Building A Future for Vietnam

Ascott volunteers upgrade school facilities for countryside children

Issue: Mar 2010

Most of the children at Nang Yen School enjoy school despite the rundown condition of the place
Most of the children at Nang Yen School enjoy school despite the rundown condition of the place

In the agricultural province of Phu Tho, 120 km northwest of the capital city of Hanoi, is a little elementary school called Nang Yen School. Every morning, like thousands of other children all over that province, 178 children aged six to ten gather at a cluster of three single-storey buildings that make up that school to have their daily lessons. But what set these children apart from those in other schools are the conditions under which their classes are conducted.

“The roof leaked when it rained. The lighting in the classrooms was not sufficient for the children. There was only one bulb in each classroom. The windows and doors were broken and they didn’t really have a functioning toilet to speak of,” recalled Pham Vu Hung, an engineer of The Ascott Limited (a subsidiary of CapitaLand), of his first visit to the school.

“I couldn’t believe that there could be a school as rundown as this in the 21st century.”

A mission to give back to society

Pham empathises the children’s schooling conditions
Pham empathises the children’s schooling conditions
Pham was one of two engineers who volunteered for a recent volunteer expedition organized by The Ascott Limited to Nang Yen School to improve the facilities of the school. Most of the residents of Phu Tho live in farms and depend on the sale of green tea and rice products for their livelihood. They see education as a way out of the cycle of poverty. Thus, many families will do all they can to make sure their children go to school, even if the nearest school is far away from their homes. Many of the children have to walk 3 to 4 km to and fro everyday to attend school.

Pham empathises the children’s schooling conditions
Thai Phuong Hoa (centre) bonding together with the children of Nang Yen School, some of whom shared the poems that they enjoy learning at school


The classrooms had only one light bulb each until the Ascott team added three more so the students could study in a well-lit environment
The classrooms had only one light bulb each until the Ascott team added three more so the students could study in a well-lit environment

“We knew about the school’s condition, the poverty in Phu Tho province and Thanh Ba District, in particular the Nang Yen Commune. So we wanted to do our part to improve the educational environment of the students so that they can excel in their studies,” said Thai Phuong Hoa, Director of Sales and Marketing (North Vietnam) for The Ascott Limited and also the co-ordinator of the Nang Yen School project.

“We have a corporate social responsibility culture in the group and the focus of our community efforts are on children as they are the future of any country. Our group philosophy is we ‘build people to build for people’,” added Thai.

A task to include all

In an effort to raise funds for this volunteer project and also to involve as many people as possible in community work, staff at The Ascott Limited’s Somerset serviced residences in Hanoi rented out stall space in the property for the sale of handicraft and baked goods in October 2009. Together, 400 staff raised VND 30 million (US$2,000) in a little more than two months. Another VND 70 million (US$6,300) came from the company’s corporate social responsibility funds. With that sum, Phase One of the project began.

A team that included The Ascott Limited’s marketing team in Vietnam and two engineers from their midst were put together to work with local contractors from January to February 2010 to give Nang Yen School a makeover - a new toilet system, a well for water supply, a water filtration system, new roofs and more lights for the classrooms. This would be the first time that Nang Yen School went through any renovations since it was built 35 years ago.

No task too tough, no road too rough

Pham empathises the children’s schooling conditions
Tran and the children pleased with the upgrading works of the school
Tran Cong Vinh, another engineer who volunteered for the project, was there to provide support for the technical work and to supervise the construction of the toilet.

“My greatest challenge was to learn about construction because at work I mainly deal with electrical engineering. But for this project I had to learn to negotiate with the contractors and supervise their work,” said Tran.

“The smiles of the children when they saw their new toilet more than made up for the effort put in.”

Four trips were organized from Hanoi to Nang Yen over a period of 45 days to ensure work on the school was properly carried out. Each journey took more than four hours.

The school has no running water but depends on a well instead for their water supply
The school has no running water but depends on a well instead for their water supply

“The road conditions of Nang Yen Commune were very bad. And when we got there, it was a shock to see the awful condition of their well and water tank,” said Hoa.

But neither the rough roads nor the dismal state of the school put off the volunteers. In fact, it made them even more determined to do their part to effect change for the better.

“I wanted to use my knowledge in engineering to help the children study in a better school,” said Pham.

Though opportunities to meet the children were limited because most of the work was done in the afternoons after classes were over, the volunteers did get to make a few friends.

“When I first arrived, I took a picture of the children in the classroom. When I returned, I gave each of them a copy of the picture. They were so happy because it has been a long time since they had their pictures taken,” said Pham.

Changed for life

As much as the lives of the children have changed since their school has been transformed, the volunteers themselves have also come away with a revelation or two.

“Pupils from schools in Hanoi must wear sandals or shoes as part of their uniform. But the ones in Nang Yen School can only afford slippers. This is how poor these children from the countryside are. It has made me more aware of how much care they need to have a better life,” said Pham.

1Ascott International Management Vietnam is a division of The Ascott Limited which is a subsidiary of CapitaLand

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