam, where we got acquainted with the organisation called ‘The Little Rose Shelter’.
Article written by Hazel Arnold.
As a trustee for a charity called Charity Needs Foundation which promotes and profiles other charities and non profit organisations, I really had to take advantage of our personal adventure to do something worthwhile. Before setting off, we did what we have done before, which was to find a bonafide organisation who we could help whilst in that country — Vietnam. We came across ‘Little Rose Shelter’ which is an organisation that provides a place of safety for young vulnerable girls from the age of twelve to eighteen years old. What they do is protect these girls in a shelter from dangers such as human trafficking, exploitative employment, sexual abuse and neglect due to poverty. The shelter provides them with a place to live, promotes their physical and physiological well-being, keeps them healthy and raises awareness to prevent them from being caught up in those dangers which prevent children from going to school and gaining an education.
In Vietnam there is little help for victims and their families to prevent all the above happening. Sexual abuse is a very taboo subject and can cause embarrassment for families. Some children are forced into going to work and being exploited due to poverty. Within some families drug and alcohol abuse can also play a part in all these factors. There is no free education, families have to pay and quite often children end up not going to school because of the expense. The fees add up to about 500,000VND which is about £17 a month per child (not much in the western world, but in Vietnam, a huge bill). The average wage for families in Vietnam can range from 2,400,000VND: per month in rural areas which equates to £107. It raises to 3,120,000VND: per month in urban areas which is equivalent to £140 and is considered a poor household wage.
This is a huge factor in children missing out on having a proper education and opportunities they deserve, particularly for girls. Worst case scenario is, they end up being trafficked into other countries like China, to marry, as there is a high male to female ratio in China. Girls that end up in this situation are treated very badly and are generally sold into prostitution.
I tried a few times to make initial contact with ‘Little Rose Shelter’, but to no avail, however, I wasn’t deterred. I eventually found a lady called Josette who was involved in fundraising for the Shelter. We made contact and arranged to meet in the evening on the day we arrived. Josette is a teacher at an International school in Ho Chi Minh. Along with a group of other teachers they do an amazing amount of fundraising for the Shelter. Josette went on to explain they were having a few issues with the web and email contact details to the Shelter which is now being addressed and ironed out. I was assured that by the the time this article is published, it will all be in order.
Josette explained clearly how the Shelter worked and the goals they were working towards for the girls in care of the Shelter.
Ms Thien is the lady who runs the Shelter helped by a couple other ladies Ms Van, who is a social worker and Ouyn (pronounced Win) who was one of the girls at the Shelter when she was sixteen. Oyun wanted to originally train as a social worker, but she found out that the Shelter needed an accountant, so she trained in accounting instead and now fulfills that role at the Shelter. Josette spoke highly of Ms Thein and how she works tirelessly for the girls welfare.
It costs about £35,000 per annum to keep the shelter going which relies solely on donations and sponsorship to run. One of the aims of the Shelter is to teach the girls how to be self sustainable and that’s what they are doing. Last year the girls made cards to sell to help raise money for their toiletries and personal care. They have also had help from their team of amazing fundraisers to set up a bakery with the view of supplying local restaurants.
A couple of days after our first contact with Josette we met her after work to be taken by taxis to the Little Rose Shelter which everyone here calls the Shelter.
Hidden deep within Ho Chi Minh city is an oasis of safety for the girls that live there. The city is very busy and buzzy wherever you go, I don’t think I have ever seen so many motorbikes. There seems to be no particular rules to the roads and the only way across one is to walk out at a steady speed and keep going. It was daunting at first, but we soon got the hang of it.
We were dropped off on the main road and headed down a side street with shops of all sorts, either side and soon found ourselves outside the gated Shelter. Josette had explained about a huge crack in the wall which appeared to be due to subsidence, but as it was dark by the time we got there we couldn't really see it, so we arranged to go back in daylight for this.
We went through the gate and were welcomed by a couple of the girls and then taken into the main room which was like a school hall in a L shape. In the first area (the long part of the L) there was four girls playing ‘Da Cau’ between themselves (Originally a Chinese traditional sport called Jianzi which has varying names depending on the country it’s being played in). Players aim to keep a heavily weighted shuttlecock in the air by using all parts of their body excluding their hands. All the girls stopped and came over to welcome us. Josette introduced us to them — Phuong Anh, Hoa Mai, Giang and Tuyen. We later learned that the girls slept here in this room too. The volunteers had raised money for new mattresses and pillows for the girls. Among those playing was one girl that had recently left and was now attending university. Phuong Anh who has turned eighteen is now staying in the halls of residence at the university.
