|Sung Thi Vu serves a foreign customer at her workplace in Sa Pa Town. Vu is one of the H'Mong youngsters who benefit from local authorities' projects to reduce heavy and dangerous labour among children by raising school attendance levels and promoting vocational training. — VNS Photo Minh Thi
by Minh Thi
SA PA (VNS) — Sung Thi Vu, a 16-year-old H'Mong girl from Su Pan Commune, looked quite professional as she worked as a waitress.
After handing the menu to a foreign customer, Vu gave him some time to read over the menu and, in clear English, she asked, "Are you ready to order?"
When the foreign man placed his order and thanked her, Vu replied politely, "You are welcome."
And then, quickly, she went to the bar to ask for the drink the customer had ordered.
Vu has been working at the H'Mong Sapa Hotel for about six months and said she was satisfied with her job.
She said she earned a stable income of between VND2.5 million and VND3.5 million (US$119-166) per month, which enabled her to live adequately and take care of her family. She was also offered accommodation at the hotel.
This is thanks to Vu's decision to enroll in a vocational training course at Hoa Sua Restaurant, which is part of a project conducted by the Department of Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs of Sa Pa District, in co-operation with the International Labour Organisation (ILO).
Last year, before the course she was unskilled and tried to earn money by selling souvenirs to foreigners in the centre of Sa Pa Town. She was then 15 years old and had to walk 20 kilometres each day to the centre of Sa Pa from her home.
Vu had just finished junior secondary school at that time and decided not to go to high school, thinking that she had enough school and that she should prepare to be married early, like many other H'Mong girls.
Her past was shared by many H'Mong young girls and boys, who have had to earn money since a very young age by begging or chasing foreign tourists to persuade them to purchase souvenirs.
In 2011, the Sa Pa District Labour Department decided to put an end to this situation, as they realised how tourists were annoyed when being chased after by local children seeking money and added that selling souvenirs on the streets can negatively affect youngsters' lives.
Many young children, from an early age, had to do this work to support their poor families. However, their studies were then neglected, and they might potentially become victims of sexual abuse, according to Nguyen Ngoc Hinh, deputy chairman of the People's Committee of Sa Pa District, a popular tourist area in the northern province of Lao Cai.
As part of a child labour project conducted with the ILO's support, the local Labour Department worked to create a list of underprivileged children who had to work since an early age to support their family, then persuaded the families not to make their children quit their studies to work, and introduced options for vocational training for the children.
Vu is one of the children who benefited from the project. She, and 37 fellow trainees, finished a vocational training course for hospitality and baking professions at Hoa Sua Restaurant in late June. Out of 38 trainees, 31 found jobs at restaurants and hotels.
As they are now at least 16 years old, they are legally allowed to work in professions that do not require heavy labour, while still being able to support their families.
The restaurant is now conducting another course with 17 young trainees, and still seeking new students from underprivileged backgrounds.
Tinh A Lu, a current trainee at the restaurant, shared that he was offered free-of-charge vocational training in the hospitality profession, while also offered accommodation at the restaurant.
Nguyen Van Quan, teacher and manager at Hoa Sua Restaurant, said the training project was still working to increase the number of young people, like Vu or Lu.
He said most of the trainees had only finished junior secondary school.
Quan also shared that the training programme were facing certain challenges due to language barriers, as many trainees are native speakers of H'Mong language and not fluent in Vietnamese. Problems also have arisen due to local customs, as some young people attempted to discontinue the course to marry early.
Therefore, along with vocational training, he has also taught trainees to speak better Vietnamese and English, while trying to persuade some not to quit their training.
In addition to the vocational training programmes, such as at Hoa Sua, local authorities have also worked to raise community awareness to cope with the serious problem of child labour. Communications about child-ren's rights have now been included into regular extra-curricular programmes for junior secondary school students.
Pham Minh Vo, principal of the Lao Chai Junior Secondary School, said the school's teachers sometimes had to visit the homes of students to talk to their families about the importance of education and persuade them to have their children pursue further studies.
There are days when the school even invites former students, now successful professionals, to talk to the students about why education should not be neglected.
Vu pointed out that the situation has improved considerably, as students go to school more regularly. Once every week, some students still skipped one or two lessons to stay at home and work at chores to support their families, but attendance has been greatly improved.
"Before we saw three to six students quit their studies, but now there are no longer cases like that."
Vu also said the percentage of students who continue their studies to high school level also increased.
In particular, he pointed out that during the 2011-12 school year, the proportion was only 25 per cent, but for the 2012-13 school year, it rose to 52 per cent.
The Sa Pa District People's Committee's report also confirmed this improvement in schools throughout the district.
Along with improved class attendance, the number of youngsters going to work as beggars and street vendors has also been reduced.
The committee added that continued efforts would be focused on child care and protecting children in the coming years, with vocational training programmes for youngsters and more educational work. — VNS