Back in August 2006, nearly 20 years after the movie “Good Morning Vietnam” was released, The Economist ran the headline ‘Good morning at last: An economic boom is accompanied by remarkable success in getting rid of poverty and raising life expectancy’. Indeed, in the past two decades or so, Vietnam’s economy and many Vietnamese have benefited from “Doi Moi” – the economic reforms initiated in the late 1980s.
The strong economic potential of Vietnam is undisputed and Vietnam is increasingly being referred to as the “next Asian Tiger”. The country has also become an increasingly attractive destination for foreign visitors as well as investors, including many of the 3 million+ Vietnamese people now living overseas.
In an age, when news about celebrities may convey a message louder than other forms of communication, the 2007 visit of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie highlighted that the war is really over. Visitors of all nationalities are welcomed in this country, where the majority of the population was born after the Vietnam or, as it is locally referred to, the American war. Where hostility is truly history and where people can and do focus with utmost commitment on building a better future for themselves and, more importantly, for the next generation of their families and of their nation.
It is well worth remembering that Vietnam has 89 million inhabitants making it the 13th most populous country in the world and, due to its demographics, has one of the youngest and largest workforces in the world too. On 11 January 2007 Vietnam officially became the 150th member of the World Trade Organisation.
Repeat visitors and even local residents often marvel at the speed of change in the big cities, a plot that maybe occupied by two or three simple one storey small restaurants, might be the home of a high rise office building or hotel in a matter of months. Visitors will also see many buildings built during the French colonial rule carefully restored, parks bustling with people exercising by themselves or playing badminton or other sports as early as 5am, busy markets, luxury hotels, huge constructions sites and vibrant city life now mark out most of the cities across Vietnam.
Although some of the more common signs of most extreme poverty and outright hunger are a thing of the past, there are still plenty of challenges ahead for many Vietnamese people before they can be truly free of the scourge of poverty. Moving outside of the major cities presents visitors with a fuller and clearer picture of the overall state of development in Vietnam. Notwithstanding the great achievements and bright outlook highlighted above, here are some sobering facts. The GDP per capita of Vietnam is at around $1,000, approximately 1/50th of that in the USA or 1/35th of the UK or France and ranks it 137th (of 180) of poorest nations on earth.
It is not surprising therefore, that many foreign businesspeople and visitors as well as other long term residents who choose Vietnam to be their second home for a few years or longer are actively involved in charity and community development projects of many kinds, displaying great determination in making their mark as responsible stakeholders and contributors to the overall development of Vietnam.
Saigon Children’s Charity (SCC), an organisation registered in the UK and the USA as well as in Vietnam, is one such organisation. Founded in the early 1990s by a British school teacher, it was set up for a specific purpose: to eliminate poverty through ensuring that disadvantaged Vietnamese children could get an education and a fairer start in life. Today, SCC continues to focus on the same needs. Working mainly in rural Southern Vietnam – especially in the Mekong Delta, SCC provides school scholarships to over 3,000 children, university and college scholarships to an ever growing number and whilst building schools and providing opportunities for vocational training, focuses on the needs of each child each day.
SCC believes that a measured amount of carefully targeted help can make all the difference. SCC believes that by focusing on the educational needs of the most disadvantaged children they are able to achieve positive change. Since its inception SCC has followed certain guiding principles:
- Helping only those in the most poverty
- Fostering independence and never allowing dependency
- Never taking away personal responsibility from parents
- Requiring all beneficiaries and the local authorities to make a contribution to the project that is supporting them
The work achieves rapid results and it works. Where SCC provides scholarships the drop-out rate will fall from typically 7 or 8% to just 2 or 3%. Longer term, we know that a good education increases their choices in life and their opportunity to find and sustain decent paid employment.
Amongst the many activities SCC is able to offer, some of the youngsters have and have had the chance to explore their imagination and work creatively often for the first time through art and through photography. As a result SCC has amassed a large collection of photos taken by the children over the years of operation. The quality of the photos and the imagination that created them are extraordinary and give a wonderful insight into the brightness of these children who, in spite of everything, continue to get on with their lives and do what needs to be done. This book is a collection of some of the best photos. These photos will give you an insight into their unique perspective as children as well as their hopes and dreams for the future.
As part of preparing the book we also commissioned a number of our current and past students to revisit some of their earlier themes or to explore new themes to share their views of Saigon in 2010, the year of the Tiger.
This book has been prepared with the contribution of many volunteers and all profits generated will be used for further funding the activities of Saigon Children’s Charity. We are especially thankful to Peter Amaczi, who died tragically and unexpectedly, for his commitment and contributions towards this book. Peter will be remembered by us as a passionate supporter of disadvantaged children and of SCC and he is much missed by SCC and all who knew him.
Peter Amaczi 1971 – 2010.
We sincerely hope, that you will find “Saigon the Future” an interesting, thought provoking as well as beautiful publication.