(The article by Michelle McCarty, Director of Mission, Loreto Ministries, and extracted from the June 2020 SUSTAIN magazine. Please see the full magazine here to know more about and support our global Loreto projects.)

On the door of a classroom at the Can Thanh Special School in the mangrove rich Can Gio district of Southern Vietnam, there is a poem. The poem is entitled titled Cô Giáo – Beloved Teacher:

“The teacher of mine

Likes to dance and smile.

She shares funny tales,

Songs and lullabies,

Also many games,

That all of us like.

We’re attached to her

All throughout the days.”

In Vietnamese culture and tradition, the role of a teacher is highly valued. On annual Teachers Day, November 20, many people carry out the custom of visiting or writing to their former teachers and expressing their gratitude for the inspiration, encouragement and advice this significant person gave to them. The right to and the gift of an education is celebrated by the whole community and the title “Cô”, as teachers are called in Vietnamese, is one of admiration and respect.

Mary Ward International Australia (MWIA), focuses on supporting these teachers, their students and communities through the work of Loreto Vietnam.

Loreto Vietnam was founded in 1997 by Sr Trish Franklin ibvm. Sr Trish’s vision, as a passionate and gifted teacher herself, was to work to ‘lift up the learners’ of Vietnam, particularly those disadvantaged by disability or poverty. Today, Loreto Vietnam operates under the guidance of an Advisory Board and the energetic leadership of Executive Director, Mr. Nguyen Viet Dung, and his dedicated staff.

Loreto Vietnam continues to focus on bringing about ‘education for change’. As a Loreto organisation this core belief of Sr Trish, Dung and all who have worked with them, reflects the commitment of Mary Ward people to ensuring that the right to an education, and to the dignity, respect and flourishing it brings, is accessible to all children, particularly those who are most vulnerable.

The United Nations Sustainable Development Goal No. 4 ‘quality education’ underpins these efforts of Loreto Vietnam, with the complementary aim of building capacity in the school communities. Focusing on creating effective learning environments and lifelong learners, they manage over 20 current and future projects.

Environments are improved through the refurbishment of rural school toilet blocks from broken, dank and limited outhouses, into clean, bright and private facilities where students learn   the   skills of communal hygiene. Friendly libraries, filled with new books, add to the learning environments of poor rural communities, as have small computer labs, enabling teachers to run STEM classes in these schools.

Special education training for the teachers of children with both intellectual and physical disabilities has been a focus for Loreto Vietnam, as well as supporting the equitable access of these learners in special schools. School packs, including resources required to make the best of the academic day, are ongoing projects that make a practical difference to these young learners. The welcome provision of bicycles to transport school kids around rural areas benefits their whole family.

Cô Thu, the warm, wise and wonderful principal of the Can Thanh Special School, is the type of teacher and leader any school would love. Her dreams for her special students and her dedicated work every day on behalf of these children and their families ensures her Teachers Day each year is full of tributes.

Loreto Vietnam has supported the Can Thanh School for many years, providing uniforms, health insurance, a school bus, refurbished playground equipment, a play therapy room and teacher professional development to improve the educational outcomes of their students. In 2018 the Can Thanh community moved to a brand-new school site with spacious classrooms, greater resources and a big new yard for exercise, assemblies and a garden.

Cô Thu and her staff beamed with pride and delight during a recent visit. This education for her students, who have special needs and come from poor local families, is lifting them high into the future.

In a recent letter Loreto Vietnam ED Dung wrote:

“….Loreto Vietnam has a strong belief that the most affordable, accessible and sustainable (way) is EDUCATION. The global pandemic enables Loreto Vietnam a short break to deep dive into what has been done for 23 years in Vietnam and start an intensive process to refresh and upgrade our coming strategy. The new approach will aim to enable access to better education, improve educational outcomes and promote special education.

During this critical time, Loreto Vietnam also feels grateful for a chance to reflect on how meaningful it is to live in a greater Loreto family, with the same core values and dignity which urges each of us to go out more into the world, to get to know, to really understand and actually support those most in need, especially our vulnerable children, women and communities.”

Through MWIA we have the chance to continue to go out into the world in solidarity with the work of Loreto Vietnam and support teachers like Cô Thu to help change the world of their students.