Upland girl overcomes mountains to pursue education

Chao Thi Yen, a young woman from the Dao Tuyen ethnic minority in northwest Vietnam has defied challenges to become the first woman from her community to earn a master’s degree abroad through a full-degree scholarship

awarded by the European Union. She speaks with Bui Quynh Hoa about her climb out of poverty and into a position to help children from ethnic minority areas across the country through her work with the Centre for People and Nature Reconciliation (PanNature) in Hanoi.

Upland girl overcomes mountains to pursue education
Chao Thi Yen, a member of the Dao Tuyen ethnic minority from the northwest of Vietnam, is inspiration to her community because of her efforts to escape from poverty. Photo courtesy of Chao Thi Yen

Could you tell us about yourself?

I am Chao Thi Yen. I come from the Dao Tuyen ethnic minority in Ngam Xa Hamlet, Nam Chac Village in Lao Cai Province’s Bat Xat District. At present, I am working as a policy programme assistant at the Center for People and Nature Reconciliation (PanNature). 

What challenges did you face in your childhood?

Well, like most children in remote areas, we lived under poverty. We didn't have enough rice for meals all year-round. Having cassava instead of rice was a normal thing for us. Besides the lack of food, we did not have access to electricity and education, especially higher education.

People in my community believed that paid jobs like becoming teachers, doctors, etc. were for Kinh (Vietnam's largest ethnicity) people, not for Dao. Hence, most of our children had to stop attending higher education when they completed secondary school. I was not an exception. My parents, relatives and neighbours used to say that "girls should not go to school" or "girls just need to know how to write their names, that’s enough". So I had to stop going to school when I finished 9th grade.

Upland girl overcomes mountains to pursue education
Yen (second from right) and her friends study at the University of Göttingen in Germany. Photo courtesy of Chao Thi Yen

What does studying mean to you? Why did you pursue a career full of difficulties and pressure? 

Primarily, studying meant “rice” to me and my family. It meant that if I went to school I would have enough rice to eat, and my family could have enough food to survive. It was the only way for us to escape from poverty. Then, going to school had further meaning to me. It helped me find ways to reduce the impact of natural disasters on local communities.

In 2016, two years after graduating with distinction from the Vietnam National University of Forestry, I won a full scholarship, worth US$50,000, as part of the European Union's prestigious Erasmus Mundus Programme.

The grant allowed me to complete a master’s degree in sustainable forest and nature management at the University of Göttingen in Germany and the University of Padua in Italy. 

What were your feelings when you learned you had won the full-degree Erasmus scholarship awarded by the European Union?

It was a super feeling, so much that I didn't know how to express my feelings. I could not do anything except keep shouting “WOW WOW WOW” and “YEAH YEAH YEAH” many times. It was unbelievable. My heart was twinkling with the stars.

Was studying abroad challenging for you?

Not really. I got a fully-funded scholarship programme as you may know so I could focus on my studies without thinking about money and food for my survival. Besides, I met a lot of friends from different countries who were very kind, supportive and willing to help me whenever I was in trouble.

Upland girl overcomes mountains to pursue education
Yen (third from left) on a field excursion in Germany. Photo courtesy of Chao Thi Yen
 

You have mentioned how thankful you are for your teachers. Could you say something about them?

I have had a gap duration of three years, not on purpose, after I completed secondary school. During this period, my teacher Bui Chi Thanh came to my home many times to convince my parents to allow me to go to school. Fortunately, after three years, my parents changed their minds and allowed me to pursue higher education. When I finished high school, I studied at the Vietnam National University of Forestry with a major in natural resources management, an advanced programme in collaboration with Colorado State University in the US. Here I met Prof Lee McDonald, the co-ordinator of the programme, and Associate Prof Dr Bui Xuan Dung, my thesis supervisor. These two men have inspired and supported me to continue my studying career by introducing me to fully funded scholarship programmes in the US, Japan and Europe.

The three of them have been playing very important roles in my life. Without them, I could not have overcome the challenges of my life. 

