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HOW IT STARTED
Many people who visit Sapa become inspired to give something back. With the help of four Australian tourists, Shu Tan, a young, single mother from the Black H’mong tribe, was able to turn her dream of helping her people into a reality. They worked together to fund and open the first H’mong owned homestay in Sapa and supported Shu to establish a socially conscious trekking sevice. Running on the social enterprise blueprint, Sapa O’Chau was to put the money earned back into the community through projects such as providing winter clothes to children and improvements to the village schools. Later Shu decided to tackle the problem of illiteracy in Sapa’s young tour guides and street vendors, many of whom never had the chance to go to school. With the help of a Norwegian anthropology student she organized informal English night classes for a small group of enthusiastic youths in a room provided by a local hotel. As these Sapa O’Chau classes grew in popularity, so did the need for more facilities. In the summer of 2010, Shu found a large house that was perfect for this and also saw a transformation in focus from Sapa O’Chau, the trekking social enterprise, to Sapa O’Chau, the ‘school’. Today Sapa O’Chau has over 70 students (35 of which live at the Centre) and wants to help even more! We run classes in English and Vietnamese literacy, vocational training, traditional song & dance and arts and crafts. We help our students to reenroll in Vietnamese schools and form a bridge between our students and the opportunities offered by other with other organisations. Most of our students want to be tour guides or work in other ways within Sapa’s tourism industry. As a result of this there is a real sense of symbiosis within the different parts of the Sapa O’Chau project, from trekking to teaching, to homestays and homework.
The ethnic minority girls and boys from the villages surrounding Sapa have limited access to educational opportunities beyond the age of ten. Even before that, many drop out of school to help their families, either on the farm, looking after younger siblings or selling trinkets to tourists on the streets of Sapa town. Although some do manage to finish primary school, very few have an opportunity to attend High School or any tertiary learning at all. There is a clear need to enhance the educational opportunities of ethnic minority youths in Sapa. Sapa O'Chau aims to improve the lives of minority youths through education, vocational training, and work opportunities, while also encouraging other local families to set up their own businesses and keep their children in school. Sapa O'Chau provides youths with the tools they need to return to government school to complete their basic education, and seeks partners to connect them with vocational training opportunities. In addition Sapa O'Chau provides support for students and their families so that they do not have to return to street-selling for income. Sapa O'Chau encourages minority people to participate more fully and equitably in the tourist economy of Sapa and the surrounding area. The Sapa O’Chau project is growing through the support of many wonderful people, both here in Vietnam and internationally. We need your support too!
SAPA O'CHAU CENTRE
Our beating heart is the Sapa O’Chau Centre. As of January 2012, the Centre accommodates 35 Sapa O’Chau students and providies daily support for over 70. Most are from Black H’mong villages, but some are from Red Dao and other minority villages. Our resident students come from particularly disadvantageous situations and live at the Centre during the week. Without this option the students simply would not be able to further their education as it would mean walking over 10 kilometers to and from their village daily in order to attend classes. The students are enrolled into Vietnamese Schools & Colleges and we run free English and Vietnamese Literacy, Arts & Crafts and Life Skills classes. Opportunities for Vocational Training is provided through our own activities as well as links with local businesses and NGOs. Our mission is to get all our students back to school and into careers. The Centre contains the Sapa O’Chau classroom, an administrative office, 5 dormitories, a kitchen, bathrooms and vegetable garden. The dormitories provide accommodation for up to 40 girls & boys, ranging from 12-25 years old. If you would like to visit the Centre, please send us an e-mail or talk to one of our staff at the Sapa O’Chau Café.