Terraced Rice Paddies and Building Blocks

Jeremy headshot - Vietnam

Jeremy Soulliere

Media and Communications Manager

Save the Children US

August 28, 2015

Around the world, there are many places where Save the Children works where the early educational opportunities for children are little to none. Fortunately, there are also many passionate people who are working hard to change that. 

When Microsoft asked Save the Children, as part of our #UpgradeYourWorld partnership, to tell the story of one person who is making a positive difference in their community for children, we knew just the person to recommend. (Microsoft will be highlighting the inspiring work of Save the Children and nine other global nonprofits over the next 10 months.  You can read more about the Upgrade Your World initiative here.) 

Classroom filming - behind-the-scenes

Filming begins inside a Save the Children supported preschool classroom in northern rural Vietnam. The resulting video of Save the Children’s early learning programming will be featured as part of Microsoft’s #UpgradeYourWorld initiative. Photo by Jeremy Soulliere / Save the Children.

Last week, I met up with my Vietnamese colleagues and the Microsoft team in Hanoi and drove five hours to the north, where the landscape turned from a sea of mopeds, rickshaws and bicycles to terraced rice paddies stretching endlessly alongside the lush, tropical mountains in a remote village in Lao Cai Province.

The village is home to a small population of rice and corn farmers.  Nearly 50 percent of the hard-working villagers here are living in poverty, and most live without electricity and running water. The majority of the adults here have not received more than a primary school education – a reality Save the Children is committed to improving by giving kids an early start on learning. 

That early start begins off a dirt road at the local preschool supported by Save the Children, where we met Sung Thi Kim, a gentle, kind and motivating preschool teacher who is making a big difference for the littlest children here. As an ethnic minority who received a higher education elsewhere and decided to come back home to affect change in this farming community, Ms. Kim is, day-by-day, upgrading our world one student at a time.

VietnamIt was only the second day of preschool after the end of summer break, but Ms. Kim’s classroom was already a picture of perfection. It reminds me in many ways of my own children’s preschool in Connecticut, the children’s artwork displayed along the walls, a bookshelf filled with colorful early-learning books, an area for building blocks and creative play, etc. But there also are stark differences – there are no water buffalo walking through the playground in Connecticut, or fathers arriving in droves on mopeds to pick up their kids after school because the walk home would take hours.

Back home this week and taking my own kids back to school, I am reminded that the fundamentals for giving kids an early start on learning – a dedicated teacher, a quality learning environment and committed parents and caretakers – remain the same no matter where you live.

I can’t wait for you to meet “leading lady” Ms. Kim and Mai, one of the many students whose life she has helped change.  Stay tuned.