May 17, 2007
HO CHI MINH CITY, Vietnam
Vietnamese street children receive far more benefits from the
Daughters of Charity's Cho Quan (Schools of Love) in Ho Chi Minh
City, Vietnam than simply an education -- they receive what the
school's name speaks -- love. Street children, whose families are
well below the poverty level, are forced to work from a very early
age selling anything they can on the streets. However, they find a
haven in these schools, where they learn that there can be more to
“We look for any possible way to convince children that school and
an education is important, and our role in the community saves so
many children from the hardships of the street and an uneducated
fate,” expressed Sr. Tuyet Lien, D.O.C., Cho Quan Director in Ho
Chi Minh City. Of the nine schools in the city the Daughters of
Charity maintain, she runs two. “We prepare meals for both of my
schools here, to save time and money. That benefits us, but the
meals themselves benefit the children, helping them be healthy and
giving them a reason to come to school. Food here in Vietnam is the
best reason to come to school for these extremely needy
Sr. Tuyet spoke to St. John’s University graduate level school
psychology students on study abroad in
The group toured the school and met the school
children. She described the typical day for her young students, the
pressures of the outside world on them and their families, and how
their time spent in school at an early age makes the most
difference. The Cho Quan fills a very needed void in Vietnam –
schools for children who can not afford to pay for the government
run primary schools.
For street children in the Cho Quan, a typical day begins with
class at 7 a.m. They learn every subject, since the schools are
fully accredited, awarding a full transcript for each child after
fifth grade – critical so students are not left behind in any way.
In fact, these schools help catch students up to the correct grade
for their age if needed, with extra help and intensive programs.
The students are given a lunch and snacks each day, and following
an afternoon session of classes they can return to their families
and work on the streets.
Teachers at the Cho Quan learned very quickly that most coursework
needed to be completed in the class room, because of the outside
pressure to work. With broken families being the norm for these
children, living with extended family members, or with only one
parent, relying on a stable home to complete homework is not
reasonable for a student to have success.
Mark Terjesen, Ph.D.
, School Psychology Program Director and
Associate Professor of Psychology at St. John’s University, who
leads this year’s study abroad experience in Vietnam, was
interested to know what the biggest change for the Daughters of
Charity has been since the schools began operation. “Initially we
spent a lot of time and effort in the city reaching out to families
to convince them to allow their children to come to school, and we
received a lot of resistance. But due to our success, not only with
the children’s education, but with developing them into confident
young people, now these families bring the children to us,” Sr.
Tuyet said that even families that can afford government schools
bring their children here. “We want to help needy children, but how
can we turn away someone? It is not possible.”
A St. John’s student, Lindsey Havlicek, was surprised that the
children were very skilled in English, Sr. Tuyet said that they
learned that from their work, interacting with foreigners and
tourists as they try to sell things, so they learn very well how to
initiate a conversation to attract a potential buyer.
In addition to learning about their methods and challenges, the St.
John’s students spent time with the children in their classrooms,
following along with class lessons, and singing with a song of
welcome the children had prepared for St. John’s visit. The
students also presented the classes with books brought from the
United States as a donation through the Vietnam Culture Development
, a non-profit organization started in the U.S. by St.
John’s alumnus Duong Trinh, M.A. The society aims to provide
resources for the underprivileged in Vietnam with educational