Daughter’s desire spurs charity
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.
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.