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VIETNAM: Salesian Lay Missioners Teach English Language to Students in Salesian Programs

Michael Gordon is one of seven international volunteers from the Salesian Lay Missioners program teaching English language to students across five centers in Vietnam. Gordon is teaching at Don Rua in the city of Da Lat. He spends his day teaching one-on-one with students and in small groups. Salesian Lay Missioners volunteer their time in several countries around the globe assisting in Salesian programs and providing education and social development programs to poor youth and their families.

“My motivation to spend two years volunteering with the Salesian Lay Missioners program came primarily from my parents,” says Gordon. “My mother and father volunteered with the Jesuit Refugee Service in their youth, helping the Vietnamese refugees in the Philippines and Hong Kong, where I was born, to acquire visas to western countries. Growing up, I saw how my parents’ experience as volunteers shaped the rest of their lives. They used what they learned during their time abroad, and instilled in their children the values of faith, community, and simplicity.”

“As I came to understand this, I realized how a similar experience could be crucial to my own development as a Christian, so I signed up,” adds Gordon. “I spent a year teaching in South Sudan, and now, by the grace of God, I find myself living in Vietnam, working among the same people my parents did a generation ago.”

Salesian Lay Missioners attend an orientation process to prepare for their volunteer assignments. Orientation begins with cultural training encouraging volunteers to be open-minded and understanding of different cultural practices so they more easily foster relationships with the people they serve. Standard Salesian concepts and practices are also taught during orientation. Finally, orientation wraps with a week-long retreat where volunteers reflect back on they have learned and prepare for volunteer assignment.

“My experience living at Don Rua has been wonderful. I feel so blessed to have a role in such a vibrant, active community,” says Gordon. “One of my primary roles, as an English teacher, is to be a good listener. The stories of my students have been a profound source of inspiration for me. I have learned a great deal from their invaluable insights into Vietnamese history, culture, and faith. In many respects, I am the true student.”

Salesian schools, services and programs throughout Vietnam are helping to break the cycle of poverty while giving many young people hope for a more positive and productive future. Salesian vocational and technical schools equip students with the skills they need to compete in the local labor market by offering courses that lead to employment in construction, hotel management, electrical and mechanical engineering, computer science and other fields. Many Salesian students are school dropouts seeking a second chance.

According to the World Bank, close to 14 percent of Vietnam’s population lives in conditions of poverty. The country has seen a drastic reduction of poverty over the last 20 years when the poverty rate was close to 60 percent. Vietnam has also made remarkable progress in education. Primary and secondary enrollments for those in poverty have reached more than 90 percent and 70 percent respectively. Rising levels of education and diversification into off-farm activities, such as working in construction, factories or domestic housework have also contributed to reducing poverty in the country.

While nearly 30 million Vietnamese have been lifted out of poverty in the past 20 years, challenges remain. According to the World Bank, although Vietnam’s 53 ethnic minority groups make up less than 15 percent of the population, they accounted for nearly 50 percent of the poor in 2010. Most minorities continue to reside in more isolated and less productive regions of Vietnam. Rapid economic transformation and growth have contributed to rising inequality in income and opportunities. Some of the poor, especially those living in rural areas or small cities, have limited access to high quality education and health services and limited long-term well-paying jobs.


Bosco Link – Teachers of future missionaries – Dalat volunteers

World Bank – Vietnam

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