Creating safe spaces

The sun rises early in Ho Chi Minh City and with an 11-hour time difference, we were up by 5:30am every morning. On the road and eager to learn about our fourth school, we arrived at Nguyen Du Secondary School and were greeted by hundreds of curious faces. The students were on a break between sessions and were playing casual games of shuttlecock, the featherball easily purchased at the school canteen. This is one of few times the students stop to rest.

Nguyen Du Secondary Students playing outside during a quick break. Photo by Tiffany Rhodin.

At Nguyen Du Secondary School, we were paired with an advanced, English-speaking student. This student gave us a tour of the school and showed us the impact of the IKEA Foundation’s partnership with Save the Children. On our tour, I couldn’t get over the number of children enrolled in the school. The class size averages about 50 students to one teacher. When we passed other students, they waved peace signs and greeted me in both English and Vietnamese. Even though we attempted each other’s native language, a smile was universally accepted.

Tiffany Rhodin posing with students from Nguyen Du Secondary School. Photo by Tiffany Rhodin.

My student guide showed me the outdoor reading corner and some of his favourite classrooms. Though crowded and simple, the students enjoy their science labs for chemistry and physics. Students attend school from around 6:45am-4:00pm Monday through Friday and spend half the day on Saturdays at school as well. I was in disbelief at the hours spent at school but, when I asked my guide how he felt, he told me that he likes being there specifically because of the people and the programme at Nguyen Du.

An empty science lab at Nguyen Du Secondary School. Photo by Tiffany Rhodin.
Secondary students reading in an outdoor library at Nguyen Du. Photo by Tiffany Rhodin.

The IKEA Foundation is partnering with Save the Children by funding programmes for the most vulnerable children in Ho Chi Minh City. Because of these programmes, students at Nguyen Du are learning how to prevent HIV/AIDS, experiencing child-led education and even role playing potentially harmful situations, so they know how to respond and what resources are available to them. After sharing this information with me, a student pointed to the core teacher of the programme and told me: “See that lady, we don’t call her ‘teacher’, we call her ‘aunt’ because she is like family to us.”

A proud student poses by artwork advocating children’s rights. All illustrations done by students at Nguyen Du Secondary School. Photo by Tiffany Rhodin.
Core programme teachers from Nguyen Du Secondary School, Save the Children colleagues and IWitness ambassadors pose for a group picture. Photo by Save the Children Vietnam.
    Tiffany Rhodin