Nui Tuong Project
A remarkable story about a small rural Vietnamese community and its heartwarming transformation.
Nui Tuong is one of the poorest communities in the Dong Nai province where the main source of living is farming. Unlike some other provinces in Vietnam, Dong Nai has limited resources and English is not taught at primary school level. The Nui Tuong Project began in May 2016 when Hang Le returned back to her place of birth.
Hang was born into a family of accomplished farmers. Having graduated with an English degree, life took Hang to the city where she spent years in Saigon working on a variety of projects and teaching Vietnamese to foreigners. Over time, Hang found her life to be unfulfilling and empty. She was always drawn to her roots and wanted to find a way to give back to her people. Upon returning to Nui Tuong, Hang immediately saw that little had changed for most families in her community since her childhood years. The severe poverty weighed on the community, they had low self-esteem and small hopes for a better future.
With a passion to lead her community towards a brighter future, Hang realised the huge potential in sustainable agriculture and eco-tourism, as Nui Tuong is mere walking distance from Cat Tien National Park. Not long after she returned back to her village, the head of the ward asked her to teach the local children English in one of the small community houses available. She accepted enthusiastically and quickly saw how smart and inquisitive children of the community were. Hang recognized that in order to continue their development and create sustainable change, she needed to foster an environment where local children could learn, conduct experiments and share knowledge, in a safe and supportive environment.
With her own money, Hang founded Nui Tuong Project which is now a social enterprise. It presently sits on a 2000 square metre plot of land, nestled along Dong Nai River and has grown to have four large wooden bungalows for accommodation, additional dormitory for volunteers, a spacious and open dining and kitchen area and a library where children gather for their lessons and study activities. Nui Tuong project is unique as it blends agriculture, eco-tourism and education in a creative and innovative way and Hang strives to expand each area to its full potential.
At present, there is one permanent staff, Ms. Celine – a French national – who plans to remain at Nui Tuong for two years and is in charge of agricultural development. Her expertise and passion lie in permaculture, organic produce and sustainability and she has devoted her time to both managing the farm as well as creating workshops for the children. The long term goal is to have plants, fruits and vegetables all year round and to entrust the farm operations to the local children. Celine and the children learn about how to create small and large scale farms and about the local challenges in their production processes. The children are encouraged to develop solutions, experiment with new and more suitable crops for the climate, make organic fertilizer, teach farmers not to use pesticides and learn about current methods and machinery used in modern farming.
Hang dedicates most of her time to engaging with the parents in the village. She organises music nights and other events to bring the community closer and build trust in her teaching methods. During community nights, Hang encourages the parents to have trust in their children and to allow them the independence to develop new skill sets and build their confidence. She also guides children on how to develop an open communication with their families about their hopes and dreams.
Hang emphasizes the importance of having practical skills in addition to just good grades in school, which is what most parents usually focus on and what is promoted in traditional education systems. By promoting “learning by doing” Hang aims to strengthen the childrens’ abilities in performing independent research and having a solution driven, proactive mindset.
Of course, Nui Tuong Project would have never been possible without the help of international volunteers and visitors, which Hang has been actively engaging with in the last two years. In Nui Tuong village, eco-tourism is suitable to be experienced by anyone who loves nature, especially families that live and work in big cities. As a guest you pay a small fee for accommodation in one of the bungalows and you can use the bicycles from the farm to explore the nearby surroundings as well as tour Cat Tien National Park. One can enjoy the rice fields, the farm, eat and live like locals within the commune, learn about country life and experience its simplicity while feeling part of a big family.
Additionally, the project organises Summer Camps where children from local schools and English centers in Ho Chi Minh City can join local kids on the farm and stay between 1 - 4 weeks. Most of the activities are determined by the volunteers and a typical weekly program includes: playing the guitar, practicing martial arts, and drawing. The program also covers subjects such as English, Science, History and Regional Geography. Children attending the camp are involved in weekly workshops on farming and nutrition, making jam and wine, planting flowers and fruits and even yoga! Children are taught how to run projects, manage finances and how to utilise social media for promotion and marketing. Hang loves to observe and discover the potential of each child through these activities and once she recognises certain talent within each child, she will change their role in order to fit their skills and personality, which in turn gives them the courage to develop in the right direction. Hang shares as her personal motivation for this project...
“To see a positive change in a human, to see them understand and trust themselves more and more every day, to have the opportunity to inspire them to be leaders.”
Schools which have joined in helping the project are Anglo-Chinese School (ACS) and Nanyang Polytechnic (NYP). Students and staff from FPT University in Vietnam visited and prepared dinner for over 100 community members. Even visitors from Hong Kong are making their way to Nui Tuong village, where 30 students from Hong Kong University of Science and Technology built a soccer field for the whole community to enjoy and taught the children experiments about aerodynamics and engineering. Students from National University of Singapore have also visited for two consecutive years to build additional classrooms and facilities and implement solar lights for the amenities on the farm.
Hang feels happy now, even though her life and community responsibilities have become increasingly demanding and complex. She aims to continue to expand and accommodate more children from her community, nurturing and improving each of their native talents and strengths. Hang sees Nui Tuong Project becoming the perfect social enterprise model for anyone to pick up as a valuable case study and implement in their home towns and communities.
Within the next five years, most of the current children will leave to study abroad, the farm will grow to cover five hectares of land and there will be a small factory to produce wine. There will be additional housing for guests and volunteers, as well as housing for lecturers and scientists, with a fully equipped lab for them to conduct experiments. This is how Hang envisions the development of her project, as she believes her efforts will bring continuous change in the local community, for a better living environment and a stronger local economy.
Now Hang is focused on the actual day to day work with the children, which she considers the most rewarding human experience. Her most substantial need is to bring more awareness to Nui Tuong Project, and to inspire organisations and companies to support with donations and volunteers.
As Nui Tuong Project grows, it will soon need four additional interns and an education coordinator, as well as volunteers in the fields of Technology, English and Farming.
How can you and your organisation support Nui Tuong Project?
Image source: Nui Tuong