WeGrow Edu, a sex education startup founded by four Vietnamese students, approaches the subject from a rights and development perspective.
After a tough start, their work has been recognized by, among other people and institutions, the U.S. State Department, which has chosen it among 25 projects to provide some funding.
Nguyen Phuong Tu, 23, came to work Monday instead of working from home.
The former Foreign Trade University (FTU) student wanted to finish packing the Rise and Shine ‘gift’ boxes to be sent to students of WeGrow Edu staying at home during the ongoing Covid-19 crisis.
WeGrow Edu is a sex education startup founded by Tu, Linh Hoang, Ha Thi Thu and Nguyen Bich Ngoc, which the group has been working for more than three years. While Tu, Thu and Ngoc are FTU graduates in economics, accounting, auditing, banking and finance, Hoang got her degree in International Business from a university in Finland.
All four graduates are also members of VOGE – the Vietnam Organization for Gender Equality – established by Linh Hoang.
Four years ago, during a summer camp organized by VOGE, Tu and Linh Hoang interacted with many elementary and junior high school students and realized that many had almost no knowledge of gender issues.
They also noticed some students did not feel confident about their sexuality and others were worried about overcoming gender stereotypes in pursuing their passion. For instance, they recalled there were boys who were passionate about fashion design and girls who liked to play football, but were unable to overcome the invisible wall built up by gender-based prejudices.
From left: Nguyen Bich Ngoc, Nguyen Phuong Tu, Linh Hoang and Ha Thi Thu, the co-founders of WeGrow Edu. Photo courtesy of Nguyen Phuong Tu.
This discovery led to more than two years of researching and the establishment of WeGrow Edu in 2019 with the goal of helping children and youth understand a difficult topic from an empowering perspective and creating long-term values.
Instead of contraception or sexual abuse prevention, which are often the main focus of most sex education programs, WeGrow Edu chooses the perspective of individual rights and human development.
“We want to help them know how to protect, love and become the best version of themselves,” Tu said.
The group’s main activities are setting up summer education courses and camps; and designing and carrying out extracurricular programs for school children aged between 4 and 18. The lesson plan follows America’s SIECUS sex education framework, combining it with Vietnamese teaching values.
At the beginning, Tu introduced WeGrow Edu to private secondary schools in Hanoi. However, many schools turned them down because the content was “too sensitive.” When they called parents to try and persuade them letting their kids attend the course, a response Tu’s team received often was: “We can teach it by ourselves.”
In the first four months after its launch, the company was not approved by any school and couldn’t hold any class. All four members were stressed out, although they were prepared for the fact that sex education was a topic people typically avoided mentioning in Vietnam and were not comfortable dealing with.
“Maybe our model and approach was wrong,” Tu recalled thinking.
Despite the setbacks, the team was not prepared to give up. They had determined that this will be their career and not just a project that will run for a few years. Instead of quitting, they became even more active, attending their university’s entrepreneur programs like FTU Innovation and Incubation Space and other workshops to meet with people, including parents, and better understand their mindsets.
The team got their first opportunity when a lecturer in their school asked the group to come and talk to students in his English class about their sex education course.
Later, another teacher who learned about the project encouraged parents to let their children try out WeGrow Edu’s courses.
From then on, the startup began receiving invitations from different organizations, schools and parents. Today, the team is now connected with 14 schools and has organized more than 20 courses, reaching over 300 students.
Students are all smiles, attending a WeGrow Edu course. Photo courtesy of Nguyen Phuong Tu.
Tu said he has witnessed many touching moments between parents and children as a result of the courses. Before finishing a course, the group reserves a private time for parents to talk and open up with their children through a handwritten hand letter. They can even read the letter themselves, if they want to.
One time, a mother talked about how miserable her pregnancy was and how happy she felt when her son was born. But later the mother and son grew distant, and she shared that she did not know how to talk to her children about gender issues.
“Our team is very touched and feel very fortunate when families trust and share their stories with us. This is the motivation for us to persist with WeGrow Edu, contributing to creating good values for children and helping them to connect better with parents,” Tu said.
