LIN Series: Empowering Vietnamese Women Through Culinary Arts
This article was written by Guest Blogger Dana R.H. Doan of the LIN Center for Community Development (LIN). LIN is a new resource for local not-for-profit groups, individuals and corporate philanthropists based in and around Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. This article marks the first of a series of publications from LIN on Vietnam Talking Points (VTP) to shed light on the truth about philanthropy work in Vietnam. Read more about LIN below.
On Monday, March 1st, LIN met with Quyen and Kim Em, two of twenty-three recipients coming from the Mekong Delta who received scholarships to participate in a six-month culinary arts program in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. The scholarship program is an initiative of the An-Giang-Dong Thap Alliance for the Prevention of Trafficking (ADAPT), which is a project of the Pacific Links Foundation, a US 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. The vocational program is made possible with support from Chefs Without Borders.
According to Ms. Suong, the program’s representative in Ho Chi Minh City, candidates for this program include young women – aged 16 to 25, who are at risk of being trafficked due to their socio-economic situation. To be eligible for this vocational training program, prospective candidates must demonstrate an interest in cooking, a willingness to live independently, and a perceived commitment to earning a sustainable income.
Quyen and Kim Em were part of the first cohort of women to join this program. Quyen, 24 years old, from An Giang Province, clearly has a passion for food. “I really like to cook,” Quyen said, “we were taught to make over seventy dishes… we learned how to decorate dishes and we learned about nutrition and food safety.” Kim Em, 20 years old from Dong Thap Province added, “I learned how to decorate and cook many different nutritious dishes… and I also made new friends.”
After graduation, with the help of the Saigon Tourist teaching staff and ADAPT representatives, Quyen and Kim Em both secured jobs at Quan Ngon De Nhat, a Saigon Tourist restaurant located in Tan Binh District in HCMC. They each signed a labor contract guaranteeing a starting monthly salary of VND 1.8 million (about USD $100) with health benefits. Additionally, if they do their work well and do not take any extra days off, they are eligible to receive a monthly bonus of VND 250,000. Under the contract, they are required to work eight-hours a day, six days a week.
Kim Em has already felt a positive impact from participating in this program. Having found work in HCMC once before, where her previous company demanded that the staff work twelve hours a day, six days a week, for less money.
Aside from professional and emotional support, ADAPT staff also support their scholarship recipients in making the transition from studying to working. They do this by covering the cost of basic health care, providing an income supplement for the first six months of their employment and by training each of the women in personal savings. ADAPT even offers to match the women’s monthly savings, up to VND 500,000, for the first year after graduation so long as their savings is not accessed during that year.
“The reason we encourage individual development accounts [IDA] is so that the women can learn how to live on their own,” explained Kim Dam who works for Pacific Links. “In the past, we found that the women would send every Dong they earned back to their families, not leaving enough money to take care of themselves.” Through this savings scheme, both Quyen and Kim Em have managed to put VND 500,000 into their savings account every month, which is then doubled by ADAPT. They both still send VND 1 million home, every month, to their families, leaving just enough money to cover rent and about USD $10 in spending money. (Their labor contract includes two free meals a day at the restaurant).
Both Quyen and Kim Em’s families are supportive of their participation in the vocational training program and their current jobs in Ho Chi Minh City. Both women reported feeling more confident after returning to their hometowns because, they said, their neighbors showed greater respect for them than they had before joining the program. Quyen laughed when she thought about returning home to her family because, she said, “My mother is a vegetarian so I guess she will never know how good my food tastes.”
When asked whether either woman planned, or hoped, to return to their hometowns in the near future, Quyen was quick to express her desire to stay in HCMC. “I like the food here. The variety of dishes is so exciting… Besides,” she added, “it is good for me to stay in HCMC because I can continue to study and become a chef.” For different reasons, Kim Em also hopes to stay and work in Ho Chi Minh City, simply because there are more job opportunities for her compared with her home town (Also check out raw footages from LIN’s interview with Quyen and Kim Em below).
