Huong Dang is passionate about the difference education can bring and the importance of a strong relationship between Australia and Vietnam to improve the lives of those who are disadvantaged.
Born into a rural farming family where the annual income came from harvesting a few paddy fields, life was not easy. Huong’s father passed away when she was very young, leaving her mother to look after three young children. At the age of thirteen, Huong abandoned her dream to be a school teacher and travelled to Hanoi so she could help her mother with an income and ensure that her sister and brother were able to stay in school. Huong found work as a baby-sitter for local families where she was paid a mere 150,000 k/VND (USD 6.50) a month and was physically and sexually abused.
Huong still dreamed of an education and enrolled herself in night classes, however, her host-family would not allow it and threw her onto the street. She found refuge under a staircase and started selling sticky-rice & banana cakes during the early hours of the morning and throughout the day so she could support herself to attend night-classes. The neighbourhood was extremely unfit for a thirteen year-old girl with many drug dealers and violence, however, she was desperate to help her siblings stay in school and receive an education herself.
Despite all these difficulties, Huong’s desire to learn never ceased. Huong decided to enrol for a night class at a Continuing Education Centre and it was here that a friend introduced Huong to KOTO where she soon enrolled as an official trainee.
In 2007, Huong was offered a waitress position at the prestigious Intercontinental Hanoi Hotel Westlake. With her goal to always give back, Huong found herself returning to KOTO within two years so she could guide other trainees. Huong still had a thirst for knowledge though and in 2012 she commenced a Diploma of Business Management in Melbourne and was selected as Box Hill Institute International Student Ambassador representing Vietnam. Box Hill Institute also offered Huong a scholarship to study an Associate Degree in Commerce. Not surprisingly for anyone who has met this remarkable woman, in November 2013, Huong was honoured as Victoria’s International Student of the Year Higher Education and the Premier’s Award. In addition to this, she founded the Taste of Vietnam project with the intent of delivering truly authentic Vietnamese food to Australian families and friends. All of the profits from Taste of Vietnam goes directly to support Pink Hope Community Australia, KOTO and Breast Cancer Network Vietnam.
Despite these numerous accolades, Huong always knew there was more she could do for those with a similar background to her. HopeBox was founded with a simple idea and mission; to help rural Vietnamese women who have experienced domestic violence obtain a fresh start. It’s as simple as that.
The lack of public awareness and government funding, the entrenched stigma and limited rural services means that there’s a long way to go. The next few years for Huong will no doubt be extremely busy, but it’s a project she holds very close to her heart.