At the right hand side of the room was an office which caused the L shape. The entrance to it was by the short part of the L shape, so the office filled in the space of the L. This is where the two ladies Ms Van and Oyun who helped Ms Thein were situated. One of them was at the computer desk and the other lady came over to say hello. Ms Thein appeared and we were introduced. Josette has a great relationship with Ms Thein and although there was a language barrier they had learned to communicate very well indeed.
We agreed to go and see the older girls in the bakery before continuing on our tour and as we walked out of the door into the short part of the L shape room, we meet Jeronimo who is Spanish. He works as IT Support at the International School, but was busy developing a new website for the Shelter. We said our hellos and passed through a dark room and another door into a bright room which was the bakery. It was split into two and had been freshly painted by the volunteers. It was kitted out with ovens, big stainless steel catering tables and other baking equipment that had been donated to them.
We found the older girls Lan Anh, Van Anh, Tuyen and Lan, all dressed in smart baking clothes with lovely red hats standing at a second stainless steel table, measuring and mixing, under the watchful eye of Elena who is the wife of Jeronimo. Elena has high qualifications in bakery and once had her own successful business in Spain before they moved to Vietnam.
Elena was very proud of how sparkling clean her cooking area was and the fact they only used environment friendly products. I watched her guide the girls through the process of measuring and saw she had a lovely way with them. I'm sure we were a little distracting, but they carried on nevertheless. I could feel how everyone was jolly and excited by us being there.
Initially the bakery was Ms Thein’s idea so Josette organised for a business teacher to go over the idea, which they felt needed a focus. Vicki Mole, another teacher from the International School, started putting recipes together for muffins, then went to the Shelter to help the girls with baking them. Eventually Elena came in to teach the girls to bake cookies which is where they are now. Vicki and Josette, along with Jeronimo, all look after the marketing side of the bakery.
I met Vicki at the bakery and we chatted about the future of how the bakery could help the Shelter become self sustainable and teach the girls good work ethics to then go on and make good decisions in their future.
1: Preparing the mix
2: Into the mixer
3: Getting ready for work
4: Girls piping the cookies
5: Excitement of the task
6: A proud moment and job well done
7: The finished product
There was a huge problem with parents being involved in prostitution especially around the end of the Vietnam war, which the Vietnamese refer to as the American War. There was approximately 300,000 women involved in the industry and this resulted in an estimated 50,000 children being born. These children are not accepted as Vietnamese and are referred to as Amerasia or bui obi, which means dirty. The government realised there was a serious problem and soon became aware they would need help, which was asked for from NGOs like the Ho Chi Minh Child Welfare Foundation (HCWF). Many centres were set up and the Shelter’s building became a school for those children in particular. It wasn’t until 1992 that use of the building changed to the Shelter as it is today.
I went back through to the office to chat with Ms Thien and Josette joined us, which was a valuable help to me. Ms Thien gave us a brief history of the Shelter and how it came to be.
As there is not much help for families who live in poverty, and as mentioned earlier on, education is not free (fees change based on time spent, as a child can attend for half a day or a full day depending on age), families that have many children often cannot afford these fees, therefore their children end up not going to school. There are other factors why the girls get referred to the Shelter, which can be anything from poverty, having a single parent (due to loss of a partner), alcohol abuse, sexual abuse or the girls being mixed up with the wrong friends, which in turn leads them to dropout of school.
The girls come to the Shelter through a few routes, either government social workers or by the police if they are found to be in an unsafe environment. Even family members who feel they can not give their daughters an education often apply to the Shelter for help.
Ms Thein came to work here in 2000 she qualified to be a social worker via an Open University degree, then went on to work in a centre to help people with drug addiction. Having her own children inspired her to come and work in the Shelter. Ms Thien offers the girls a safe place to live and a chance to go to school as well as help with any physical and physiological issues the girls need to address. This gives the girls a chance to grow and become their own person so they can go on to have a better life. I saw this shine through the whole time we were there, the sense of family was phenomenal between the girls, the volunteers and Ms Thein.
