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From Nung village to twice achieving Australian Awards

From the initial wish to learn Vietnamese to understand what the border guards were saying, Dr. Hoang Van Chieu – a Nung ethnic minority person tried very hard to receive a Masters scholarship and then a PhD scholarship from the Australian government to study at the Australian National University.

Dr. Hoang Van Chieu is currently Director of the Northeastern Vocational College of Technology, Agriculture and Forestry, a subordinated vocational institute of Vietnam’s Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, a vocational college staffed by 170 teachers and enrolling 1,000 students annually, specialising in trainingin agriculture, forestry and rural development related technical programs, located in the border province of Lang Son.

After completing the Master of Forestry in 2004 and a PhD in Environment in 2011 at the Australian National University, Dr. Chieu was determined to return to his hometown to work.

Dr Chieu checking a forest area

Dr Chieu checking a forest area.

Dr. Chieu said: “I am from the Nung ethnic minority and the place where I was born and raised is the remote border area of Cao Lau commune, Cao Loc district, Lang Son province. When I was young, learning conditions in our area were so difficult that I always tried my best to achieve my dream of literacy.”

Despite facing many difficulties in the mountainous border area, Dr. Chieu never gave up his determination to go to school. He had to walk more than 10km along mountain trails everyday from early morning to go to school for secondary school classes. At that time there was no electricity and he had to study at night by oil lamp. However, his family sometimes did not have enough oil for the lamp for him to study. Chieu always tried hard in study so that he could fulfil his wish to be able to contribute to the development of his homeland.

Chieu was one of the very few students in his commune to go to highschool by that time. He went to the national ethnic minority boarding school and then had the opportunity to enter Forestry university in Hanoi.

Studying at the Vietnam Forestry University opened a new world for Chieu. He admired the knowledge that his lecturers shared from studying abroad. He wished one day he would also have a chance to study abroad like his lecturers. He realised the importance of studying English. Being an ethnic minority, studying Vietnamese was hard but studying English was even tougher. Remembering the tough time learning English, Dr. Chieu said: “Seeing people speaking English, I was determined to study English. I bought cassette tapes for to learn by myself, I read again the English books that I had, and wrote down new words on paper so I could memorise them. Each day, the first thing I did when I arrived home was to open the English cassette to listen and only stopped listening when I left the room.”

Thanks to his efforts, Chieu has been successful not only in achieving fluency in both Vietnamese and English but also in opening a new path for himself to the outside world.

Being a dedicated teacher, Dr. Hoang Van Chieu is always concerned how to apply effectively in Vietnam the teaching methods and management techniques he learned in Australia. He explained: “I have applied the knowledge and working methods acquired from Australia in my lectures as well as in the management of my students. I have focused not only on the theory, but also on practical vocational training skills.”

Dr Chieu working with his students in a plant nursery

Dr Chieu working with his students in a plant nursery.

Besides courses at the intermediate and tertiary levels at the College, Dr. Chieu and staff have conducted many additional training courses in line with the Government’spolicy and the college’s approach of supporting the local community. More than 1,000 farmers are trained each year.

In 2014 and 2015, Dr. Chieu participated in a Board of the General Department of Vocational Training to adopt vocational training programs imported from Australia; he was responsible for examining the training program of Bio-technology. His teaching experience in Vietnam, and the knowledge, skills and experience gained fromAustralia has helped him evaluate and develop the College training program in line with Vietnam’s conditions. This has contributed to closing the existing gap with the international training standards.

Lang Son province has many development projects in reforestation and forest management and protection and Dr. Chieu regularly participates as a consultant in these projects.

Dr Chieu managing a tree planting activity

Dr Chieu managing a tree planting activity.

Dr. Chieu regularly goes to remote and mountainouse areas of the mountainous provinces to train farmers in new techniques and advances in agriculture and forestry development, especially introducing new plant breeds and cultivation techniques. He also encourages them to grow multi-purpose trees to increase their income.

Dr. Chieu not only provides advice to farmers on agriculture and forestry development, but as a teacher he also advises students from the mountainous areas to choose a career in line with their ability and the needs of society.


