They’re happy and we know it

Walking into a room with over 150 cheering students isn’t a bad way to start your day. As soon as we arrived, we were escorted to the front of the auditorium, given snacks and bottled water—then entertained with music performed by the students. Before long, we were rushed up onto the stage to play a game with the students and sing “If you’re happy and you know it”. Even though I had been sick and was only feeling 50% of my normal self, the room was so full of energy it was impossible to not feel uplifted.

Two students sing and dance for the IWitness and Save the Children visitors. Photo by Tiffany Rhodin.

After the entertainment, we toured the school and I was once again stunned by the number of students. I looked down from a balcony and saw what felt like all 2,000 of the school’s students on a break. It looked too crowded to move but they stood closely and socialised happily, just like American teenagers.

Hundreds of secondary students on break in Nguyen Trai Secondary School’s courtyard. Photo by Tiffany Rhodin.

Through its Good Cause campaigns, the IKEA Foundation partners with Save the Children, funding programmes for children’s rights, safety and access to quality education. One component of the programme at Nguyen Trai is the counselling room.

A seventh year student smiles when she discusses the counselling room at Nguyen Trai Secondary School. Photo by Tiffany Rhodin.

The counselling room is a place where students can meet with the school social worker about any conflict in their lives. The issue could involve situations with peers, teachers or other adults. The social worker’s mission is to provide the proper resources and a positive solution. Doubting that teenage students would be comfortable enough to use the counselling room, I asked the children if they had ever met with the social worker. Every single one of them said “yes!”

The student-run greenhouse at Nguyen Trai Secondary School. Photo by Tiffany Rhodin.

Not only does the counselling room provide empowerment for the children, it also lifts the pressure of outside influences. With this positivity, children at Nguyen Trai are able to focus on their education. The greenhouse was a perfect example of this. I can easily say this was my favourite part of the trip. Witnessing child-led education (and taking a break from the heat) in the greenhouse, I saw students passionate about their work. It was inspiring to learn about the germination process and see their project from start to finish. Students will be able to consume the vegetables grown, and the fish they raise will be sold at the market for funds.

The germination and seeding process is explained by students. Photo by Tiffany Rhodin.

This day really proved to me that when we listen to children, when we empower and support them, they will do great things. The students at Nguyen Trai Secondary School are intrinsically motivated and with them, our future is bright!

Students from Nguyen Trai Seondary School posing by the greenhouse fish. Photo by Tiffany Rhodin.
    Tiffany Rhodin