You made debut with the book Đường Ngược Chiều – Từ Bản Người Dao Đến Học Bổng Erasmus (Uphill Road to Erasmus Scholarship). Could you tell our readers about it?

This is an autobiography about my path to school. It took me two years to write, a detailed version of my rise from poverty to a position where I could help those who grew up with next to nothing. 

In fact, I think, in this story, I'm just a character representing upland children who want to go to school. The book not only talks about the difficulties on my way to school but also the stories of my childhood and cultural identity of ethnic minorities of the northwest region. My target group is mountainous children and students who are facing difficulties in achieving their dream of studying abroad, and those who are stuck in their life. The book can help those people have more energy and motivation to overcome the challenges to achieve their goals. Additionally, the book will help adults recall a part of their childhood memories which have been forgotten in a busy life.

What is your dream? 

I hope I will always be strong and optimistic enough to overcome the challenges of life so I can make a contribution to help upland children go to school and support local communities to have a better life with my current and future jobs.

I also dream to become a hydrologist, but it seems to be harder now as I am working in a field far from hydrology.

Have you got a plan for the future? 

In the long term, I am hoping to further my studies by perusing a PhD. However, I am not sure as I would also love to work to gain experience and to have financial stability.

What will you do for your native village?

For my native village, I have not contributed anything yet. However, I am looking for projects in livelihood improvement that are appropriate for my locality. Furthermore, I am looking for educational funding to open a Dao Tuyen language class for local people in my village. Recently, people in my village are becoming aware of the importance of Dao writing as 100 per cent of my villagers are illiterate in the language.

My friend and I keep developing the scholarship fund of Prof Lee MacDonald, accordingly, 10 per cent of the revenue from selling the book will be donated to this scholarship fund to give to poor students studying at the Vietnam National University of Forestry and ethnic minority students in the northwest of Vietnam. VNS

Ethnic minority women empowered to fight poverty

Ethnic minority women empowered to fight poverty

There were times 30-year-old Sung Thi Sy thought of running away to escape her violent husband, who regularly beat her when he was drunk.

Sustainable poverty reduction is one of seven national target programs

Sustainable poverty reduction is one of seven national target programs

Helping poor households with sustainable livelihoods is a living testament to human rights.

Efforts to empower ethnic minority women

Efforts to empower ethnic minority women

Inequality against ethnic minority women is a part of social structure, which exists at both the family and individual level  

 
 

Other News

.
PM calls for innovation for better clean water supply
PM calls for innovation for better clean water supply
SOCIETYicon  07/09/2020 

Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc has asked ministries, agencies and stakeholders to complete legal frameworks and adopt new models and new technologies to ensure sufficient clean water.

Major transport projects in Mekong Delta to be completed before Tet
Major transport projects in Mekong Delta to be completed before Tet
SOCIETYicon  07/09/2020 

Contractors and workers expect to complete construction of several major transport projects in the Cuu Long (Mekong) Delta before Tet (Lunar New Year Festival), which falls on February 12 next year.

Da Nang takes control in one month COVID-19 fight
Da Nang takes control in one month COVID-19 fight
SOCIETYicon  07/09/2020 

It’s been around one month since the central city of Da Nang was directly hit by the COVID-19 outbreak with nearly 400 people infected with SARS-CoV-2 and 28,000 close contact cases quarantined at health centres or in their homes.

Passenger flights resumed in Da Nang as virus outbreaks under control
Passenger flights resumed in Da Nang as virus outbreaks under control
SOCIETYicon  07/09/2020 

The central city of Danang has fully resumed all passenger transport services including domestic passenger flights since the morning of September 7 as the Covid-19 outbreaks have been basically contained.

Latest Coronavirus News in Vietnam & Southeast Asia September 7
Latest Coronavirus News in Vietnam & Southeast Asia September 7
SOCIETYicon  07/09/2020 

COVID-19: No new community infections in five days

COVID-19: Four days without new locally transmitted cases in Vietnam
COVID-19: Four days without new locally transmitted cases in Vietnam
SOCIETYicon  06/09/2020 

Vietnam has registered no locally transmitted coronavirus cases over the past 24 hours, keeping its tally of infections at 1,049 and death toll at 35, according to the Ministry of Health on September 6 afternoon.

