Students find 500+ reasons to do good

February 19, 2017 - 09:00

A group of young volunteers in the southern province of Cần Thơ set up 500+ which aim to support local poor children's education and train social skills to local youths. Lương Thu Hương reports.

We’re doing good: Members of 500+ pose for a photograph at the Việt Nam-Japan Cultural and Commercial Festival in Cần Thơ City last week. Over VNĐ 3 million (US$132) raised during the auction, was used to contribute to local charity for poor children. Photo courtesy of 500+
Viet Nam News

by Lương Thu Hương

A small stall auctioning origami works like flower vases, dinosaurs and bugs attracted visitors to the Việt Nam-Japan Cultural and Commercial Festival held in Cần Thơ City recently.

By the time the festival ended, all the origami items on display had been sold out. As fund-raisers go, it did’nt make much money – at just over VNĐ 3 million (US$132), but the organisers were thrilled.

Not only had they sold all their products, they had introduced themselves and their work effectively to many people. In both aims, they had surpassed expectations.

The stall was set up by 500+, a charity set up by five students aiming to support the education of poor children in the Mekong Delta City.

Visitors to 500+ booth were not just invited to buy origami items, but taught how to make them themselves. They were also introduced to cosplay, a Japanese performance art in which participants wear costumes and fashion accessories to represent a specific character. The number of paper cranes folded by visitors at the festival reached 17,000, six times higher than expectation.

“500+  members are so skillful with their hands. Many of the origami objects, though they look pretty simple, are not easy to make at all,” said Nguyễn Thị Thanh, a resident of Cần Thơ’s Ninh Kiều District.

“Our initial target was to introduce 500+ to more people and sell several items we made ourselves,” said Lâm Bảo Nhi, a group member. “However, all our products were sold out at the end of the day, which was more than we expected.”

Founded in August 2015,  500+ is an offshoot of the English club that markets the “Twelve” products to fund its operation. 500+ aims to support the education of poor children within Cần Thơ Province. It also aims to provide life skills training to both children and students through a wide range of social activities.

Nhi said the name of the group came from its first charitable activity. They held musical nights and sold handmade products to raise funds and donate 500 notebooks to students of the Hưng Phú 1 Primary School in Xóm Chài, a poor area in the city.

Handmade: Origami works put up for sale to raise funds for poor students by 500+. Photo courtesy of 500+

“Unexpectedly, we got more than 500, and the name of the group was born. We added a ‘plus’ symbol to denote added affection and sharing. We hope our work will reach far and wide,” Nhi said.

Next, 500+ called for donations of secondhand clothes. The money raised from reselling these on Facebook was spent on purchasing sports clothes and shoes for 20 disadvantaged children of the Hưng Phú 1 Primary School.

Many talents

500+ has five core members, each of whom is in charge of a particular function, like designing publicity material, contacting partners or managing funds. However, each event held by the group has attracted the participation of hundreds of volunteers. The group has no leader or manager. Everyone is equal.

The members put all their talents to good use. They can play instruments and sing, so getting together to make music is also an occasion to raise funds. Two such musical nights, Winter and Summer shows, raised VNĐ 10 million ($440) that was used to help two disadvantaged students, Như Ý and Trương Nhật Quang, continue their studies.

Recently, the sight of 500+ members teaching street children how to play the ukuleke, guitar and cajon drums has become familiar to many people in the vicinity of the Ninh Kiều Harbour. Such free music lessons have brought much happiness to the children of lottery sellers and other vendors.

“We want these children to get the feeling that they can always receive affection and care of everybody,” said Trần Hoàng Thảo Nguyên, one of the 500+ members.

The 500+ members see their charity not only a vehicle to do good, but also an opportunity to better themselves, improving their social skills.

Transfer of skills: A 500+ member teaches a child to fold a paper crane. Photo courtesy of 500+

“I have gained much experience and learned much from others and made more friends, and therefore found life more meaningful,” said Trần Thị Chúc Xuân.

All members say they have been able to discard the negative attitudes they used to have earlier.

“No one is prefect in life. But despising or mocking someone can make that person worse. Only love, support and sympathy can help one lead better lives,” Nguyên said.

Nhi said 500+ looks forward to participating in more cultural, educational and socio-economic events to promote the image of the group, seek more support and help volunteers learn more social skills.

However, “What’s more important is finding a long-term, stable way to support the education of children, because we all believe that education means orienting them to become better people.” VNS