At the end of 2019, the team presented their project at the Social Business Creation international competition organized by HEC Montreal University in Canada and finished among top 10 social entrepreneur projects.
Two months later, early this year, they became one of 25 firms in Southeast Asia to be sponsored by the U.S. State Department to develop a pilot project to promote gender equality among high school students in Vietnam.
Rise and Shine
The Rise and Shine gift boxes, part of the project and the WeGrow Edu courses, are designed for children to use during long break from school.
The boxes are divided into four age groups – four to seven, eight to 11, 12 to 16 and 17 to 18, each containing four compartments of 30 items and messages for each group. The content for these boxes keeps evolving, Tu said.
A Rise and Shine gift box. Photo courtesy of Nguyen Phuong Tu.
For example, the “Happiness” compartment of the box for 12 to 16-year-old children has changed a lot with the team including content related to puberty presented through many short stories. In addition, students can find body care items in the “Love Yourself” compartment and can learn about condoms, pregnancy tests and tampons in the “Secret” compartment.
Finally, in the Peace section, the group presents many souvenirs, as also several QR codes for the children to contact the team directly if they need to talk and receive advice.
Le Ha, Director of the FTU Innovation and Incubation Space, highly appreciated the idea of WeGrow Edu project when Tu introduced it in early 2019.
Ha felt that the group’s teaching method will help young people protect themselves from sexual abuse, school bullying and gender stereotyping while developing to their full potential.
WeGrow Edu is not only a startup project, it has become a go-between, connecting families and schools in providing sex education for children, Ha said.
Tu said the team plans to approach a group of public schools in Hanoi to introduce their project. In the next five years, they hope to develop a gender education program that can become a subject taught at all schools in Vietnam.
While acknowledging that this was a big and ambitious goal, he said the team was motivated by the results achieved so far and the positive feedback they have received.
It “allows us to hope for a positive result.”
Exhibition of disadvantaged children’s paintings held in Hà Nội
HÀ NỘI — Exhibition “Gratitude” featuring 50 artworks by disadvantaged children during the COVID-19 pandemic, took place at the United Nations Office in Hà Nội on Friday on the occasion of the International Day of Persons with Disabilities.
This event is a follow-up to the contest “For a Triumphant Việt Nam” for child patients aged 4-16 nationwide.
The works of the contest were previously exhibited at the National Museum of Fine Art in Hà Nội from November 18-22, attracting more than 1,000 visitors, including Vietnamese President Nguyễn Xuân Phúc and his wife, Madam Trần Nguyệt Thu.
In the opening ceremony, Rana Flower, UNICEF Representative in Việt Nam, emphasised the importance of taking good care of disadvantaged children in our society.
She expressed concern for the current lack of access to many areas of life, especially health care and education, which many children, especially those with disabilities, are facing.
Thảo Griffiths, Chief Representative of the American Veterans Fund in Việt Nam, said that besides economic development, a well-developed Việt Nam is shown by how we treat children, especially the vulnerable ones.
At the exhibition, through the stories, messages, pictures and thoughts ingrained in each work, viewers are taken on an emotional journey raising awareness and an understanding of COVID through the children’s eyes.
Those interested will have a chance to buy these paintings to raise funds to support the children. All the proceeds from the sale of the paintings will be managed by the Hope Foundation – VnExpress to support children with cancer, disabilities, or from disadvantaged backgrounds.
Three children, including Chu Ánh Tuyết (aged 15) with cancer, Lê Thị Hồng Ngọc (aged 15), and Lee Nguyen Sae Hee (aged 10), showcased their resilient spirit through the paintings at the exhibition.
Though Tuyết was tired from her cancer treatment, she tried her best to complete her drawing titled “The magical hands”, illustrating people’s hands joining together in the COVID 19 pandemic.
Ngọc moved everyone at the exhibition with her “Good Night” picture as she talked about the children who died during the COVID 19 pandemic and her wishes for a brighter future.
