By Tran Man Linh.
At the age of 18, Nguyen Song Tra was asked by a kid: “How was I born?”. At first, she was quite confused since the little boy was told by his parents that he was born from the navel, the armpit or was picked from the... landfill. She decided to explain to the child the most basic things but the boy seemed not to be so satisfied. This case actually dawned on Tra that Vietnamese parents hardly tell their kids about gender issues, also, child sexual abuse has not received proper attention in Vietnam.
For those reasons, in October 2015, Tra made up her mind to found S Project – an organization that focuses on equipping children (from six to 15 years old) with full knowledge and skills about gender and child sexual abuse prevention. During sessions taught by S Project, knowledge of gender equality and self-protection in the cyber environment was also mentioned. The project’s vision is to break all existed barriers between parents and kids, teachers and pupils, community and the children in an attempt of protecting children against the risk of sexual abuse.
S Project targets three groups: 1) Youths from 18-25 years old; 2) Children, especially victims of sexual abuse and girls who are disabled; and 3) Parents, schools, and organizations.
Currently, S Project has run two main activities in different provinces and cities of Vietnam: delivering sessions and hosting events. With the first activity, the project has taught over 12 thousand children about gender and self-protection and established 12 school clubs. Some schools have maintained their activities weekly under the form of broadcasting, writing or drawing. With the second one, S Project held two successful events respectively known as Sexual abuse prevention, I can and you too at SOS Children’s Village - Quang Binh, which attracted 400 people, and Share to share in Vinh city, which has about 800 participants. For each event, a number of advisors, gender psychologists, and people with special expertise about children were invited to share their thoughts, knowledge, and experience in defined issues.
On being asked about the beginning of S Project, Tra recalled: “It was a meaningful journey that I will never forget. There were times the whole team felt so discouraged that the other 3 core-team members decided to quit, but me. I simply thought that if I failed, I got lessons and lost nothing. At that time, I was suffering from my sickness and my family did not see eye to eye with my decision as well.” In addition, the lack of specialist knowledge of children and child sexual abuse also concerned Tra, and to her, this was the greatest challenge indeed. Nevertheless, Tra did overcome that weakness by learning tirelessly from advisors and experts to enrich her storehouse of knowledge.
According to Tra, parents’ awareness of child sexual abuse has seen improvement in recent years, but they still hesitate to act. During sessions in primary schools, her team often receives reflections from children that “Parents have never taught me that”, “Nobody explains to me yet”. The training program of S Project does not focus solely on one-way delivering but prioritizes involving activities such as acting, watching movies, playing games so children can learn in a practical way. For example, dolls are used frequently to teach children about parts of the human body.
Tra also shared that some parents, who had children taught by her team, contacted her later to ask for advice. Additionally, there was a special case that she had to consult the mother and daughter for 6 months, and the mother changed completely the way she perceives the gender issues.
“I attribute the success of S Project to human factors. If an event was not successful, it proved that members were not working hard and their spirits were not good. I can say that in S Project, enthusiasm, eagerness, and responsibility are always in the air. Their efforts were greatly appreciated by the advisor even when I was not there,” she said.
Last year, her team started working on a new approaching method called Self-educated to Self-solved and has applied to 20 teenagers from 13 to 15 and 15 children from six to ten. The initial outcome was really good that learners were able to identify problems themselves and solve it on their own. Building upon that, she intended to expand the model to reach more teenagers and children in the future. Besides, she wishes to organize a summit for S Project’s members across the country so they can meet and exchange ideas with one another in person.
In closing, Tra shared her advice for youths, who are passionate about working to protect children. In her opinion, it is a prerequisite to have a big love for children since the way they behave might continually frustrate and confuse us. Secondly, being able to communicate and work with children of different ages is a must and it can be trained by enhancing the comprehension of child psychology and learning from knowledgeable people in child-related organizations. Thirdly, to lead an initiative in the right direction, the leader must possess strong people management skills and an ability to manage the project’s activities smoothly in every aspect. Tra advised youths to look for a reliable advisor at the beginning because there will be unexpected problems we have to consult along the way.