Started from the bottom, now they're here. This is the inspiring story of A Better Vietnam, teaching English on a small budget, but changing lives.
After seeing many students who could not reach higher achievement because of the limitation of their English, Mai Thi Thao Chi founded A Better Vietnam – a project that helps Vietnamese students to improve their English by providing online, one-on-one, free lessons with native English-speaking volunteer teachers.
When Chi first had the idea of connecting her students with her English-speaking friends to help the students to practice English, she had no budget to do fancy things.
However, as a trainer in entrepreneurship, she had borne in mind the principles of effectuation, one of them being: Bird in hand – start with what you have in your hand or start with your means.
She did that successfully and today, after almost four years after the organisation established itself, she speaks to Youth Time on how the organization is contributing to a better life and education opportunities for youth, and why it’s always important for young people to stand up for what they believe in-even if it means starting with little.
Chi, a lecturer for over a decade and a mentor for start-ups for several years, has been working actively to encourage and inspire young people to strive for their dreams, and as you will witness throughout this article, this project is a combination of her entrepreneurial skills and her aspiration for a better young Vietnamese generation.
In this Youth Time piece, we will understand how this initiative results in great understanding in terms of language and culture.
Building Success from Scratch
For the first two years, the organization operated on a shoestring, with no funding but also with no real expenses.
“The volunteer teachers – mostly in their home countries – conducted the online lessons with the students through Google Hangout at the arranged time shown on the shared Google spreadsheet.
“We selected the students from an application round and then a 15-minute interview to become ABVN’s students,” she recalls.
“After two years we have provided over 3,000 lessons, with 10 volunteer teachers from Australia and the US. 200 students get to study with us and they all appreciate this opportunity and build a strong relationship with our teachers.”
The turning point for A Better Vietnam was getting the grant from YSEALI Seeds for the Future in March 2020, sponsored by the US Department of State.
“With this grant, we could build up our website and communicate the project widely to recruit more volunteer teachers and thus help more students.”
Up to now, A Better Vietnam has helped 560 students on their journey to study English, and in addition to the one-on-one classes, they are also organising groups 1-10 to help more students.
“We have provided more than 11,000 lessons with the contribution of 60 volunteer teachers. There are around 120 lessons provided on a weekly basis.”
Its current programme allows the students to study with no charge for six months, with a maximum of two lessons per week with two different teachers.
“There are stories of our students who can realise their dream of studying abroad, applying for scholarships, or getting better jobs after studying with us.”
These dreams would not be a reality for many students if Chi would give up. Luckily, she did not – despite facing financial challenges.
“With no budget, I had to think of a free platform where teachers can schedule their lessons with their availability and students will see it from their sides and be able to book it.
“An ideal platform at that moment was Google spreadsheet sharing on Google Drive. The link to the spreadsheet was shared with teachers and students so that they could schedule their lessons.”
When the platform was set, she sought help from three English-speaking friends.
All In This Together
Amazingly, but not surprisingly, they all found the idea worthy of support.
“Those three nods started A Better Vietnam. They became founding teachers on A Better Vietnam and still contribute tirelessly to the project.”
Now the organisation is operating with three teams: Education Affairs, Human Resources and Communication and Outreach.
“I think a clear organisational structure plus the talent from volunteer admin team members is the key for us to keep growing. The Education Affairs team oversees recruiting students and monitoring the teaching–studying activities. The Human Resources team oversees recruiting Volunteer teachers and team members and bonding activities.”
“The Communication and Outreach team oversees managing our media channels, working with partners, and finding funds.”
The Magic of Starting with What You Have
A crucial part of the organisation’s success is possible thanks to the tireless work of its volunteer teachers.
The foremost role of a volunteer teacher in this project is helping our students to improve their confidence in using English and giving them a chance to practice it, Chi elaborates.
In addition, teachers also contribute to a broader view about the world for students.
“As we have volunteer teachers from different countries, it is a great opportunity for students to exchange cultures. Sometimes, the teachers can play a role like a mentor or a friend to listen and to give advice and encouragement to the students.”
“There are some teachers who have been teaching with us for a long time and are very dedicated to the project. We employ these teachers to take part in our new teacher interviews.”
They also hold meetings at the end of every quarter to connect their volunteer teachers and listen to their suggestions and ideas to improve the project.
At the end of our interview, she has a message to all the young people having obstacles in their journeys to become young activists.
If you have an idea to help your community and you are really into it, then start it with what you have; she asserts.
“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”.
“You will earn the support from the community with the value you contribute as a young person.”
Just do it and you will find the way, she concludes with a cheery tone, and suggests that we read another fantastic story from Vietnam:
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