I have worked with Ms Nga for almost 8 weeks now and she still manages to amaze me. Even though she is the coordinator of my project, I say work with rather than for, because that is the type of lady she is. She is respected by both international and Vietnamese volunteers because she is such a lovely caring person.
I remember first meeting Ms Nga on my second day in Hanoi. She was so welcoming and friendly which is now my overall impression of Vietnamese people. She has the kindest heart and wants to help wherever she can.
Ms Nga not only lectures in University but she volunteers too. She runs a summer school project for children from low income families who cannot afford to go to English centres. She is very passionate about education and really tries to balance the scales so that all children can have equal educational opportunities.
Ms Nga is great at multitasking. She has often collected me early in the morning to go to the class and then rushed off to teach in University. Then, she would rush back with very little time in between to drop me back to the house I stay in. She also has material prepared for each class. I really don’t know how she manages it all! Yet she does it with such grace and a warm smile.
If all of this generosity wasn’t enough, she has an open door policy with the volunteers and children who go to the classes. Volunteers have gone to her home and had lunch many, many times. When they are finished lunch they are welcome to take a nap in the afternoon. What I find more fascinating is that this is the case even when Ms Nga is not there. People are always welcome.
But it gets better! Ms Nga has converted what would be a living room in her apartment into a library for the children. So in between breaks or after school, children are always welcome to read the wealth of books she has collected to enhance their learning. I really do not know any other person who would do all of this.
She recently organized a school trip to a vocational centre for people with special needs and gave up her Sunday to go there. She collected money to bring to the centre as a way of supporting the people there and what they do. This vocational centre does not receive any government assistance.
My time in Vietnam is drawing to a close but the friendships and memories made here will last a lifetime. I cannot express enough admiration or gratitude to Ms Nga for all of her support and most importantly her friendship the past 2 months.
I know what a caring soul she is and I only hope that by reading the interview below you get a greater understanding of a great woman.
1. Tell me a bit about yourself.
My name is Thanh Nga Pham and I am a chemistry lecturer at Hanoi Univeristy of Education. In the past I studied in Russia, so I only knew about the Vietnamese and Russian languages. Then I came back to Vietnam and in 2012 I started to study English. At the same time I began volunteering in the centre. When it finished I wanted to work with them some more which is why I organized the English community club for children. I contacted a local volunteering organisation to help organize classes for children.
2. You are very passionate about education, from teaching at University to running a not for profit summer project. Can you tell me about this?
As I have mentioned before, I love to work with volunteers because I believe I can learn so much from them and love to learn about them. For example, they are kind and friendly and very punctual. They are always on time. I have learned many things about volunteers. For myself, I also wanted to do volunteer work and I think teaching English is very suitable for me, which is the main thing.
3. Can you explain why the summer classes project is based around low income families?
In Vietnam, there is a division in many schools between public and private schools. In public schools, we pay a little bit of tuition fees to the school. Even though there are a few English lessons, there are no foreigners teaching which means English is taught by Vietnamese teachers. The students cannot afford to pay the tuition to the English centre. For example, in an English centre a 90 minute English lesson costs about $10 and I think it is very difficult for children who want to study English, especially for a long time. That is why I wanted to help them. So I made some queries with a local volunteer organization and I set up this project. In this project I receive only 30,000 Vietnamese Dong in comparison to $10. This goes to the running of the school, such as hiring the hall the classes are in, water for the children and photocopying material for the classes. So it is not a tuition fee but more for being able to run this project. I also use this money for renting transportation for educational trips. Such as bringing the children to the vocational centre today. This is why I do this project and it is my second year running it, which I hope to continue next year.
4. You told me you were thinking about running a project with orphan children. Can you tell me about this?
Yes, so this project finishes in summer as it runs from June until the end of July. After this time the children have to go to school and cannot do this anymore. After this project I would like to begin another project with orphans. The children who don’t have parents live in a centre arranged by a local sos organization. I would like to have volunteers teach one to two classes. I have also invited my son to help me. He will participate as an English teaching assistant with the volunteers. That is why I will set up the class to be smaller in size as there are times where I am very tired from work. Between University, summer classes and experiments for my PhD, after all this I am very tired and my son helps me so much. First of all, for the summer classes he helps me to make photocopies for all the students in the different classes. He also helps me to carry supplies to the classes and I also want to teach him the importance of volunteer projects.
5. You are a very busy woman who gives so much to society. Is there anything you do just for you?
I don’t know. I don’t have any support from the government so I do it for myself. For my hobby, for my enjoyment. I feel when I do charity work through volunteering that I feel much better. So I don’t get any support from my University or my government for this, but I do it because I love it.
6. What one thing about the Vietnamese culture would you like people to know?
I would like to say that even though not all people are good, most Vietnamese people are very kind and friendly and always willing to help. Especially the people from the province.