“We are all tiny drops of water in a vast ocean.” That impactful statement was shared by an incredibly talented group of secondary school students during our adventure in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.
This week coincides with several celebrations for the former prime minister, Ho Chi Minh. Each school we visited treated us to beautiful performances with songs and dances, some traditional and others contemporary. The performances were a great welcome and calm before the hard work began. Leaving my mark as an IKEA IWitness Ambassador in the gardens and walls of the schools is a true treasure. The children each have a special place in my heart, as do the trees we planted and walls we painted. Both landscapes forever changed.
I was able to witness the IKEA Foundation contributions first hand. Before I divulge too much, we need to be on the same page about the pressures of the children, parents, and teachers in Ho Chi Minh City. We learned the cost of education for parents includes uniforms, books, food and utilities. The children attend school from 7:00am until about 4:15pm. A family member will pick them up and drive them to additional lessons, usually from 6:00pm until 9:00pm.
The students shared their feelings about the pressures of being a good student, to achieve high marks, but with a strong desire for more time with their parents and play. The children also would like their teachers to smile more. The parents were open and honest about the pressures they have to work to live, and raise children who are good students so they can be successful in life.
Teachers are seeking more support from the parents, encouraging them to talk with their children. They too have pressure to produce high achieving students. Considering the amount of time the teachers spend with the children, it is vital the teachers have the resources available. Resources such as a counsellor to support the students, parents and teachers.
Here’s the really amazing part of IKEA’s contributions…we had the honour of meeting the sole counsellor of secondary school Nguyen Du. The counsellor has his own office, a safe space, which would not be possible without the IKEA Foundation partnership with Save the Children. Children have direct access to a smiling face, a library stocked with social and emotional books, and a safe space to share their feelings. Even more amazing, Nguyen Du is the highest achieving school in Ho Chi Minh City. The evidence of success and the feeling of happiness is contagious at this school.
Even with the pressures on all, each person we encountered was incredibly welcoming. Smiles all around, despite the choking humidity. Save the Children is working diligently with the schools participating in their programme to provide resources. Whether the focus is on helmets for children who are riding motorbikes, or educating the educators on positive reinforcement rather than corporal punishment, or bringing parents together in a safe place so they can share their feelings together—it is all awesome work. Truly awe-inspiring, hard work!
I was gifted with smiles, hugs and experiences I will never forget. Perhaps the most treasured gift I will take with me is the honesty so many shared with this stranger. In a city of 13 million people, 7.5 million motorbikes and a growing migrant population, I learned so much about being a good person and parent. Constantly on the way, right? Well, this tiny drop of water is certainly sharing more smiles and time with others. Paying it forward after all of the priceless smiles and time shared with me.