Thanh, PLAN Program Officer for the
Street Children Project in Hanoi
Hello, my name is Thanh and I run the Street Children
Project in Hanoi for PLAN Vietnam. My favorite part of the job is working
in the field with the children.
People come to Hanoi because it is much easier to make money here than in
the rural provinces. They leave behind their homes to live on the street,
beg, collect rubbish, sell postcards and shine shoes because they can make
5,000 - 10,000 VND per day (14,000 VND = $1USD). People are registered in
their home provinces and are not allowed to move. Because they come to Hanoi
illegally, children are not eligible to attend public school or to receive
other public services.
Some children come to Hanoi alone and some come with their families. Those
who come with their family often have parents die, are abandoned or not
cared for properly.
Children as young as five years old, face
a myriad of adversity every day: They must make enough money to buy
food and water every day. They are easy prey to older children or
adults who can steal from, exploit and abuse them. They have no safe
place to sleep. They do not understand basic hygienic practices or
have access to sanitary facilities so also they also suffer from many
| Some concrete lessons learned from our work on the Street
Children Project in Hanoi:
- When we began the street children project, we tried to help
children return to their homes in rural areas. This did not work.
The kids would just return to Hanoi. We had much more success
with children who came to Hanoi because of conflicts with their
parents than with kids who came to earn a living. With counseling,
we were able to help them resolve their conflicts and reintegrate
them into their families and schools.
Many children came to Hanoi
because they needed to make money and sometimes to support their
families in their home villages. We learned that to help these
kids we needed to directly support their families back in the
rural communities. The families were then able to call their children
back home. However, we were only able to do this in a small number
of selected rural communities and children come to Hanoi from
all over the country. So there is still much work to be done.
- It is not easy to get street children to attend vocational training,
or to have a stable job. After sometime, we learned that some
of the main reasons are:
education background is too low to follow any kind of training.
- They are familiar with life on the street where they have more
freedom, so they feel uncomfortable working in an ordered environment
and following rules.
- In fact they can earn more money hustling
on the street (20,000 - 30,000 VND or $2 USD a day), than they
can at a stable job (15,000 VND a day in general).
We are more successful with vocational training when we talk with and learn
about an individual child (this is mainly done by CPCC staff).
We find out their hobbies, and encourage them to participate in
jobs they like and have the capacity to learn. We also have older
children, who have gotten better jobs and are seeing the benefits
of vocational training, talk with the younger kids.
- We learned it is much easier to have kids, already involved
with the street children project, recruit their friends than to
have counselors go out into the community. Some children are doing
things they know are wrong, like stealing, and they are afraid
the CPCC staff or counselors will criticize them. They are much
more receptive when they hear about the project from their friends.
- The street children project (classes, recreational activities,
etc.) has successes. Some kids become quite different people when
they join our project. They say they feel like they are part of
a family and that they are no longer forgotten.
- In many cases, the kindness of tourists/visitors/people only
makes children dependent on outside assistance. It is then more
difficult to convince a child of the need for an education and
a stable job. Without these skills the child's situation is actually
far worse in the long run.
Drawing at the Warm
Shelter Counseling Center for drop in street children.
PLAN International works with the government's Committee for the Protection
and Care for Children (CPCC) to help the street children by providing basic
healthcare, counseling, education and vocational training.
Sick children must be treated before anything else. Frequently, illnesses
stem from poor hygiene so the child must be taught healthy practices to
Multi-grade class at a temple in the city zoo
PLAN and CPCC programs main focus is to provide the children with a basic
education. Classes are taught at flexible times and at convenient locations
because the children must continue to earn enough money to survive by begging,
shining shoes, collecting rubbish, etc. These classes are taught by volunteer
teachers in whatever location is available, such as the teachers private
home, Buddhist temples or even in the alley. Because of the shortage of
teachers and facilities, children at different grade levels are taught together,
which makes the teachers job that much more difficult.
In addition to a basic education, which includes reading, writing, arithmetic,
history, etc., the students must learn basic social skills and manners appropriate
for children. The student must learn to show up to class on time, proper
respect for the teacher and other adults, appropriate behavior in the classroom,
etc. Essentially, the teacher must teach everything that is normally taught
by a parent. Students in fact refer to their teachers as 'mother'.
Playing board games at the Warm
Shelter Counseling Center for drop in street children.
Students generally love learning and love their teachers. They frequently
show up to class early and try to get siblings and friends to attend.
PLAN and CPCC also provide counseling centers to help children with their
many problems. The centers are a place where the kids can meet together,
play games, draw pictures and have contact with adults they can trust. Counselors
may also intervene on the child's behalf in emergency situations.
If a child is attending classes and behaving well they may also be offered
vocational training such as bread making and stone carving. These are set
up as 'on the job' apprenticeship during which the child learns a trade.
The child does not get paid for several months while they are learning and
they must also continue to attend classes. So the child must make additional
sacrifices to an already difficult life in order to learn a trade.
People living under a bridge
The street children lead hard and desperate
lives. It is very satisfying to see them make a better life for themselves
with just a little assistance. Even though they live on the street,
they are still children. And every child has limitless potential.