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  • Writer's pictureSinit Lijam

The Let Me Learn Initiative and An Interview with Ms Chau Doan of Room to Read Vietnam

By Nadeen Elkordy and Michael Hodgson

Children's education is at risk across the world. From the Taliban in Afghanistan's decision to ban all girls from studying at secondary schools to the politicization and propagandization of school curricula worldwide or cultural barriers preventing fair and equitable access to education, there are many challenges faced by children's learning. According to UNICEF's latest Global Annual Results Report, only 43% of the world's countries have just education access, and only 19% have achieved gender parity.

As part of our #LetMeLearn initiative, UNICEF at the University of Michigan had the wonderful opportunity to interview Ms Chau Doan of Room to Read Vietnam. Room to Read is a non-profit charitable organization aiming at improving children's literacy and eradicating gender inequality in education across the world, though particularly in under-educated communities. The charity, which recently received a UNESCO award for girls' and women's education, believes that positive world change begins by educating the children of the world.

Ms Doan is a Senior Communications Officer at the charity's Vietnam branch. In Vietnam, girls are often not given the chance to receive an education, particularly in lower-income areas. This is partly due to cultural factors, and partly as they lack a reliable and consistent way of getting to and from their schools. Economic isolation and extensive poverty only complicate the matter.

For those without the time to watch the full interview (which can be found on the UNICEF website or right here), here are some of the key questions and their takeaways:

What impact does the lack of education equality have on the communities you work with as a whole, and what does Room to Read do to help?

Ms Doan has worked at Room to Read in Vietnam for twenty years. At first, she depicts how Room to Read used to focus more on financial and material support of education through donations. Over time though, the organization evolved to meet the various other needs of the girls they worked with. They began working with families and communities to help them further understand how to help the girls develop confidence and the importance of their education. Since coming to Vietnam, Room to Read has positively impacted over two million children’s lives.

Lack of education for girls affects the community as a whole because our future depends on the level and quality of education of all individuals in a community. If a large portion of the population is not receiving adequate education, then that limits the opportunities of the community as a whole. Ms Doan explains how proud Room to Read is that they emphasize the importance of working closely with teachers and libraries through training in order to improve curricula and enhance their abilities.

What is your favorite part of working at Room to Read?

Ms Doan explains that connecting donors with young Vietnamese children is particularly fulfilling. As she points out, Room to Read has the opportunity to work with many high-profile donors, including big companies and influential families, and Room to Read’s charitable work provides for the ability to connect children in need of education with these powerful contributors. ‘People become people, they become human.’ She describes how many donors bring their children to remote areas of Vietnam, and these children become friends so easily with their Vietnamese counterparts. She believes that it ‘erases all borders between them and brings them together.’

As students at the University of Michigan, what can we do to help?

There are two principal ways for Michigan students to help Room to Read’s cause. The first of these is fundraising. Ms Doan recalls that a college once had a challenge where they camped in the library for the better part of a week to raise money for a charity. These kinds of creative ideas can be very effective at marketing a cause and gaining donations.

However, it’s not all about money, but also awareness. Consciousness of different languages and cultures, and simply bringing attention to another part of the world is beneficial too. Ms Doan tells us that Room to Read publishes picture books based on the native languages and cultures of places around the world to bring about more cultural awareness. Vietnamese history in particular is very interesting and long (over 4,000 years) and its culture contains many heroines. Increasing knowledge of global cultures is very helpful in assisting Room to Read, and is a relatively easy way of playing a part in positive global change!

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