2nd Annual Dream Meeting for A Brighter Path
November 2nd, 2011 by VinaCapital Foundation
The second annual Dream Meeting took place July 5-8, 2011 in Ho Chi Minh City. The 50 scholarship beneficiaries of A Brighter Path came from all over Vietnam to spend several days in workshops and activities relevant to their personal and academic growth, including career planning, good study habits, building self-confidence, and health and nutrition. In addition, the girls spent time touring the city, taking in all of the historic sites while further bonding with each other.
Day 1—July 5
The girls arrived during the afternoon of July 5. This year VCF decided to fly the girls down to HCMC instead of having them take the bus or train. This was because the journey by bus or train was extremely arduous and exhausting for all of the girls who lived far from HCMC, and we also wanted them to experience flying for the first time.
The first day was kept informal with no events except for a casual welcome dinner that was sponsored by BBQ Garden. Because the girls were already familiar with the program and each other, they did not need much time to get comfortable or overcome shyness as they did during last year’s meeting.
Day 2—July 6
The day began at 8:00 a.m. with a very special speech from the Canadian Ambassador to Vietnam, Ms. Deborah Chatsis. Ambassador Chatsis is Canada’s first Ambassador who is a member of a First Nations tribe. She gave a very moving and personal speech that detailed her experiences growing up as an Aboriginal Canadian, in particular the discrimination she and her family suffered as well as her motivations for succeeding. The girls were very moved and surprised that an “ethnic minority” like them could be as successful as the Ambassador, and asked her many questions about how to overcome adversity and achieve high goals.
After the speech, there was a mini scholarship presentation by Mr. Henry Groen of Talisman Energy, A Brighter Path’s corporate sponsor. Mr. Groen was moved by the Ambassador’s speech to give a few personal remarks on his family’s immigrant history, and how education was the key to his family’s break from the poverty cycle.
The next presentation was from the HSBC Vietnam team, who taught the girls about financial literacy and practical interviewing skills. The young team’s presentation was very creative, incorporating live skits and encouraged participation from all of the girls. The beneficiaries enjoyed the presentation very much and commented that they found the budgeting and interview lessons to be extremely useful.
During lunch, the girls were separated into eight focus groups that were led by fellows from the Asian-American Students in Philanthropy program as well as some female staff members of the VinaCapital Group. As this is the second year of A Brighter Path, VCF is undergoing a monitoring and evaluation study to assess the program’s impact and discover ways to improve. The goal of the focus groups was to gather qualitative information on A Brighter Path’s impact on not only the lives of the beneficiaries, but also their families.
The program continued after the lunch break with a session on self-confidence and public speaking by Ms. Nguyen Thi Bich Chau, Heartbeat Vietnam’s program manager and a professional MC. Her session was interactive and full of exercises meant draw the girls out of their shells and be comfortable speaking in public. Areas of focus included eye contact, voice volume, and confidence.
The next session was on mental and emotional health and conducted by Ms. Ly Thy Mai, one of the most respected and famous psychologists in Vietnam. She spoke to the girls about teenage love and relationships, and the consequences of losing sight of their goals. This session was particularly significant as the girls are 17 years old, an age at which many young women in their ethnic groups are engaged or already married. Ms. Mai counseled the girls on many of their concerns about boys, relationships, their physical and mental health, and how to stay focused on their life goals. At the end of the session Ms. Mai opened up the floor to questions; most were about typical teenage girl issues. There was one question, however, that underscored the need for A Brighter Path and this session in particular. One of the beneficiaries, a gifted and talented student from a border province, asked Ms. Mai if it was ever appropriate for a 13 or 14 year old girl to live with a foreign man. This is a reality, unfortunately, that many young women like these girls regularly face, especially if they come from areas where trafficking is more common. Rather than lecturing the girls, Ms. Mai turned the question on to them and asked them if they thought it was appropriate, and why or why not. This allowed the girls to reason through and understand the answer, rather than being told that it was wrong.
The scholarship presentation dinner was a held later that evening at the Oscar Hotel. The girls all dressed in their traditional costumes and were presented scholarships by Madame Hoa, Mrs. Robin Austin, Mr. Don Lam, Ms. Hoang Thi Phuong of Talisman, and Mr. Sumit Dutta of HSBC Vietnam.
Day 3—July 7
This day was dedicated to touring two of HCMC’s top universities—the University of Humanities and the University of Science and Technology. The girls met with administrators from both universities, who explained more about each institution and what careers could be embarked on based on various degrees. The administrators also explained the application process, which was very important as the process changes each year and the information does not always travel beyond the urban centers of the country.
After the university tours, the girls were taken on a tour of Ho Chi Minh City, where there visited the regular tourist attractions. The highlight of the tour was a trip up to the observation deck of the Bitexco Tower, Vietnam’s newest and tallest skyscraper. Here, the girls received a birds-eye view of Ho Chi Minh City, and saw how vast the city was. This was shocking to them as they had never experienced a view like that. There, the girls were reminded that their potential and success could stretch beyond the limits of what they could view at that very moment.
Later that evening after dinner, the beneficiaries attended the scholarship ceremony of Vu A Dinh at the personal invitation of Madame Hoa. The ceremony was held at the Ho Chi Minh City Opera House and televised; the girls were invited on stage to participate in the festivities. After the ceremony Mrs. Austin held a private meeting with the nine gifted and talented beneficiaries (up from five from last year) and asked them what their dreams were. Last year’s answers were the typical doctor or teacher, but this year the answers expanded to banker, engineer, and chemist. There was one beneficiary last year who answered “tour guide” as her dream job, and this year she repeated the same answer. Her justifications were different this time, however, as now she wants to be a tour guide to travel the world, meet new people, and have exciting experiences.
Day 4—July 8
The day started off with a morning session from SBME, a privately-run school that offered associate degrees in business, IT, and hospitality, and also served as a conduit to four-year universities in the UK and Singapore. This presentation offered a post-high school alterative to the traditional universities in the country. Talisman Energy followed, featuring a presentation from their HR manager and head of corporate social responsibility on the career opportunities for women in the oil and gas industry. The girls were also told of Talisman’s scholarship program that sent Vietnamese students to Canada to study engineering—another path to success, especially for the girls who are strong in science and math.
After this session, the girls were taken on office tours of the VinaCapital Group and HSBC, where they met with the female heads of the major departments. The speakers included Ms. Dang Pham Minh Loan, the deputy managing director of VinaCapital, and Ms. Cao Thi Huong Giang, the Head of Group Communications for HSBC Vietnam. Ms. Loan advised the girls to always keep themselves well-rounded in terms of their interests, and to never give up, because if they worked hard enough they could also one day work for one of these companies.
The office tours marked the conclusion of the 2011 Dream Meeting. The girls returned to the hotel for a box lunch, after which they departed for their home provinces. This year’s Dream Meeting showcased the girls’ growth—they were physically different but also emotionally. They were more confident than at last year’s inaugural meeting, and this year was more like a reunion of old friends. Their questions throughout the meeting were more sophisticated, showing maturation in their comprehension, analytical, and public speaking skills. The girls understood the necessary preparation for academic life beyond high school, and all of the options that they had. VCF and Vu A Dinh will be working with the girls in the upcoming year on their university plans, and we will also be releasing the results of our impact analysis within the next six months. This information will help us adjust the program to make it as effective as possible.