Nguyễn Thị Ánh Vân, Sae Hee’s mother, shared her difficulties when raising an autistic child and joys when discovering his talents for drawing. —
Flowers are in blossom everywhere – now is the time for the best photos
After waking up early, Bùi Thanh Tuyền and her friends were ready just minutes later to start their flower tour in a suburb of Hà Nội.
It took the friends about an hour and a half hour to reach Ba Vì District, 50km from the city centre. Here, they could admire the beautiful yellow dã quỳ (Mexican sunflower or tree marigold) fields that have become a magnet for thousands of people in the area.
“I just heard about dã quỳ in the north recently. I talked with my friends and we were all excited about the tour. We did not want to miss the season of dã quỳ, which only last a few weeks in the last three months of the year,” Tuyền told Việt Nam News.
“They bloom in a short period, so if you guys do not hurry you will have to wait another year!”
Tuyền and her friends shared that they had a great time together, taking photos to remember their time with the dã quỳ. They all agree that they will come back to Bà Vì next year.
Hoàng Quang Khôi wanted to relax after a busy working week and decided to take his family to the Ba Vì National Park, 10km further from where Tuyền was, to see the flowers.
“We took a bus to get there. On the way to the park, we saw many pathways with dã quỳ blossoms but here it is like a huge garden. We are in front of a big large golden carpet of flowers,” said Khôi.
“We have to get up early to get here at the best time of day, between 8-10 am in the morning, otherwise we would have to wait until 5 or 6pm when the flowers are golden in the sunset.
“If possible, I would like to camp here, spending the night in the park, and then we can see these beauties during sunrise, which would be amazing!” said Khôi, who joined hundreds of people in taking photos with the wild yellow blossoms.
Dã quỳ are visible from the gates of the park and can be seen along most of the 12.5km road to the top of Ba Vì Mountain.
In Việt Nam, the flowers are also called cúc quỳ, sơn quỳ, quỳ dại and hướng dương dại. They are a symbol of faithful love, energetic vitality, pride and resilience. When exactly they bloom changes a little bit each year, depending on the weather conditions, but it is usually between October and the end of December.
It is said that the French grew dã quỳ in the 1930s. For many years, it was considered a kind of wild plant and was regularly uprooted. But since 2015, the park managers decided to let them grow and began taking care of them. They realised that tourists love the flowers and they come back more often for them.
Dã quỳ is a member of the daisy family. It also can be found in various cool climate localities such as in Mộc Châu District, Sơn La Province, and Pass Sài Hồ in Lạng Sơn Province in the north, Quảng Trị Province’s Hướng Hóa District in the central region and Gia Lai Province’s Pass Mang Yang and Chư Đăng Ya Volcano in the Central Highlands. But Đà Lạt City in Lâm Đồng Province is the most famous destination for this flower.
Dã quỳ can be seen in various corners in the highland city but the best sites are on the outskirts. Trekkers and locals have mapped out different routes to these help tourists make the most of the beautiful scenery.
People can visit Vạn Thành Flower Village, Elephant Waterfall and Langbiang Mount which is about 13km from the centre city. Following another road, visitors can travel about 30km to Trại Mát and Cầu Đất areas in Xuân Trường District. Around 100km away are more spots in Tà Nung, Đơn Dương and Tu Tra.
This time of the year is also the season of many other beautiful flowers for tourists in Đà Lạt.
Pink foxtail grass has lured people, especially the young generation, in recent years. The grass turns pink in early November and remains that colour for more than a month. This wild grass covers the hills near Tuyền Lâm Lake, Golden Stream and Thái Phiên Flower Village.
“The Golden Stream is the most desired spot for wedding photos this season. Here, they will have a beautiful and romantic background that will make their albums spectacular,” said Phạm Minh Tài, who took photos for Tiên Tiên, a bride from Đồng Nai.
Tiên said it was not difficult to get to Đà Lạt. People have to make a health declaration before arriving in the city and follow COVID-19 instructions.
