Born into the poorest family in a poor village in Vietnam, Giang couldn't imagine a way out of poverty. At eleven years old, she was sent to Hanoi to earn money for her family. Life was tough, but she never forgot her dreams. Be inspired by her remarkable journey out of poverty and into prosperity...
I came from the poorest family in a poor village in Vietnam. No food, no money, no hope of going to school. Every day I watched my mother struggle with pain in her bones. She’d bend over a bucket; her face strained in agony as she washed. My father, mentally ill, was unable to provide for our family. As the oldest child, I felt responsible for improving our lives and getting us out of poverty. On summer days, I’d collect jackfruit from the fields, so we’d have something sweet to fill our bellies. On cold winter nights, we children huddled together in the same bed to keep warm. I dreamed of finding a way to rise out of this terrible poverty, but there seemed no way.
One day, my family received an exciting invitation from my cousin, who married and moved to Hanoi. “Send Giang here to the capital.” Cousin urged. “Giang can earn money and send it back to you.”
“Send Giang here to the capital." Cousin urged. “Giang can earn money and send it back to you.”
On The Streets of Hanoi
At eleven years old, I went to wander the streets of Hanoi selling newspapers, chewing gum, postcards, and polishing shoes. I watched the other children-sellers and learned quickly.
By day, I approached people in the park or tourists on the streets. I’d hold out chewing gum or offer to polish their shoes. Some people were kind and gave me a chance. With a wave of the hand, others cast me off with a frown. Worst of all were those who didn’t even acknowledge my existence. Not a smile or even a look in the eye.
In the deep of the night, as I walked narrow hems, shivers overtook me. The sound of a motorbike whizzing by close, the voice of a man calling, or an old woman-seller groaning … I'd remember my mother’s warning about bad people who stole little girls, sexually assaulted them, and sold them into China. It was difficult to sleep. Still, I continued my mission. Every month, I sent money back to my mother to buy medicine and pay school fees for my siblings.
One afternoon, while working near Hoan Kiem Lake, I met a street seller friend. She told me about KOTO, an organization that helped street kids in Vietnam get an education and make a successful life. KOTO stood for Know One, Teach One.
“You should apply to KOTO Giang.” My friend said. “If you apply and get accepted, they’ll help you get off the streets.”
I couldn’t believe such an organization could be true. Nothing so wonderful could exist without having to pay something or do something I didn’t want to do. That night, I went to sleep wondering, “What if this KOTO place was true?” I dreamed of a warm bed, feeling safe, and making a success of my life. The following day I began my research. I spoke to every person I could find who had studied with KOTO. It was true. I had to apply.
My first day at KOTO was my first step out of poverty. I was able to study and sleep in a warm, safe bed. Volunteers taught me life skills. Foreign teachers taught me English. I learned kitchen and hospitality skills. I also met a boy whose family was in the same situation as mine. We fell in love and married.
Making a New Business Beyond Our Dreams
After graduating from KOTO, I worked at the most famous Italian restaurant in Hanoi for seven years. After that, I returned to KOTO to help other children like me get off the streets.
Jimmy Pham, the founder of KOTO, encouraged my husband and I to start a new business using the skills and experience we’d gained through our work and study with KOTO. We provided vegetables and fruits to restaurants and cafes across Hanoi. Jimmy Pham supported our new endeavor and became our very first customer. We worked hard to give the best service and produce to our customers. Our company grew, and within one year, we expanded into other products specializing in restaurants, hotels, and schools. KOTO helped us with marketing classes, and our business took off bigger than we ever imagined possible.
Since then, my life has changed in so many ways.
Things too wonderful to dream as a little girl have come to pass. Now I have everything I ever wished for. I have a happy family with a beautiful son and daughter. I remember having to borrow a bike to get to work. Now I have my own car and two houses. Best of all, my parents and siblings have a much better life now. My experience has also given me the opportunity to help the less fortunate and prove to them that it’s possible to live a better life. We are proud to be part of KOTO and their inspiration to Know One Teach One.
I want to share my story and send this message out to other young people who are struggling right now. Cherish what you have in life, go beyond yourself, dream while you can.
Together we make a better life for each other.
Connect with Giang Luu
Giang Luu is a businesswoman currently living in the capital of Vietnam, Hanoi. Giang juggles her busy schedule between business, taking care of her two children, and supporting her mother and siblings. She continues to work with KOTO to support other disadvantaged youth in Vietnam.
Connect with Giang ...
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