Homeschool kids take on poverty in Vietnam

Three years ago if someone would have told the Journey homeschool co-op kids they would be buying shoes for Vietnamese children who had to walk to school barefoot in the snow, they may have scratched their heads, wondering what that person was talking about. And if the kids, who range from 2 to 12 years old, had been told they would put electricity in a school on the other side of the world, they might think that person was crazy.

But that is just what happened to this small group of kids in an area homeschool co-op that started with just five families. It was the beginning of a budding friendship between two groups of children, one large in numbers and very poor, and the other group small in size, but willing to do what they could to help meet the others’ need.

Stacy Manning of Zimmerman started Journey homeschool co-op in 2003. A year later she was driving home in a snow storm and listening to a radio interview. The young woman being interviewed, Annetta De Vet, was telling how she and her father, Chuck De Vet, started Humanitarian Services for Children of Vietnam (HSCV) after the two of them vacationed in Vietnam. They found a high degree of poverty in the northern part of the country, but no agency or organization that was reaching out to help meet the needs the people had.

When De Vet mentioned they had started a sister school program, Manning became even more interested. She does social work outside of homeschooling and the idea of helping the Vietnamese children through the context of school intrigued her. Manning saw the sister school concept as a great opportunity for the co-op kids to become more aware of the world at large, so she presented the idea to her co-op.

“I said, ‘You know, our kids can make a difference. We need to teach them that even though they’re kids from small town Elk River, Minn., or Otsego or Zimmerman, they can easily make a difference in a family’s life on the other side of the world,” Manning says.

The families were reluctant. At the time there were just five families in the co-op, but they decided to try it anyway.

drawing1.jpgChuck De Vet visited the co-op to tell the students about Vietnam, the children there and he brought farming implements to show the kids how Vietnamese farmers harvest rice.

“He told them how schools are run in Vietnam, and that the kids have to walk to school, many of them without shoes. By the time he was done,” Manning says, “all our kids were ready to put their shoes in a box and send them to Vietnam.”

De Vet’s presentation was eye-opening for the co-op kids in other ways, too.

The sister school, Tan Minh B, grades three through five, is located in Soc Son District which is the northernmost district of Hanoi, Vietnam. It is about the same place in the hemisphere as Minnesota, but on the other side of the world. It is also the poorest region in Vietnam.

The average monthly income for a family is between $3.14 and $6.28, depending on the quality of the rice harvest, Manning says. Sending a child to school costs $2 a month, but since education is such a high priority, parents will go without food in order to send their child to school. If there is more than one child in a poor family, parents must decide which one will go to school and who will have to miss out on an education.

One Vietnamese woman’s story was related to Manning by Annetta De Vet, who knows the woman. She says when the woman’s husband became disabled and could not work, she went to extreme measures to keep her children in school. In the early morning hours she would go into the streets of Hanoi before the city awoke to collect recyclable containers. She would then sell these to have money for school.

Winters are another harsh reality for the children of Soc Son District. Though winter temperatures are not as cold as in Minnesota, children are still forced to walk several miles in the mountainous region to school. Snow makes the barefoot walk even worse for many kids.

People do not have electricity, either, and Tan Minh B School is no exception. One Vietnamese student wrote to the kids in the co-op saying because they did not have electricity, they had to collect glow worms to put in eggshell containers so they could study.

And the school, which Manning says is not much more than a shell of walls, has no glass in any of its windows. During winter conditions, students can only stay at school a few hours because of the cold.

Manning says the co-op students got excited about helping the Vietnamese kids in their sister school after learningdrawing2.jpg more about their situation. To help alleviate some of the conditions the Vietnamese kids were faced with, the Journey homeschool kids began efforts to raise money for school supplies, food for families, and money to send more kids to school than what Vietnamese families could afford.

American funds can also provide a year’s worth of rice to a family for just $100. A Vietnamese child can go to school for a year on a $50 donation. And orthopedic problems caused by rampant malnutrition in the region can be corrected with surgery for as little as $250. Other key areas where American funds can intercept poverty in Vietnam is building a new home for $1,400, or helping someone get needed open heart surgery for $2,700.

The co-op, however, focuses on school-based needs and the kids in the Tan Minh B School. Last year the small group raised $900 from various fund raisers. One of those was a garage sale organized and manned by the homeschool students.

Parents were shocked, Manning says, at personal items their children gave toward the sale to raise money for their Vietnamese friends. She adds that the co-op kids raise or give money on their own. Funding help for the sister school does not come out of parents’ pockets. Manning says parents wanted the sister school project to rest squarely on their kids’ shoulders as a way to teach them empathy and compassion for others.

The homeschool kids promote the efforts because they believe they can help.

“I give my own money away,” 7-year-old Colin says, “and doing the garage sale. I’m glad we gave them money for lights (electricity). I would be scared if I didn’t have any lights.”

Some of that money last year was used to install electricity in part of Tan Minh B School. This year the co-op kids helped make a quilt which was auctioned off for $1,000. That should be enough to provide school supplies, food and other things like putting electricity in the rest of the school, and installing glass in all the school’s windows, according to Manning.

Helping their sister school is making an impact on the homeschool kids. Manning contends that the co-op students now have a bigger, more expansive world view than most kids their age. Sam is 11 years old and exemplifies Manning’s point.

“I help them in Vietnam because they need it more than I do, and I believe it’s right,” Sam says. “Everyone should help a little bit and the people in Vietnam would not be poor anymore.”

And 9-year-old Grace says people everywhere need help.

“We help as many people as we can find,” Grace says. “We’d help people from any country that we can because it’s the right thing to do.”

Students exchange letters, pictures they draw and a lot of goodwill toward each other. It is those small gestures of goodwill that are making a much bigger impact in the lives of those in need. Grace seems to have the right idea when she says, “it’s the right thing to do.”

To become involved in HSCV’s sister school program, or to become involved in other ways to help Vietnamese families, go to or <!– var prefix = ‘ma’ + ‘il’ + ‘to’; var path = ‘hr’ + ‘ef’ + ‘=’; var addy32279 = ‘’ + ‘@’; addy32279 = addy32279 + ‘hscv’ + ‘.’ + ‘org’ + ‘.’ + ”; document.write( ‘‘ ); document.write( addy32279 ); document.write( ” ); //–>\n


One Response

  1. What a wonderful idea! My daughter enjoys doing things like this for others.

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