She believed that her album with the pink foxtail will be the best memory of her life.
November and December are the months of the mimosa, or silver wattle, which is native to Australia but can also be found in Đà Lạt, where it is considered a symbol of the city as it can be found nowhere else in the country.
The small yellow or golden-yellow flowers are very fluffy in appearance, due to the presence of numerous stamens. The delicate, fern-like silvery green leaves are attractive all year round. The plants become a mass of bright yellow when they flower in late winter.
A huge number can be found at Pass Prenn and Pass Mimosa.
Back to the north, Sơn La Province’s Mộc Châu plateau is a must-visit destination for its overwhelmingly beautiful white rapeseed and white plum flowers, which bloom from December to early February.
Vast white rapeseed fields in Áng and Pa Phách villages are the biggest and most beautiful, providing tourists with enchanting flowers that stretch to the horizon.
The plum flowers cover many hills and valleys. Visitors can see their blossoms everywhere, from villages to upland fields and along both sides of the highways.
Nà Ka valley, home to over 100ha of clear plum trees, has an exquisite landscape, fresh mountain air, and juicy plums that can be eaten right off the tree in the harvest season.
The next destination for flowers should be Hà Giang Province, about 280km from Hà Nội.
Tam giác mạch (buckwheat) blossoms have tiny wild pink flowers with triangular-shaped leaves, which are in season from late October to December.
The flowers typically have three colours; light pink, glistening purple and dark red. In the bright sunshine, they look like a watercolour painting. Their wild and endless beauty has seduced many people.
Buckwheat flowers symbolise love and happiness. They are cultivated for their grain-like seeds, which are used to make food specialities by ethnic people in the mountainous region.
Sủng Là, Lũng Cú and Xín Mần districts are familiar names to many that have attended the annual Tam Giác Mạch Festival.
“Hà Giang is my next destination, though I will have to check the COVID-19 pandemic control measure before travelling. I can’t wait to visit see the buckwheat flowers,” Tuyền said.
The mother of three also wants to take photos with cúc họa mi (white daisy) in Hà Nội, which has been a hot trend in the capital in recent weeks.
There are many breathtaking fields of flowers that are just waiting for flower lovers to visit, including 60ha of sunflowers in Nghĩa Đàn District in Nghệ An Province; a vast sea of Chi Pâu or swertia in the Tà Chì Nhù Mount in Yên Bái Province; and rapeseed flower fields in Thái Bình Province’s Vũ Thư District and Hà Nội’s Gia Lâm District.
Street arts festival kicks off in HCM City
HCM CITY – A street art festival, Saigon Urban Arts: Street Mural Painting (SUA 2021), will be held in HCM City from December 4-18.
The event is co-organised by the French Institute and the Goethe-Institut in HCM City with the support of the Franco-German Cultural Fund, supported by Pro Helvetia-New Delhi, a liaison office of the Swiss Arts Council in India.
During the event, Vietnamese and international street artists will paint five murals at apartment buildings at 1A Nguyễn Đình Chiểu and the walls at Mai Thị Lựu Street in District 1.
The performance will include Lưu Đoàn Duy Linh – Daes, Nguyễn Tấn Lực aka Cresk, and Lê Nhật Huy – Kleur, who won the JAM – Vietnam Urban Arts 2021 competition held by the French Institute in Việt Nam in April.
They will pair with artists Enni from Germany, Marc Lee from Switzerland, and Bouda from France to create three murals.
Vietnamese artists Daos 501 and Vietnamese-French artist Suby One, who are famous among the street art community in the country, will create their own murals.
All five art works will reflect the United Nations’ sustainable development goals.
Visitors can see the artists work at the venue from 9am – 12pm and 2pm – 5pm on December 11.
SUA 2021 aims to honour the beauty of street arts. Through events, audiences can understand more about the values of the art, including beautifying the city and connecting people.
The organisers will continue to host the festival in March featuring artists from France and Germany, workshops at local schools, seminars on street arts, performances of music and hip hop, and a street ar festival.
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