Phoung Anh came into the room, (I had chatted to her earlier) and when I explained that I wanted to record the conversation she seemed a little nervous. To put her mind at rest, I told her I was nervous too and that I had only done this a couple of times before. She relaxed and went on to tell me that her parents had divorced and her Mum had three children, her being the eldest. Although her mum worked she didn’t earn enough to send Phoung Anh to school, so she went to live in another shelter. She came to the Shelter about a year ago and has now left to study business at Saïgon University. She wanted to do fashion design, but the entry exams were very hard. Regardless, she will have a good foundation when she achieves her business degree. She has a scholarship that pays towards her fees of 9,000,000VND — that's 9 million per term = 18,000,000VND per year (2 semesters) equates to approx 800USD / 560GBP per year: It’s divided so it partly comes from the ILA (Teach English Center) and also from Future Projects which is a pot of funds the HCWF have set aside purely for this purpose.
Phuong Anh works in a local Circle shop, which is chain of corner shops very similar to our One Stop convenience shops in England. Phuong Anh enjoys one day a week spending time with friends and listening to her music.
I asked Phuong Anh if she still saw her family and she told me they lived in the north of Vietnam 100 km from Hanoi, the journey takes approximately 36 hours to get there by train. She visits them twice a year, once at Tet, the Vietnamese New Year celebration, and then again in the summer.
Josette joined in here about having a foundation program for the girls when they go to university. She explained it could help the girls out financially, although Ms Thein would decide what the funds would be spent on and if appropriate, but it would definitely be for ongoing support through the later stages of teenage life or guidance for budgeting their money. Josette is full of energy and passion and is eager to start this to have it in place for the younger ones later on. I pause here, truly amazed with the commitment of such an energetic group of people who have come together for a great cause, one that truly shines through in the girls.
I asked Ms Thein about visits from volunteers and if she would be happy for them to come. She assured me she would, but they wouldn’t be able to stay at the Shelter as the government requires an application for people to stay. They do check if you have the right paperwork.
We stayed at a hotel and during that whole time the hotel kept our passports for this same reason. It’s really cheap to stay in Ho Chi Minh and a contribution to help with food would be required if you wanted to volunteer here.
Ian kept busy by taking pictures and spoke to Jeronimo about their website. While he did that, the girls took some pictures with Ian’s camera of the cookies they made, and they absolutely loved doing that.
We returned the next day to take pictures of the crack and spent an hour walking around in circles trying to find the Shelter. With my phone battery getting very low and only having poor WiFi, we stopped for a quick coffee and to regroup. We managed to speak to Josette and as we were doing this, out of the blue, the familiar side street we were looking for appeared. Both of us let out one huge sigh of relief.
There to welcome us again were the girls who were in the kitchen having dinner. We didn’t stay too long, but I was glad we found the Little Rose Shelter that day. It’s a pure oasis in the middle of chaos and lurking dangers. It’s there as protection for the young and vulnerable, who are embraced by a wonderful lady, helped by a team of fundraisers and volunteers, who all do an amazing job with dedication to this fabulous cause.
1: Girls having dinner
2: Entrance to the Shelter
3: The crack
4: The crack — close-up
5: Streets of Vietnam.
6: Street traders
7: A delicacy of Vietnam
8: Bitexco Financial Tower
9: An American War Tank.
Since I have been back in the UK I have spoken to Josette and learned the bakery had an order for 300 cookies for Valentines Day,
And hey, if there are any bakers out there that could give Elena a hand in teaching the girls skills in bakery, that would great.
and they have enough money to fix the crack on the wall. The website issues are being addressed too. This is a really forward moving worthwhile cause to be involved with and I would certainly recommend a visit just to feel the energy.
What’s more, you get to see the real Ho Chi Minh.
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Head/Cover picture by Ian Russell for charityneeds.com
Article written by Hazel Arnold
Article edited by Jonathan Fleming
Video — Little Rose Shelter — A CNF Article Film, edited by Jonathan Fleming
Released 27th April 2018 at 06:00.
Modified — Never
Credits from CNF:
Thank you to Little Rose Shelter for being so open with the access you presented to CNF for this article.