Vietnamese students in Japan launches online school fair
Vietnamese students in Japan launches online school fair
SOCIETYicon  06/09/2020 

The Vietnamese Youths and Students' Association (VYSA) in Japan on September 5 arranged the VYSA School Fair 2020 on a virtual platform.

International donors assist Quang Tri’s bomb, mine clearance efforts
International donors assist Quang Tri’s bomb, mine clearance efforts
SOCIETYicon  06/09/2020 

The central province of Quang Tri has to date received over 100 million USD from international donors to help its post-war bomb and mine clearance efforts.

An additional 11 patients in Da Nang recover from COVID-19
An additional 11 patients in Da Nang recover from COVID-19
SOCIETYicon  06/09/2020 

Two hospitals in Da Nang city, the epicenter of the country’s largest coronavirus outbreak, discharged 11 COVID-19 patients on September 6 after making a full recovery from the disease.

First HCM City metro train set for Vietnam
First HCM City metro train set for Vietnam
SOCIETYicon  06/09/2020 

The first train for the Ben Thanh-Suoi Tien metro project in HCM City will arrive in Vietnam from Japan in October.

Ha Nam patient re-tests positive after three negatives
Ha Nam patient re-tests positive after three negatives
SOCIETYicon  06/09/2020 

A COVID-19 patient in northern Ha Nam province has been exposed to the SARS-CoV-2 virus following three negative tests, forcing doctors to quarantine her in hospital for further observation and treatment.

Da Nang wants to resume post COVID-19 transportation services
Da Nang wants to resume post COVID-19 transportation services
SOCIETYicon  06/09/2020 

The administration of Da Nang city, the epicenter of the country’s largest coronavirus outbreak, has proposed kick-starting transport routes again following the containment of the disease in the locality.

No new COVID-19 cases reported on September 6 morning
No new COVID-19 cases reported on September 6 morning
SOCIETYicon  06/09/2020 

Vietnam reported no new COVID-19 cases on September 6 morning, keeping the national count at 1,049, including 691 locally-transmitted cases, according to the National Steering Committee for COVID-19 Prevention and Control.

Power supply is sufficient next year: EVN
Power supply is sufficient next year: EVN
SOCIETYicon  07/09/2020 

Vietnam’s electricity supplier say they are confident they have the power to supply the whole country next year.

Top students share national high school exam tips
Top students share national high school exam tips
SOCIETYicon  08/09/2020 

My Tho High School is only a small local school in Y Yen District, Nam Dinh Province but it has produced some of the top scorers of this year’s national high school exam.

African swine fever under control
African swine fever under control
SOCIETYicon  07/09/2020 

About 98 per cent of communes nationwide have been announced as free from African swine fever, according to the head of the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MARD)'s Animal Health Department, Pham Van Dong.

Massive Covid-19 testing for expatriates in Danang
Massive Covid-19 testing for expatriates in Danang
SOCIETYicon  06/09/2020 

To prevent community spread, the government of Danang is conducting a massive Covid-19 testing program for expatriates in the city

Nearly 23 million Vietnamese students begin new school-year
Nearly 23 million Vietnamese students begin new school-year
SOCIETYicon  05/09/2020 

Nearly 23 million students nationwide celebrated the official start of the 2020-2021 school-year on September 5 morning.

Vietnam sees no fresh Covid-19 cases, 19 new recoveries
Vietnam sees no fresh Covid-19 cases, 19 new recoveries
SOCIETYicon  05/09/2020 

Vietnam’s Covid-19 infections still remained at 1,049 as no fresh cases were reported this evening, September 5, according to the Health Ministry.

Vietnam says no to illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing
Vietnam says no to illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing
SOCIETYicon  05/09/2020 

Nguyen Quang Hung, Deputy General Director of the Directorate of Fisheries talks about Vietnam’s resolve to stop all illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing activities in foreign territorial waters.

 
 
 
Leave your comment on an article

OR QUICK LOGIN