“Born into a rural farming family where the annual income came from harvesting a few paddy fields, life was not easy. My father passed away when I was very young, leaving my mother to look after three young children. At the age of thirteen, I travelled to Hanoi and worked as a babysitter, earning $7/month so I could help my mother with an income and ensure that my sister and brother were able to stay in school.
I still dreamed of an education and enrolled myself in night classes, however, my host-family would not allow it and threw me onto the street. I lived under the staircase and woke up every morning at 2am to cook sticky rice and sold it on the street, working hard until midnight to earn a living, managing a 2 hours sleep each night but it never ceased my desire to learn. Life was somewhat grey, unhopeful and difficult until I found out about KOTO – a social enterprise that helps street kids and disadvantaged youth in Vietnam. My life began when I got accepted to a holistic training program in hospitality, English, and life skills at KOTO. From a vulnerable street kid, I transformed to be an independent young woman, with skills, knowledge, and a heart full of hope to start my professional journey in the hotel industry. In 2012, I was offered a scholarship by KOTO and Box Hill Institute to study an Associate Degree in Commerce in Melbourne followed by a Master of Entrepreneurship and Innovation at Swinburne University, it opened a whole new world to me. Although I landed a great job as a Business Analyst in an IT company in Melbourne, I always wanted to go back to Vietnam and work for KOTO.
Growing up, I always looked up to my single mother who is my role model and inspiration. I however was struck by the plight of the women in my village who faced numerous challenges in domestic violence, those who believed that was their destiny and there was no way out of such a situation. One day, I could not breathe learning that my sister was one of them. I decided to do something to help the women like my sister.
HopeBox was founded in 2018, inspired by the Australia-Vietnam Leadership Dialogue where I took part in as a delegate. By all means, HopeBox is to empower the women that we have the privilege to support, to give them the tools to earn a living and change their circumstances, using work-based therapy models to help them heal from the psychological traumas. From a small project with only two women and we did a crowd-fundraising campaign to get the seed funding, HopeBox became the first social enterprise in Vietnam that works towards lessening gender-based violence. It’s incredible to see the changes that our women have made, from vulnerable and low self-esteem to empowered and independent women ready to embrace the next step in their lives.
Thank you to all those who have been involved in making positive impacts in the lives of HopeBox women.”
_Huong Dang – Founder and CEO of HopeBox Vietnam