Shortly after her second birthday, Tram was left to live with her grandparents in a remote village in the Long An Province of Vietnam.
Tram’s mother had given birth to her at age 18 after marrying a compulsive gambler. Two years later they divorced and ran off to different cities, hoping to escape poverty.
Tram’s grandparents were among the poorest in the village. When Tram was ready to start secondary school they couldn’t afford to buy her a bicycle. Since it wasn’t possible to walk 14 kilometers (8.7 miles) each way, Tram had to drop out of school. She was 11 years old.
“Every morning I cried when I saw the kids going to class,” said Tram.
Today Tram is in college. Of the girls in the village who are her age, Tram is the only one who graduated secondary school. Two things happened to change the course of her life: her grandmother borrowed money to buy a bike for Tram to go to school, and Tram joined Room to Read’s Girls’ Education Program.
Of the 116 Vietnamese girls in the Girls’ Education Program class of 2014, 96 percent graduated and 42 percent went on to college. Room to Read checked in with Tram and a few of her classmates to see how they’ve been doing post-graduation.
When asked about the impact of her participation in the program, Tram said she’ll never forget the first lesson she received. “I learned about the physical differences between boys and girls, how to take care of myself and not get into early marriage like my parents did,” Tram recalled. “It has been one of the most useful lessons I ever received and it’s something my family never would have taught me.”
Tram has since transformed from a shy girl into a confident young woman. “My social mobilizer Ms. Ha encouraged me to practice my public speaking and problem solving skills,” said Tram. “And I threw myself into a variety of activities — from performing in fashion shows to volunteering for events.”
Ngoc, who graduated the same year as Tram, also benefited from the program. “I used to have a quick temper about anything that irritated me,” said Ngoc.
“The life skills lessons taught me to manage my anger and become more resilient. Now I think before I speak and I take time out to prepare myself.” Ngoc is pursuing Business Administration at Ho Chi Minh Industry and Trade College.
Likewise, Linh remembers the life skills activities that helped her become more empathetic. “Learning to understand what other people think and not taking things personally turned out to be really important when I moved into an apartment with strangers, who have now become my friends!” said Linh. “It’s also helped in dealing with a diverse range of people during my time at university. Today Linh is a student at Dong Nai University of Technology.
Tram is pursuing a degree in tourism at Van Hien University in Ho Chi Minh City. She keeps busy with a part-time supermarket job and travels throughout Vietnam as part of her program.
“Tourism is not supposed to be for girls because you travel constantly and girls are supposed to stay home,”
Tram said. “Most village girls would prefer a stable career, like becoming a teacher or a doctor. If I hadn’t attended Room to Read’s career orientation where I
learned more about this profession, I never would have chosen this major.
“Thanks to Room to Read, I’m able to climb out of poverty to be one of the few girls in my village to get an education.”
This story is part of our 2015 Global Monitoring Report. Check out the full online report here.