My name is Urvi Amin and I am currently pursuing my degree in International Development at the University of Waterloo.  I am currently in Hanoi, Vietnam for my fourth-year placement where I will be volunteering with Vietnam Association of Community Colleges (VACC) as a communications officer. VACC is a non-profit organization that seeks to improve higher education opportunities for Vietnamese youth. My roles as a communications officer includes delivering workshops, networking for partnership development, and improving the organization’s media platforms.

 

Vietnam is a country that has surprised me in many ways, especially their history and brutal war that made the country undergo years of suffering and difficulties (Tri,2018). However, that has not stopped them from being where they are today. I observed that people here are very optimistic and hard-working which has made the country develop at such an efficient rate. For example, the education sector would have been a lot worse if people were not so determined to look beyond the past hardships they faced. They enormously value education and the skills it provides, and as a result the government has put great efforts in making sure that everyone has access to some form of education, at least up to the high school level.

 

During the course of my studies, I was introduced to a number of theories and approaches to development, that go hand in hand with the work I am currently doing. The idea that directly relates to the projects that I am working on is youth empowerment. Youth empowerment is allowing the young people to engage in civic, economic, social and political issues by participating in decision-making and development processes which are vital to achieving sustainable human development (UNDP,2019). This is done by looking at the problems they face and providing them with relevant resources and assistance. This will allow them to have a voice in society and overcome the difficulties they come across as young individuals.

 

The focus of my organization is to empower the youth through higher education by providing them with necessary resources and guidance. Higher education was previously inaccessible for many after high school because the Vietnamese educational system restricts one from continuing with higher education if they do not pass their high school final examinations. However, VACC steps in and gives those that did not do as well in high school to also have the opportunity to pursue a degree at a community college that is less rigorous. Higher education provides a foundation for the youth that are the future generation of Vietnam. It aids in providing the necessary skills and knowledge that will enable them to help with the development of the country. The main things they do, consists of creating partnerships that will do a two-way exchange on skills, partnering with community collages worldwide to create prospects for internships and exchange programs and run workshops for VACC members that train them on skills such as marketing and communications.

 

Over the past few weeks, I have been able to learn how empowering the youth is critical for the future of Vietnam’s development. What I learnt in school regarding this concept has been reflected in the work I have been doing. However, the process of empowering the youth has several barriers and is not as easy as it sounds. In Vietnam, there are several levels of authority that a project needs to be passed through before receiving approval. For instance, when a project is proposed, it first has to be approved by our supervisor, then directors, and finally government authorities, who make it difficult to get approval from. This slows down the process of implementing a project that aims to empower youth. From this experience I have come to realize that nothing is as straightforward as it is taught in class.  You have to practically witness what youth empowerment means, the processes involved and the different contexts to really understand what youth empowerment entails.

 

The projects I am working on mainly focus on workshops and creating partnerships for VACC that are aimed at helping with long-term sustainable youth empowerment. The students I work with to deliver workshops are groups that are preparing to apply for higher education. These young individuals gain various skills that include effective communication that will enable them to succeed in day-to-day life. I was able to see how having a poor foundation can make things that are simple for us, very difficult for the youth here. It is quite challenging for them to communicate in a different language and learn concepts that they are not familiar with. These are things, I only came to realize could be so difficult when I was delivering workshops and saw how tough it can be on both ends. This hands-on experience gave me a better insight into the obstacles of youth empowerment especially when it involves cross-cultural communication.

 

My experience so far has taught me to be patient. I now have a deeper understanding of the challenges that can arise from cross-cultural communication especially in the context of development. I therefore strive to be patient when working with youth on a regular basis to deliver workshops. Each day has been a learning curve for me as I continuously learn what has worked and what hasn’t. This also helps me be more flexible and adapt to the students’ needs.  All the projects that I work on, be it delivering workshops, finding exchange programs or creating partnerships with other organizations have shown me that empowering youth is not a linear process. It is a complex development issue that requires time, patience understanding of cross-culture and working collaboratively with the youth in order to achieve meaningful and effective youth empowerment.

 

 

References

Tri, Quang. 2018. “Unearthing Dark History In Vietnam’s War Tunnels”. France 24. https://www.france24.com/en/20180125-unearthing-dark-history-vietnams-war-tunnels.

UNDP. 2019. “Youth Empowerment”. UNDP. https://www.undp.org/content/undp/en/home/ourwork/democratic-governance-and-peacebuilding/youth-empowerment/.