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Mr Lam Binh Bao: “Different roles in my life do not compete with each other”

Australia Awards alumnus Lam Binh Bao successfully balances his various roles, as the CEO of an international company, the co-founder of a coaching organization for enterprises and the leader of the core group of Australia Awards alumni in southern Vietnam.

Mr Bao went to Sydney to study the MBA program at the University of Technology Sydney in 2000 on an Australia Awards Scholarship.

“I used to study abroad before. I also went to Australia previously (in 1995) for work-related purposes. Therefore, in 2000, I did not experience any culture shock. However, the experience of living and studying for a long time in a developed society and a multi-cultural environment was very interesting with many lasting memories,” he said.

Mr Lam Binh Bao on his graduation day

Mr Lam Binh Bao on his graduation day.

Mr Bao is currently the CEO of ProMinent Dosiertechnik Vietnam, an international environmental company. He is also the co-founder of CEOCoaching, a coaching organization for small and medium enterprise managers. Since its establishment in 2015, the organization has trained over 400 CEOs and managers.

Apart from these, he plays an active role in various management communities. He is on the professional board of the “Management and Entrepreneurship” group, whose co-founders included two other Australia Awards alumni, Mr Lam Minh Chanh and Mr Nguyen Duc Son. The group, which also aims at providing business knowledge to small and medium enterprises, boasts more than 30,000 members and regularly organizes coaching events for managers with the presentations by well-known business leaders.

Mr Bao has also written articles on business and entrepreneurship for various newspapers and news websites such as Saigon Times, Saigon Entrepreneur, Cafebiz and Vietnamnet.

“I benefited from four different educations: South Vietnam before 1975, united Vietnam, the former Soviet Union and Australia. I was also lucky to have more than 20 years of working in the world’s leading groups in different positions, from a technician to a project manager, from a business developer and to an executive level. From all this experience, I realized that many Vietnamese businesses, especially small and medium-sized enterprises, were limited in their management abilities and system thinking. SME owners are often adaptable, active and hard-working. With clear vision, good system thinking and management skills, they can be very successful and contribute much to the country’s development,” Mr Bao said.

Mr Lam Binh Bao speaks to newly-returned alumni

Mr Lam Binh Bao speaks to newly-returned alumni in Ho Chi Minh City in October, 2016.

Mr Lam Binh Bao is also currently the leader of Australia Awards alumni’s core group in the southern part of Vietnam. Under his leadership, the core group teamed up to organize regular networking activities, notably the “Good Lunch, Good Talk” series, in which alumni discussed various areas of life, work and business. They also launched charity campaigns for disadvantaged people in central and southern provinces.

“Most Australian alumni want to network and contribute to the community. However, to engage them in community activities, we need to be able to maintain the activities on a regular basis so as to mobilize resources for larger functions later on. Such events as Good Talk, Good Lunch and charity activities are small but have big impact,” Mr Bao explained.

Explaining how he managed to divide his time among various prominent roles he took and also for his family, he said: “We live our lives through the roles we take. These roles do not compete with each other, but co-operate with each other to help us have a balanced life. The quality of an individual’s life is created by the balance of four needs: material, mental, spiritual and social needs. I manage my time to meet all these needs.”

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Australia Awards Fellow Couple Use Research Results to Advocate for the Disadvantaged

Beginning their career in the mid 80s, when Viet Nam was experiencing a period of hardship before the economic open-door policies, Australia Awards husband and wife Fellows, Dr Le Bach Duong and Dr Khuat Thu Hong, managed to stay true to their love of social research. They would later become well-known public intellectuals who advocate for the rights and well-being of disadvantaged communities in Vietnam.

The couple first went to Australia in October 1990 to attend a three-month research program on population issues at the ANU under an UNFPA fellowship program designed to develop research capacity for Vietnam in the fields of population and family planning.

Hong ANU library Oct 1990

Ms Khuat Thu Hong working at the ANU library in October, 1990.

