Challenges and Opportunities for Vietnam’s Environmental Youth Groups
By Emily Withnall
Vietnamese youth have their fingers on the pulse of the global concern for climate change. This pulse reverberates through the internet, primarily on social media sites where youth can easily access information about climate change, educational workshops, and trainings. Facebook is the primary social media site used, and although it is frequently blocked in many areas in Vietnam, there are multiple ways of getting around it. Through the use of social media networks and word-of-mouth in urban centers, youth groups focused on climate change and sustainability have been springing up around Vietnam over the past several years.
One such group, the Be Change Agents, functions as an independent organization with member sites in Vietnam’s major cities. Of the groups we have been introduced to during this course, the Be Change Agents seem to have the broadest reach and have implemented a variety of projects and awareness-raising campaigns. Their Let’s Bus Together campaign utilized surveys, educational fairs, a talk show, and recycled craft prizes to encourage people in Ho Chi Minh City to use public transportation. They have also engaged in educational outreach in Vietnam’s highlands to teach school children to use cameras in order to document their lives. These photos were then shown in an exhibit in Hanoi in an effort to raise awareness about the living conditions of Vietnam’s most impoverished populations. Additional projects have included coffee meetings between youth and local authorities to strategize about how to best work together, documenting street cleaners’ lives, and teaching school children about environmental issues.
The other groups we have met on this trip are made up of youth in university clubs, or are operating as unofficial clubs under the umbrella of registered university entities. All groups in Vietnam are required to belong to an organizational hierarchy, of which a government ministry retains ultimate monitoring and oversight. Some clubs, like the Environment Club at Can Tho University, have gone through the lengthy process of becoming an official club. This requires drafting a proposal, including a one-year plan, obtaining a faculty sponsor, and seeking an official signature and seal from local authorities.
The Environment Club at Can Tho University and the We Love Environment Club at International University in Ho Chi Minh City organize similar projects on their respective campuses. They both collect trash, educate other students about climate change and sustainability, make recycled crafts, and put on recycled fashion shows to raise awareness. Members of 350 Vietnam, a branch of the global 350.org movement, participated in Global Powershift in Istanbul, Turkey and organized their own Vietnam Powershift this past October in Ho Chi Minh City. 60 participants from over 20 provinces in Vietnam attended, and regional groups chose specific projects to implement locally in their home provinces following the conference.
Another group, the Delta Youth Alliance, is an unofficial group that operates under the Mekong Delta Development Research Institute, which is partnered with Can Tho University. Their primary campaign is located in Soc Trang province where they hope to protect the fruit bats that locals capture and sell for a hefty price to restaurants. They are also developing a project to build hygienic latrines for poor villages, but are still in the testing phase of this project and will receive further funding should it prove successful.
One challenge for youth groups trying to implement sustainability projects and raise awareness about climate change is in receiving funding for these campaigns and projects. While the central government in Vietnam does set aside funds for groups to work on project planning and implementation, these funds are dispersed to local governments. Due to high inflation, the funds local governments receive are usually fairly small and accessing the money can be nearly impossible for youth groups with no resources. The paperwork and excessive “fees” required by local authorities often prevent environmental youth groups from receiving the resources they need to carry out workshops and actions.
International NGOs provide an alternate source of funding to environmental groups within Vietnam looking for ways to fund their projects. For the globally conscious urban youth of Vietnam, the process of applying for grants through NGOs is much easier due to their familiarity with the English language, and a much more straightforward application process. Groups like Australia-based Live & Learn, as well as Oxfam International and Save the Children have provided resources to local groups, as have government agencies like USAID and corporations like PepsiCo.
While the formation of youth-led environmental groups in Vietnam is relatively recent and the list of environmental concerns can be daunting, the students we have met in Vietnam so far are a passionate and energetic bunch. I have no doubt that environmental groups will continue to pop up at schools around the country, and with enough NGO and government support, Vietnam will find itself in capable hands in tackling the serious concerns of climate change.