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 babysitter for local families where she was paid a mere 150,000 k/VND (USD $6.50) a month.
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.
Life was somewhat grey, unhopeful and difficult until she found out about KOTO – a social enterprise that helps street kids and disadvantaged youth in Vietnam. She was accepted into the holistic training program training in hospitality skills, English, and life skills. From a vulnerable street kid, she was transformed to be an independent young woman, with skills, knowledge, and a heart full of hope to start her professional journey in the hotel industry. In 2012, she was offered a scholarship by KOTO and Box Hill Institute to study for an Associate Degree in Commerce in Melbourne followed by a Master of Entrepreneurship and Innovation at Swinburne University, opening up a whole new world for her.
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 go directly to support Pink Hope Community Australia, KOTO and Breast Cancer Network Vietnam.
Growing up, she always looked up to her single mother who has been her constant role model in her life and inspiration. She was often struck by the plight of the women in her village who faced numerous challenges in domestic violence, those who believed that it was their destiny and there was no way out of such a situation.
Upon learning that her sister was one of them, she decided to make a change.
HopeBox was founded with a simple idea and mission; to help rural Vietnamese women who have experienced gender-based 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 mean that there’s a long way to go. The next few years for Huong and her team will no doubt be extremely busy, but it’s a project she holds very close to her heart.