art programs
Education reform, particularly in Vietnam’s rural areas, is slow. With the social gap pushing the Kinh majority and ethnic minorities further apart, alleviating rural poverty is becoming increasingly difficult. Rural minority children are being left behind. Thankfully, there are some humanitarian relief programs that are determined to make a difference.

The Rock Paper Scissors Children’s Fund was started by an American mother of two adopted Vietnamese girls. She wanted to help her daughters’ native land by introducing opportunities in art and music in the village of Cam Duc.

The organization joins with local schools and orphanages to foster hundreds of children’s penchant for art. The Rock Paper Scissors Children’s Fund uses donations to help with the children’s school and book fees, purchase more art supplies and bring in more instruments, since students share violins. The organization not only hopes to reach more children, but also to help them effectively. The Rock Paper Scissors Children’s Fund takes children beyond the restrictive parameters of the everyday classroom and builds community.

Similarly, the Catalyst Foundation partners with adoption agencies. This foundation organizes cultural camps and hosts the annual Little Red Fairy My Vietnam Contest. The contest is an opportunity for the foundation to hand out scholarships in order to motivate children to continue developing their talents.

Tohe is an art program that focuses on impoverished children throughout the country, not exclusively in rural villages. Established in 2006, Tohe has a special focus on disabled children. Tohe holds weekly classes at welfare centers in and around Hanoi, Vietnam’s capital.

The program aims to raise confidence within the children and decrease the social stigma surrounding disabled children. These classes have creative playgrounds, where children use clay and recycled materials to create patterns, toys and structures.

Some of the art pieces are incorporated in commercial merchandise, such as prints for laptop cases and clothing. Tohe hopes to expand its collaboration with retailers. Profits are cycled back to Tohe to help improve the program. To date, over a thousand children have been touched by this initiative. The program wishes to merge with the education sector in order to create a greater influence.

The survival of small scale art programs is difficult. In most countries around the world, developed or developing, art is often seen as a past time chiefly for the privileged. Even in the West, funding for the arts in school is lacking. By high school, students are prompted to choose courses that will steer them toward a practical career. These courses are often in science, technology or business.

Moreover, there is sometimes stigma around making art into a career because of the financial position in which it often results. In growing up, there is a pressing expectation for practicality.

The expectation to be practical is palpable even more so in impoverished regions of the world. Households withdraw their children from basic schooling so they can help contribute to the family income. If these families reach a point where they must give up basic education, then pursuing the arts is surely out of the question.

It is important to show governments the importance of a well-rounded education. In order to break the cycle of poverty, building a future for children must start with promoting their growth in critical thinking and their use of imagination.

-Carmen Tu

Sources: Adopt Vietnam, GIVE, Indiegogo – Tohe, Rock Paper Scissors Children’s Fund, UNICEF
Photo: Rock Paper Scissors Children’s Fund