“Our first impression was the deep blue sky, the forests stretching all the way from Canberra airport to the city and trees blossoming on ANU campus. We took photos of the tall glass buildings, which to us then were “skyscrapers”! But most amazing to us was the ANU library. We had never seen such a large source of materials. We stayed there every day, sometimes even skipping our meals. Our first trip to Australia opened a new world for us, changed us fundamentally, both in our political and social views, lifestyle and working methods,” Hong said.

They would both later go back to Australia on many other occasions including on an Australia Awards Fellowship in 2009, which gave them the opportunity to work on the “Harm Reduction and Stigma Against People with HIV” project with the Nossal Institute for Global Health (Melbourne University), resulting in the published article “Harm Reduction and “Clean Community”: Can Vietnam have both?”(1).

Apart from maintaining contact with their former professors and colleagues in Australia, they currently receive students from Australian universities working as interns at their NGO Institute for Social Development Studies (ISDS).

In academic circles, Dr Khuat Thu Hong is most famous for her research on gender, with such international publications as, “Sexual Harassment in Vietnam: A New Term for an Old Phenomenon”(2) or “Gender, Kinship and Agrarian Transitions in Vietnam” (3). She also often appears on the media to talk about sexuality, a taboo subject in Vietnam.

Dr Le Bach Duong, on the other hand, is well-known for his research on important social issues. Similar to his wife, many of his works have been published internationally, including “Facilitating Labor Emigration for Security and Prosperity: The Case of Vietnam”(4) and “Social Protection and Market Reforms in Vietnam”(5).

Ms Hong2

Dr Khuat Thu Hong and Dr Le Bach Duong.

The couple also teamed up in various publications, for example: “From Farmers’ Daughters to Foreign Wives: Marriage, Migration and Gender in the Sending Communities of Vietnam”(6), “Post-Socialist Regime and Challenges to Social Cohesion Structure in Vietnam”(7) and “Transnational Marriage Migration and the East Asian Family Wefare Model: Social Reproduction in Vietnam, Taiwan and South Korea”(8).

“We have the luck of doing the same work together, therefore it is easier for us to balance the work and life. We always share everything with each other, both the joy when receiving funding for our studies and the sadness when our proposals failed. We understand the challenges of the research, but we love it, and always share with each other relaxation moments after each project is well completed, or the pressure of finding new fundings, or new learnings of new social theories and their application in Vietnam,” they said.

The two also advocate for the rights of the disadvantaged communities using results of their research. For example, based on the research on discrimination to people living with HIV/AIDS, together with other NGOs, Dr Hong and Dr Duong successfully advocated for the HIV/AIDS Prevention Law 2006 articles which mentioned non-discrimination towards HIV patients.

They and their organization ISDS also participated in the consultations on gender issues for the Gender Equality Law 2006, Law on Domestic Violence Prevention 2007, Land Law 2013 and the revised Civil Code.

Each research project has left them with deep memories. The most memorable was their research on people with disability.

“We met a heavily disabled person. He was an adult but his size was only that of a child. We could not hold back our tears when he talked about his dream of love and sex and of the happiness of social inclusion. Another time, we met a person with mental disability who was locked up by his family in a crib. Our heart was clenched each time we thought of that person lying helplessly at a corner of the crib. Such images urged us to raise our voice together with people with disability to fight for their equality in every area of life,” the couple said.

Doing research on disadvantaged groups presented various challenges, as they explained in their own words.


Dr Le Bach Duong and Dr Khuat Thu Hong.

“In a society where there is still gender inequality and stigmas towards people with disability, people living with HIV, the LGBT, drug addicts and sex workers, research on these groups is not easy. First, we had to learn to overcome social influences on our own opinions of these groups, because prejudices would prevent researchers from having unbiased results. The next challenge was how to communicate with the research target groups, so that they understood our work and were cooperative. The last and also biggest challenge was how to ensure research results were accepted and considered meaningful by policy makers and the public and helped to change people’s mindset toward the research target groups, and thus helped to improve the policies towards them.”

They had to fight off prejudices when trying to stand up for the disadvantaged. For example, they were ridiculed when they proposed including references to sexual violence in the Prevention of Domestic Violence Law. Another time, they were suspected to be HIV positive when suggesting non-discrimination towards HIV positive women in the Gender Equality Law. Their motives were also put into question when they did research on gender and sexuality.

