Sapa is a charming town up in the hills of northern Vietnam. Surrounding the town, there are many villages. In these villages, children are expected to work at home to help the family either with farm work, cooking, sewing, taking care of their younger siblings, and/or selling miscellaneous items on the street to tourists to make some money.
Since the priority of the family is to eat, work, and make a bit of money, then the more help from each family member, the better. Unfortunately, this leaves little room for an education; children are expected to help the family – that’s pretty much it.
In February, 2012, I had the opportunity to visit a brand new school center called Sapa O’Chau. The center was in the works for awhile, but had opened in full-swing in January 2012.
Students live at the center in Sapa because the villages outside of Sapa are anywhere from a 1 to 4 hour walk. Some students go home on weekends to visit and help their families while others students choose to stay at the center to catch up on studying.
Sapa O’Chau is usually referred to as a “centre” instead of a “school” because it is more than just classes. At The Sapa O’Chau Centre, students not only attend classes and study, but also sleep, cook, play games, clean, sew, hang out in the dorm rooms, work in the garden, watch movies, etc. It is a home for about 35 students and they all work together like a family. All the students help each other with chores and school work and live together at the center seven days a week. It really is a great support system and was wonderful to see!
The Sapa O’Chau Centre is dedicated to helping children learn curricula and pass the entrance exams in order to, eventually, attend Vietnamese public school. It was created in hopes of promoting education as well as providing work/training opportunities to local children.
Classes and Work
The students of Sapa O’Chau have just as busy a schedule as they would working at home. Students have Vietnamese classes, English classes, and work either as a tour guide or in the Sapa O’Chau Café when they’re not in class.
Flexible Schedule. At the time when I visited, English classes were scheduled for 9AM-11AM and 2PM-4PM. Vietnamese classes were scheduled at night. However, class subjects and class times change quite frequently based on teachers’ availability, local events, and students’ schedules. New classes are added often and times change depending on the situation at the time. The schedule is really flexible which is actually quite nice; it seems more like coordinating a family event instead of dreaded classes that only work for a few teachers and students.
Class Levels. Classes are broken into four different levels [level 1 is beginners and level 4 is the highest] and students are moved through levels based on ability [not age or how long they’ve been in the program].
Work. Students work either as a tour guide for tourists or in the café – both jobs help students improve their English. Tour guides show tourists around to local villages on treks through the countryside while students that work in the café take coffee orders from tourists and, perhaps, try to strike up a small conversation as good English-speaking practice.
When I was in the “Sapa O’Chau Centre” and was hanging out with the students, I was truly amazed at how dedicated they were! It was a Saturday night and students were sitting around in the center studying! One girl was studying biology, another was sewing new clothes, a boy [of level 4 English] was studying English and looking at a map… I was talking to the boy studying English and he asked me about some words. Some words were countries and I asked if he could find them on the map. He asked where I was from and where I had traveled to. I showed him on the map and started to tell him stories. He was really interested in the stories, but kindly asked me to go back to helping him with his studies. We continued reading English words and finding countries on the map… Helping him was a lot of fun and it really brought a smile to my face when he asked if he could continue studying and if we can finish the conversation when he was done with his list of words. How amazing is it to have a student that dedicated?! .
The Sapa O’Chau Café has coffee drinks and pancakes. All the proceeds go into funding the students and the school center. The café is really cute and cozy with little gems of the students sprinkled throughout… pictures, paintings, and [my favorite] shot glasses made from bamboo by some of the students to help the project!
For more information about Sapa O’Chau and how you can help, visit their website at www.sapaochau.org !