Yen’s Triumph Against The Odds And The Doubters

From a childhood spent juggling school and helping her mother at the market, Yen persevered to lift her family out of poverty.

A gruelling start

“Your life will never be better than your parents’ life.”

Now a successful engineer living with her husband and two children on a distant continent, these words still stick in Yen’s mind.

Yen’s mother sacrificed so much for her family. As the sole breadwinner, she woke up at 3am every day to cook a fresh batch of cháo, Vietnamese style rice porridge, in the dark. Yen would get up shortly after and help carry the steaming vat of porridge to the market.

The food was heavy, the road was long and the days were longer. Each lesson at school crawled by in a haze of exhaustion — and sometimes in embarrassment.

Yen felt ashamed that her family was always the last to pay the school fees. Some friends and relatives lent them money, but most ignored them for fear that they wouldn’t be able to pay it back.

Years of insults — of being shunned by relatives, classmates and neighbours — stripped Yen of self-worth. As various people frequently reminded her:

“Your life will never be better than your parents’ life.”

The smartest person in the family

Yen is a complex character.

According to various people who know her well, Yen is “tough with a will to fight.” She is “really, really kind and always taking care of others.” She is “shy and quiet” and she is “patient and gritty.”

Above all, she is adaptable and intelligent. But her intelligence came with its own kind of pressure.

Because she was so smart, her family knew that if anyone was going to lift them out of poverty, it was her.

When a friend introduced Yen to Blue Dragon, she finally had the chance to back up her family’s faith in her.

The student becomes the teacher

“Coming to Blue Dragon changed my mindset,” says Yen. “It taught me things that no one had taught me before.”

At Blue Dragon, Yen went on her first ever field trip, made new friends that didn’t look down on her for being poor, tried cooking classes and started learning English.

Phuong, who began receiving support from Blue Dragon around the same time as Yen, remembers that Yen learned English so fast that she soon began to see her as another teacher: “I always listened to her and tried to learn as much as I could.”

For Yen it was just an exhilarating new adventure. After a life of being trapped under the weight of poverty, she was finally able to release all of her pent up energy into activities she’d never had the chance to experience.

“I met so many people and learned so many things — it was really a big, new thing for me.”

Yen wasn’t just learning about the outside world, but about herself. She realised that she was capable of so much more than years of shaming had led her to believe.

She knew now that she had the power to not only make her own life better, but also her family’s.

Yen achieved that goal faster than she imagined.

“I said to myself I had to learn hard so I could get a lot of money to help my mother.”

The first washing machine in the family

With Blue Dragon’s support, Yen began working a string of part-time jobs that immersed her in English while boosting her family’s income.

“2 million VND a month!” she says with a nostalgic grin on her face. “$100! Wow, it was a high number for me.”

Later, when Yen was studying engineering at university, she completed an internship at DK Engineering, a Danish company in Hanoi. The role earned Yen enough money to buy her family their first ever washing machine.

More than that, the experience opened Yen’s eyes to the wider world. It introduced her to new cultures and experiences, and she realised that her future lay a long way from her home in Hanoi.

A far-flung future

After completing her undergraduate degree, Yen moved to Finland with her boyfriend to complete an engineering master’s course. They are now married, both working as engineers in Helsinki. 

They also have two beautiful children who can grow up feeling safe and excited for the future. 

Speaking to Blue Dragon in the bright Finnish sunshine outside her house, Yen exudes confidence. Despite claiming that she is not good at speaking, she talks eloquently about her childhood, her job and her family. She smiles as she says the washing machine is still going, and laughs when asked if her mother has visited her in Finland.

“She came for two months but for her it’s too quiet here. She doesn’t like it as much as I do.”

Quiet or not, it shows just how far Yen and her mother have come together. Because of Yen’s support, her mother no longer has to worry about money. She can spend her senior years relaxing with friends and family instead of eking out a living at the early morning market.

Support comes in many sizes

Yen’s advice to young people like her?

“I will tell them the same thing I tell my children: education is so important.”

When Yen talks of education, she doesn’t only mean school and university. She is very keen to highlight the subtler skills she learned from Blue Dragon — things like networking and self-belief — that she says gave her “power and opportunities.”

She has also learned to use her hardships as fuel to get her through the rougher moments.

“Sometimes I still get sad and shy. But because I experienced so many difficulties during my childhood, when I face problems in my life I’m not scared of them.”

When kids like Yen come to Blue Dragon, it is crucial to help them learn just how capable they really are. Many young people we meet feel beaten down by a life without joy or hope, and simply cannot see their potential through the darkness that has followed them since birth.

No child should ever feel worthless. No child should ever grow up feeling ashamed of who they are or where they come from. No child should ever have to hear the words: “Your life will never be better than your parents’ life.”

Yen, a young woman who radiates warmth, energy and passion; who has lifted her family out of poverty; who has made a life for herself and her children on a different continent, proves just how flimsy those words are.

20 years down. Many more to come!

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