About the Pacific Links Foundation and ADAPT
ADAPT (An Giang/ Dong Thap Alliance for the Prevention of Trafficking) is a collaborative effort of three Vietnamese-American non-governmental organizations: the Pacific Links Foundation (PALS), the International Children Assistance Network and the East Meets West Foundation. PALS is the implementing partner for ADAPT, which seeks to prevent the trafficking of young girls and women by enhancing their educational attainment and improving their vocational choices through a supportive web of services. PALS operates a shelter for trafficking victims in the Mekong Delta and expects to open another shelter for trafficking victims in Lao Cai in 2010. For more information about PALS’ vocational training programs, please visit their website or contact ADAPT by email at: firstname.lastname@example.org or by telephone in the US at: 510.435.3035, or in Vietnam at: 076.3853.888.
How to Support PALS/ADAPT
Volunteer: Pacific Links Foundation welcomes volunteers who would be willing to act as mentors to graduates of their culinary vocational training program. Only women volunteers are requested. The ideal candidate might spend two days each month with one or more of the women, talking with them over lunch or coffee, taking them to a movie or other form of entertainment, etc. In the future, ADAPT hopes to introduce lifeskills training to compliment this vocation training program, and this will offer more volunteer opportunities.
Donate (In-Kind and/or Cash): Currently, the program staff is looking for funds and/or in-kind contributions to cover the cost of the following products and services:
- USD $1,630 to sponsor one woman in the Culinary Arts Vocational Training Program (refer to note below);
- USD $100 per scholarship recipient to purchase items and services required by Saigon Tourist throughout the six-month program; Dental services; Medical services; Bicycles for graduates; Food vouchers (for outlets near their homes and/or place of work); Uniform shoes; Rice cookers; Weekly fruit supplements; and/or A sponsored retreat, for all of the women in the program (now 40 people), to Binh Chau, Vung Tau or Da Lat. The retreat would provide an opportunity for PALS to bolster life skills among the women.
Note: Participants in PALS’ Culinary Arts Vocational Training Program receive the following support during their training program and for the first six months after job placement:
- Tuition, fees and supplies (paid at the beginning of the 6-month training course);
- Room rental for Saigon Tourist School’s dormitory (paid at the beginning of the training);
- Food stipend (provided weekly);
- Starting care package and transportation; including a mid-program trip home to visit family;
- Emotional support throughout and after the training;
- Provide health insurance to those who qualify to buy and cover dental hygiene services for those who need it;
- Provide job placement support through savings matching, income bolstering through the first 6-12 months of employment;
- Provide income supplement for the first 6 months of employment in the field, amounting to 15% salary earned (currently averaging $15/month);
- Provide rent subsidy for 10% of rent for the first 6 months of employment in the field (currently averaging $10/month); and
- Other fees to cover necessary initial logistics that will help to ensure a sense of safety for the young women.
About the LIN Center for Community Development
Launched in August 2009, the LIN Center for Community Development is a new resource for local not-for-profit groups, individual and corporate philanthropists based in and around Ho Chi Minh City. LIN seeks to promote community alliances and facilitate the matching of community resources to improve access to opportunities for all members of Vietnamese society. At the heart of LIN’s establishment was the belief that local people and local groups are best placed to recognize and respond to the needs in our community.
While most attention to charitable work and poverty alleviation in Vietnam has focused on rural areas, the goal of LIN is to tackle urban poverty and increasing inequality. Our model depends upon local not-for-profit organizations (NPOs) and philanthropists being able to coordinate regularly to address local needs. For this reason, LIN is piloting our model in and around Ho Chi Minh City. In the future, we hope to replicate the model in other urban areas of Vietnam.
LIN’s next publication on VTP will include more details on the group’s stakeholders and core services. In the mean time, check out their website or contact them at info@LINvn.org for more information.