Teaching English to Street Children

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It all started during my visit of Vietnam in the summer of 2013. On a casual night out to the “sidewalk cafe”, poverty confronted me when a young unkempt girl asked me in her sweet innocent voice: “Uncle, can you give me some money?” My family has advised me before to not give money to beggars because it doesn’t really help, so I sat there in awkward silence and torned because I couldn’t help. She stood there for a minute looking at me while I feel extremely guilty.

So, in the Spring of 2014, immediately after my college graduation, I made a trip back to Vietnam thinking to make an impact on street children’s life. I thought of teaching English for three months and hopefully inspire them to study further. Knowing English is a valuable skill because businesses there want to sell to tourist; thus knowing English could lead to jobs. I tried to make a long term commitment so I also attempted to help translate Khan Academy to Vietnamese. I could never imagine how challenging these task would be—I didn’t know how difficult it was to teach.

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My first attempt to teach English involved a retired teacher, Ms. Nga, in my birthtown. In her free time, she hold classes for free for street children. I was excited to have found her class and thought I could help. However, when I get there, I found out teaching her class is not an easy thing. Some of her students have mental disabilities that prevent them from going to normal school. Others have social-economic problem (i.e., their parent were in some legal troubles or involved with drug) that affect their learning in normal school and eventually dropped out. I stayed there for two weeks but I couldn’t help any more than bringing an emotional boost (the students were excited to have a visitor) and some school supplies/books.

My second attempt to teach English was in Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC), where there are many humanitarian organizations and popular Universities. With the help of my Uncle who lives there, I got in touch with an organization called Friend For Street Children who take care of about 1000 children on the outskirt of HCMC. The students here were capable of learning, but I didn’t last too long here either. The class room was loud and there were always discipline problem (although many of the girls were really mature and studious). I volunteer for a month before stopping altogether. The teaching English experience help me understand the education problem is not simply as having good educational materials (books, software) for learning, and help me see from the teachers’ perspective who are in the classroom everyday.