Daugh­ter’s de­sire spurs char­ity

Saskatoon StarPhoenix - - FRONT PAGE - JEFF DAVIS

When Ken Coates and Carin Hol­royd trav­elled to Viet­nam in 2001, they re­turned with a new fam­ily mem­ber: A seven-month old baby girl named Hana.

At the time, they could hardly have pre­dicted that the adop­tion of one needy child — a large chal­lenge in it­self — was just the be­gin­ning.

Since then the cou­ple founded a char­ity called the Viet­nam Ed­u­ca­tion So­ci­ety that has raised $250,000 to build schools, driven in large part by their adop­tive daugh­ter’s keen de­sire to give young girls on the other side of the world the same op­por­tu­ni­ties she en­joys here in Saskatchewan.

In De­cem­ber, Hol­royd re­turned home from her sixth trip to Viet­nam, where she toured the new­est school built by the Viet­nam Ed­u­ca­tion So­ci­ety. This was the fourth com­mu­nity they built in, and the clean, well-lit 10room school was al­ready packed with bright-eyed young stu­dents.

And the Viet­nam Ed­u­ca­tion So­ci­ety’s ef­forts have ex­panded far be­yond just build­ing schools. In re­cent years they have also built day-care cen­tres, mul­ti­pur­pose com­mu­nity halls and even foot the bill for school lunches for hun­dreds of kids.

“We’ve tend to fo­cus on gen­er­ally the more re­mote and ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties,” Hol­royd says. “The ones the government are likely to fund last.”

While their first visit to Viet­nam was brief, it left the cou­ple with some ideas they just couldn’t shake.

“We spent a lot of time in ru­ral Viet­nam and be­came very con­cerned about what we saw there,” Coates said.

“The area is ex­tremely poor with an av­er­age in­come of about $200 per year, less than a dol­lar per day for a fam­ily.”

They de­cided to take ac­tion, and made con­tact with Viet­namese of­fi­cials to ask where they could best di­rect their ef­forts.

“The an­swer that came back was over­whelm­ing that we need help with our school sys­tem,” Coates says.

To drum up fund­ing for the project, the pair turned to some like-minded peo­ple across Canada who also adopted chil­dren from Viet­nam. They also re­ceived steady fund­ing from two Ro­tary clubs in On­tario.

The Viet­nam Ed­u­ca­tion So­ci­ety’s first school went up in a vil­lage called Cat Ne, not far from Hana’s home­town of Thai Nguyen, lo­cated about two hours north of Hanoi. In 2010, Hana made her first visit back home since coming to Canada.

Coates says his daugh­ter was quite shocked by the con­di­tions in her home vil­lage when she re­turned af­ter years in Canada. For the first time she got an in­sight into the life of ru­ral girl near the end of the road in Viet­nam.

“Be­fore she went back there, Hana had sort of ide­al­ized Viet­nam,” he says. “She had a re­al­iza­tion of how life could have been for her per­son­ally.”

Per­haps most ob­vi­ous was how dif­fer­ent she was from her peers phys­i­cally, Coates says.

“Hana dis­cov­ered she was a whole head taller than all the other girls of her age, and she un­der­stood the im­pact of nutri­tion and food,” Coates says. “It was at once very ed­u­ca­tional and dis­turb­ing for her.”

Hana — now 12 years old — re­turned from that first pil­grim­age back home a dif­fer­ent young lady. Af­ter strug­gling to rec­on­cile th­ese two worlds, Hana de­cided she would do­nate all of her birth­day money to the Viet­nam Ed­u­ca­tion So­ci­ety.

“At one of her par­ties we had 30 kids or so and we raised $750 dol­lars,” Coates said. “And three or four other (adopted Viet­namese) girls have ac­tu­ally had their birth­day par­ties as fundrais­ers too.”

The Viet­nam Ed­u­ca­tion So­ci­ety is now ex­pand­ing its op­er­a­tions into the area of child pro­tec­tion, some­thing badly needed in South­east Asia. The re­gion is a ma­jor des­ti­na­tion for sex tourism — in­clud­ing sex with mi­nors — and many young girls are traf­ficked to beach re­sorts and broth­els to meet the de­mand.

Dur­ing her re­cent trip, Hol­royd made con­tact with an or­ga­ni­za­tion called Pa­cific Links, which helps ed­u­cate poor ru­ral girls about how to avoid fall­ing prey to the sex trade. Im­pressed with their work, Hol­royd de­cided to make a $15,000 do­na­tion — enough to pay for a three-day ed­u­ca­tional sum­mer camp for some 400 girls at risk of be­ing traf­ficked.

The sum­mer camp aims to give the girls the street smarts they’ll need to avoid be­ing “tricked” into the sex trade, Hol­royd says.

“Part of it is sim­ply ed­u­ca­tion … to ba­si­cally say this is the kind of things traf­fick­ers do, and they’re go­ing to prom­ise you, this, this and this,” she says. “And that’s not go­ing to hap­pen.”

In a sim­i­lar vein, the Viet­nam Ed­u­ca­tion So­ci­ety is also be­gin­ning to grant schol­ar­ships to help keep ru­ral girls at risk of fall­ing into the sex trade at home, and in school. Th­ese schol­ar­ships will tar­get poor girls liv­ing with their grand­moth­ers in par­tic­u­lar, Hol­royd says, since th­ese girls come un­der pres­sure at an early age to drop out of school to help put food on the ta­ble.

Be­sides tak­ing the eco­nomic pres­sure of school fees off the fam­ily, Hol­royd says, the spon­sored girls get the knowl­edge that some­one, some­where is in their cor­ner.

“Just let­ting the girls and their fam­i­lies know some­one ac­tu­ally gives a damn, wants to see them do well in school, and cares about them helps a lot,” she says.

The pair both work at the Univer­sity of Saskatchewan; Hol­royd as a pro­fes­sor of Asian stud­ies and Coates as a Canada Re­search Chair in Re­gional In­no­va­tion.

In ad­di­tion to giv­ing tax-de­ductible re­ceipts, Hol­royd says, donors are also mo­ti­vated to give be­cause of the Viet­nam Ed­u­ca­tion So­ci­ety’s very low ad­min­is­tra­tion costs.

For many large char­i­ties, half of money do­nated or more can be gob­bled up by staff salaries and travel, but Hol­royd and Coates take no salaries and cover all their own travel ex­penses.

Do­na­tions can be made on­line at www.viet­name­d­u­ca­tion.ca.

GORD WALDNER/THE Starphoenix

Viet­nam Educ­tion So­ci­ety founders Ken Coates and Carin Hol­royd

with their adopted daugh­ter Hana on Fri­day.

Carin Hol­royd vis­its with stu­dents in school in Viet­nam.

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