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Vietnamese survivor of Nepal blizzard offers travelers home in return for English lessons

Tuesday, October 13, 2015, 11:03 GMT+7
Vietnamese survivor of Nepal blizzard offers travelers home in return for English lessons
Vo Thi My Linh (back, 1st right) and Nhat Phuong, a Volunteer Vietnam House member, sing and dance with children in a VHV class in District 5, Ho Chi Minh City on September 19, 2015.

A Vietnamese girl has launched a project which offers accommodation for travelers, in exchange for free English language lessons for poor children.

>> An audio version of the story is available here


Vo Thi My Linh, founder of the Volunteer House Vietnam (VHV), said her non-profit organization is working with more than 300 volunteer members on around 6 free-of-charge English classes for poor children in Vietnam.

The 26-year-old girl said one of her motivations is how she felt when people admired her as a survivor in the historic Nepal avalanche and blizzard in October last year.

“After the blizzard I suddenly became famous and were featured in the news, someone even made a poem about me,” Linh told Tuoi Tre News in a recent interview.

“People admired me after I survived the calamity, but I think it’s nothing related to bravery. It’s just the survival instinct,” she added. “It’s like when you are chased by a rabid dog, you’ll run for your life.”

Linh was dubbed “the luckiest girl” by many for being able to survive the catastrophic disaster that killed numerous trekkers on a trip to the Thorung La Pass on the Annapurna Circuit mountain range in central Nepal.

Instead of sitting there and admiring her, people should join her to do good things, she said.

Actually, the idea to start VHV came to her when she was in Nepal and had the chance to stay with locals and worked with them doing their daily jobs like teaching and farming.

That was when the Vietnamese explorer started to think of offering places to stay in the form of homestay for travelers coming to Vietnam and asking them to do something in return.

The VHV project was initiated in February under the motto “Home for travelers, English for kids.”

It has so far received between 20-30 foreign volunteers living in Vietnam and travelers in the country for a matter of days or even months.

Many have collaborated to teach English in VHV classes in exchange for places to stay, while others who have homes or choose to stay in hotels teach life skills and offer English language training to the VHV volunteer team.

Linh said her project is in its first phase, building a basic model so that in the future, foreigners could join easily.

“At present, we don’t have many offers from home-owners, or those we do have offers from are located far away from the city’s downtown area, making it hard for our volunteers to travel from there to our classes,” Linh said. “We’re planning to promote our project to the ‘Backpacker Area’ in District 1 and get closer to foreign volunteers.”

“Also, we’re trying to not only offer houses for travelers to stay in but also homestays where they can experience the feeling of family and enjoy their time in Vietnam.”


Luc Gheysens, an Australian volunteer, talks to VHV members during a session on skills in August 2015. Photo: By courtesy of My Linh

Why English?

In explaining the reason why she chooses English as the focus of her project, Linh said, “English is very important.”

In November last year, Linh caught the attention of local media and netizens after she wrote a note on Facebook, saying that it was a letter to the Vietnamese Minister of Education and Training.

In her note, Linh pointed out the unrealistic points of English textbooks in Vietnam after she read the books in Nepal.

“If we see inadequacies, we point out inadequacies, and then we have to do something to fix them,” she said. “If we keep complaining, things cannot get any better.”

The girl who trekked the Thorung La Pass recalled her time in Nepal, saying people there were in deep poverty, living without the Internet, TV or phones but spoke English very well.

“As a person who is not very good at English, I see those who are good at the language having the chance to land well-paid jobs in Vietnam,” she added. “I don’t want language to be a barrier for Vietnamese people.”

“Our target is not how many VHV students we teach but raising people’s awareness of how important English is,” Linh stated. “When people understand the language’s importance, they will learn it voluntarily.”

Identifying a fear of speaking as a weakness in Vietnamese students of English, the VHV founder organizes classes with 10 to 15 learners, ensuring everyone the chance to interact.

Each class lasts 90 minutes, divided into three 30-minute parts for practicing spoken English with given topics, game-playing, and singing.

VHV students are aged from 9 to 12, with priority given to poor children.

Linh said when she first started the project, she was confronted by difficulties like behavioral problems among students and parents who did not pay attention to VHV class times.

She even had to shut down some classes which were out of the VHV team’s control.

However, the volunteers’ work has not gone unnoticed, she said, citing the example of the mother of a naughty child who expressed her thanks to the teacher who she said inspired her son to study at school.

Linh herself was also touched to see three children, whose parents have mental problems and beat them whenever they go to school, keep pursuing their studies despite this and a 4km walk from their house near Tan Son Nhat International Airport to a VHV class in Phu Nhuan District, Ho Chi Minh City.


Children focus on their lesson in a VHV class on September 19, 2015. The class venue is at the club house of an apartment building in District 5, Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Dong Nguyen/Tuoi Tre News

“At first I was nervous to teach a class but I am used to it now,” Nhat Phuong, a VHV member who is in charge of a class, said. “I want to share the luck and the knowledge I have received with disadvantaged kids so that they can have a better future.”

“I’ll try my best,” she added. “After joining this, I know my goal in life is to help people.”


My Linh helps a little boy with his assignment. Photo: Dong Nguyen/Tuoi Tre News

Non-profit, no budget

According to My Linh, the Volunteer House Vietnam project is running without a budget, apart from the VND10 million (US$446) donated by several members to buy the organization’s uniforms.

She said all the activities for classes are funded by VHV members.

“VHV is running independently without any reserved funds, and people donate whatever they have,” Linh said, using the example that the project is offered a lower than market rate price when it comes to printing uniforms.

Last month, tickets for VHV’s charity music show for poor children during the Mid-Autumn Festival were sold out, and the cafés where the events took place in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City offered spaces for free, while the owners all donated to the cause.

“To run the project for a long time, it’s necessary to have a budget,” Linh said.

“However, I want to prove to people that my project can run effectively without one, so that those who want to sponsor or donate in the future would not be confused over whether the organization is effective.”

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