By Sarah Luth
In the U.S, civic organizations exist for almost any kind of idea and need. Organizing for social, economic, and environmental change is less common in Vietnam. But with rapid development, wider educative opportunities, and increasingly pressing environmental issues, Vietnamese youth are beginning to mobilize.
The Mekong Youth Impact and Delta Youth Alliance students at Can Tho University are the perfect examples of action leaders. During a fun three-day exchange, we learned from each other through presentations, lunches, sports, and field trips to Son Island and a Bat Pagoda. The Vietnamese students were curious to learn about our interests and lives, just as we were to hear about theirs. After the exchange we had each gained multiple foreign friendships, along with way too many pictures to prove it. Through this bonding we achieved a deeper understanding of Vietnamese youth culture and their ambitions for improving their communities and environment.
Several of the students described projects they were involved in that focused on education and environmental awareness. The Mekong Youth Impact group’s “Healthy Initiative” was one of the examples. Formed by several recently graduated students, the goal of the Healthy Initiative is to create a society that concerns about the environment. Their work focused on the floating market, perhaps the biggest tourist attraction of Can Tho city and main income source for the many who live and sell from their boats. Trash, waste, and chemical pollution are a major issue in the river where the floating market takes place. However, many of the people living and selling on their boats have little education and limited knowledge of environmental impacts on the river.
To begin fostering a concern for the environment, the students involved in the Healthy Initiative chose to target the children of the floating market. These are the children whose parents’ livelihoods are made up of selling fruits and vegetables on their boats. The children, due to finances, family needs and transportation difficulties are typically unable to attend school past the primary level. The Mekong Youth Impact students decided to provide these children, ages 4 through 16, lessons in hygiene, environmental protection, and English for free via boat classrooms. While good hygiene practices would help improve health, English would increase their profit margins on the floating market, and ecological lessons would increase environmental awareness of the younger generation. The Healthy Initiative’s goal was to provide this education so that children could understand the ecological and economical importance of the river. Their rationale: if children value the river they will be more likely to become stewards of it. Again, awareness can inspire environmental protection and potentially outward action.
I was very inspired by the Healthy Initiative Project. The graduates involved showed their dedication to the improvement of their community with impressive creativity, patience, and investment in youth.
Likewise, the Delta Youth Alliance is inspiring and motivating youth to create change. Their teaching farm, much like our UM PEAS farm that we presented on is planned to become an experiential learning source for Vietnamese students at all levels. The teaching farm would help students understand small-scale sustainable farming practices in a hands-on setting. With this knowledge students involved could then take action to educate others about the importance of environmental protection and sustainable farming. The project just received funding from the U.S State Department and will begin in February.
These youth groups are leading an important shift in values by spreading environmental awareness and encouraging youth engagement. Environmental concern is building in Vietnam, and youth groups are trying their hands at environmental leadership, finding themselves empowered with the ability to change their circumstances. The purpose of the Delta Youth Alliance is to “inspire and motivate youth to create change”, and it appears they, along with the Mekong Youth Impact are doing so, one floating classroom and teaching farm at a time. They certainly managed to inspire each of us, their University of Montana peers, to become more active leaders in our own communities. Plus, they are really fun to play basketball with.