AMA Education Foundation: Helping Students in Vietnam During A Pandemic
Students at the E-Factor 2020 competition | Source: AMA Education Foundation
Below is a letter penned by Peter Mach, the founder of AMA Education Foundation. AMA is a non-profit organization established in late 2001 to support underprivileged university students with scholarships and training at the University of Education in Saigon, Danang, and Hue. Find out more about AMA here and see their video here.
Dear AMA friends and donors,
COVID-19 has presented all kinds of challenges to everyone globally and continues to inflict a tremendous amount of suffering in various ways. For me personally, I recently lost a dear auntie in Paris, who did not get a chance to see her children or say goodbye to them when she was suffering from the virus inside her old-aged home. I heard that over 2,000 elderly died from this one old-aged home in Paris at that point in time, which is really scary and shocking. Many of us really want to visit our family members or parents, but we cannot do so due to travel restrictions and quarantine requirements. I have quite a few friends who left Vietnam 3-6 months ago and still cannot get back home to see their spouses or kids. A few of my friends have lost jobs and don't know when they can find employment again. Many students are lost and confused, not knowing when they can return to school again or how to get a job if they graduate now. This virus is indeed the cruelest to all of us, punishing us emotionally, mentally, and physically.
Last week, while I was sitting outside of a cafe in Saigon and reading a book quietly in the morning, a stranger tapped on my shoulder to seek my attention. I turned around and saw a properly dressed young lady with glasses and a mask on. She was also wearing a backpack and holding onto a notebook with two hands, resembling a university student. She asked me in very good English, "Excuse me, are you Vietnamese or foreigner?" I looked at her and paused for a few seconds, just so that I have time to digest the significance of this question. I said, "I am a foreigner. How can I help you?" I know from past experiences that someone like her would open up to me more if I say that I am a foreigner; she may be too ashamed to approach a local Vietnamese person. She then said, "Can you help me? I want to have breakfast and I don't have any money. I am very hungry." I genuinely wanted to help her, but I did not have one single penny left in my pocket at this time. I had to say no to her nicely and she left in great disappointment. I watched her as she walked away, wandering around Saigon Pearl and still trying to find someone else who would feed her. I felt really guilty and sorry for her. My guess is that she might be a university student who just graduated and could not get a job anywhere in the city, that she also did not have the option of going back home in the countryside either because she would become a burden to her family, that she might be homeless and definitely penniless in the city right now. I felt her loneliness, frustration, and hopelessness.
"Where is she going next? Who will help her? What is home for her now? How many people are struggling like her in this city and in this world right now? When is her suffering going to end?"
This young lady made me think about the 600+ students that AMA has supported over the past 9 years and continues to sponsor in Vietnam today. They need the help and the encouragement from AMA and its donors more than ever. We are all suffering in various degrees, but the poor and the sick are paying the heaviest price globally. We at AMA want to continue to do our part to make the smallest difference where possible and feasible.
Firstly, AMA just got 1,600 masks to be distributed to the students at the University of Education in Saigon, Hue, and Danang. Given the resurgence of cases in Vietnam and Danang being the new epicenter of the virus outbreak in Vietnam now, it is a suitable effort by AMA at this time to mitigate the health risks of these students who can really use our help.
Open Hearts Foundation's team worked along side AMA to donate 1,600 masks | Source: Open Hearts Foundation
These masks are of very high quality, washable and reusable for up to 30x. We even managed to add our AMA logo to each mask. To make this possible, AMA partnered up with the "Open Hearts Foundation" (a non-profit student organization in Saigon). We will be offering these masks to our university scholarship recipients as well as all the young students at the non-profit Phuoc Thien Primary School in Saigon in the coming days.
Peter with a customized AMA Foundation mask | Source: AMA Education Foundation
Secondly, AMA just financially sponsored a university student competition in English at the University of Education of Saigon, called "E-Factor 2020." This annual event has been organized by the English Department of the university to promote advanced English learning for many years, but they had a difficult time raising funds during this Covid-19 period to cover their expenses for organizational costs and prize money. AMA considered it a worthy cause and in line with our educational contributions to the same university where we have scholarship programs. Having strong English skills translates into getting jobs more easily and also higher salaries. In this competition, every student member of each team had to present in English on the topic of CyberBullying, coming up with research data to identify problems and propose solutions.
Students from the E-Factor 2020 competition at the University of Saigon | Source: AMA Education Foundation
Per their request, I also gave a motivational speech and stayed to listen to some of their 30-minute presentations followed by Q&A, which were super impressive. I was encouraged by the high standards of their English oral and presentation skills. This generation in Vietnam is really making amazing progress, and AMA is happy to play a small role in helping them along. This event also made me think about Mrs. Fowler, who was my first English teacher when I immigrated to New York City in 1984. It also made me reflect on the English writing classes from my dear friend and mentor Father Michael Agliardo in the summer of 1987, who improved my English and got me into a private high school called Fordham Prep on scholarship. I feel forever indebted to teachers like them, and I admire their compassion and love for poor refugees like me at the time.
Thirdly, AMA just decided to sponsor the first recipient of a scholarship for a Masters degree at the University of Education in Hue. Thus far in Danang and Hue, we only sponsor scholarships for undergraduate degrees, but one of our BA recipients desperately needs our help in order to continue with his education. His name is Cao Đức Quý and he was an AMA recipient for a BA scholarship during 2015-2019 period. Quy is a very good student who came from a poor family. He wants to become a teacher of mathematics, and actually passed the exam to be accepted into a Masters program at the same university in Hue. However, he and his family could not afford to pay about $800 in tuition per year, so Quy had to take time off school and tried to work odd jobs and save enough money to pay for school fees. At this point, his savings are still insignificant and he cannot pursue his Masters degree to become a teacher. After reading his letter (attached here for your reading) and reviewing his files, AMA decided to help him by finding a donor who would support his school fees.
Quy, a student at the University of Education in Hue, posing at an AMA Foundation event in 2019 | Source: AMA Education Foundation
AMA has agreed to pledge 20 million VND (about $900) per year to support Quy. When he heard such good news from AMA, Quy and his family were ecstatic and wrote us a thank you letter, which we also attach for your reading. It is quite heartwarming and rewarding to know that we can make a difference in Quy's life, who will go to become a teacher later and give back to his local community. That is our spirit at AMA — a spirit of give and take, of compassion, of gratitude, of love for our brothers and sisters in need, of success.
If you wish to donate to AMA to support Quy, please contact me by email at [email protected] AMA welcomes all the help it can get from donors, so that we can help more people in need, especially during this most challenging year. AMA hopes to have enough funds to support another 70 students by the end of this calendar year.
We thank you for your friendship and support. Please stay safe and healthy. I miss seeing many of my friends around the world, so I really look forward to traveling again soon!