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Published: January 14th 2007
The Lifestart Foundation Free School officially opened in March 2006. I am constantly looking for ways to improve what we do for the children, and also for new and stimulating things to introduce to them.
Eight months down the road, I feel like our little school has settled into a good rhythm and is doing what I had hoped it would do (despite a few teething problems and the worst typhoon in ten years making a temporary mess of the school). The children are all happy and well adjusted; they are all doing well at school. Most importantly, they are loved a lot—and they know it. The teachers have developed a special relationship with the children, and I do believe that keeping the class sizes extremely small has helped these close relationships develop.
As most of you know, the children who attend our school are from extremely disadvantaged backgrounds. Eight months ago, most could not read or write and most had never attended school despite some being 18 years old. The problems and challenges that each child had were varied; nevertheless, the initial goal was to create a safe, happy, and stimulating environment for the children to come to
each day. I know that this has been achieved, and the children have blossomed thanks to the teaching staff and volunteers who have worked with the children this year.
Children attending Lifestart Foundation Free School receive lessons in Vietnamese literacy and numeracy five days per week and attend optional art classes on the weekend. Lifestart Foundation clothes all of the children with apparel donated from Australia. Most of the clothing is new or in excellent condition.
Recently, somebody commented that most of the children in my photographs looked very well dressed and didn't look poor. I can assure you, when I first met these children they were all running around in threadbare clothing with no underclothes or shoes for their feet. I deliberately do not show these images of semi-naked, fly-blown children with runny noses.
I would prefer to show you the positive side of what a little love and kindness can do. The new clothing and clean faces reflect only an external appearance. What I can't show you in a photograph is the happiness, pride, and huge boost in self-esteem and confidence the new gear gives these children. (You will just have to imagine it.)
In addition to clothing, Lifestart gives all of the children free medical and dental treatment. Everything Lifestart provides is with the goal of enabling the children to attend school and study without any obstacles. All they have to do is turn up—which they do very willingly—and we do the rest.
The children all help look after the classroom and with the daily cleaning of the school. This is an important responsibility for them, as some of these children do not have traditional homes. Some live in very tiny boats on the river, so learning to take care of their surroundings and their environment is important.
Each child also takes care of his or her own tree. The trees are affixed with plaques bearing each child’s name. Perhaps a small thing for some of us, but for these children it represents a living thing to care for and tend daily.
On my last trip, two of our students received a special award for perfect attendance. Hue and Dung were the very proud recipients of wrist watches; Ly, who only missed one day of school, also received an award.
Lifestart now has two English classes that run six
nights per week. Again, these are free classes for disadvantaged students. The students in these classes are super-motivated and conscientious; they really value the opportunity to be able to study English. They know this will definitely help them gain employment in the future.
Lifestart Foundation is extremely fortunate to have the support of the local government. We occupy the current building housing the Lifestart Foundation Free School rent free. Lifestart then funds all of the children's needs, the staff, resources, and equipment. Unfortunately, our school did take a beating from the recent typhoon, but classes have resumed and all is running as normal.
The wonderful news is that the government is building a new building for Lifestart! It is in the same street as our old school, which is ideal. As of March 2007, we will operate out of a brand-new building.
A sincere thank you to those of you that have contributed to the resourcing of the Lifestart Foundation Free School. We rely totally on donations to keep the school operational. Travelers Tips: donations of pens, pencils, and generally all school and art supplies are gratefully accepted.
Love from Karen.
For more information on
the Lifestart Foundation Free School please click on
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