“On the other hand, during 30 years working in research, we met many good people and received help and love from people all over the country. Such people inspired us to do our work better,” they said.

“We believe in the purpose of protecting human rights and social equality. And these are the values we both pursue,” they added.

(1) Harm Reduction Journal 9(1):25,July 2012.

(2) Gender practices in contemporary Vietnam. NIAS Press. Singapore, 2004

(3) Land Tenure, Gender and Globalisation: Research and Analysis from Africa, Asia and Latin America, ZUBAAN & IDRC, 2010.

(4)Asia on the Move: Regional Migration and the Role of Civil Society. Japan Center for International Exchange. Tokyo: 2015

(5)Social Protection as Development Policy: Asian Perspectives, Routledge, 2010

(6)Asian Women and Intimate Work, The Intimate and the Public in Asian and Global Perspective, Lieden – Boston: Brill, 2014

(7)Regional Integration and Social Cohesion, Perspective from Developing World, Brussel: P.I.E. Peter Lang, 2013

(8)Migration, Gender and Social Justice: Perspectives on Human Security. Springer Hexagon Series on Human and Environmental Security and Peace, Springer, 2013.

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Dr. Doan Duy Khuong: “Life is a continual process of adaptation and efforts”

Vietnam business leader and Australian Alumni Ambassador Dr. Doan Duy Khuong credits his Australian education with giving him valuable life lessons as well as professional and academic knowledge.

VJES Vinhphuc 2013

Dr Khuong is Vice Chairman of the Vietnam Chamber of Commerce and Industry (VCCI), a national organisation which represents the business community, employers and business associations across all Vietnam’s economic sectors. He is also Chairman of the Vietnam Chapter of the ASEAN Business Advisory Council.

An Australia Awards Scholarship recipient, Dr Khuong completed a Master of Business Administration at the University of Wollongong in 1997. He believes that his time studying in Australia has had a big influence on his career.

“Apart from the professional knowledge on marketing, human resource management, financial management and business ethics, I received useful and practical advice from my professors and lecturers about life. In a class, my Australian professor talked about people’s success in society, the links between education, training, society and leaders’ qualities,” he said.

“A university can provide you with all kinds of degrees, from Bachelor and Masters degrees to a PhD. But this alone will not guarantee your success in life, including becoming a successful leader in the future. I always remember this, understanding that life is a continual process of adaptation and efforts, and an academic degree is not the only condition for a person’s success.”

Dr. Khuong has led the VCCI’s e-commerce development program for the Vietnamese business community, connecting more Vietnamese businesses with international partners. This is considered an important mechanism to encourage the flow of foreign direct investment into Vietnam, which has increased fourfold since 2006.

He also initiated a series of Vietnam Business Forums with Vietnam’s strategic trade partners. The Vietnam Business Forum was established at a meeting between the Vietnamese Government and its donor partners in Tokyo in 1997, as one of the first public-private dialogue projects implemented by the International Finance Corporation (IFC) and the World Bank.

The Forum established regular channels of communications between foreign and domestic companies and the Vietnamese Government, which have been sustained for more than a decade. It is now co-chaired by the VCCI, AmCham Vietnam (an independent association of about 500 American and international businesses), the Vietnamese Government’s Ministry of Planning and Investment, the IFC and the World Bank.

Dr Khuong is a founder and incumbent Co-chair of the Vietnam Business Council for Sustainable Development (VBCSD), established by the VCCI under the approval of the Government of the Socialist Republic of Viet Nam. The VBCSD was officially launched on 17th December 2010. It is a business-led organisation with the mandate to promote the business community’s active role in, and strong advocacy for, the implementation of the Strategic Orientation for Sustainable Development in Vietnam. The VBCSD facilitates and promotes the sharing of sustainable development experience, solutions and good practice, and strengthens dialogue and close coordination among the business community, the Government and civil organisations in this area. VBCSD is a partner within the Global Network of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development(WBCSD). The WBCSD's Global Network is an alliance of more than 60 CEO-led business organisations worldwide.

Dr Khuong is the editor of the weekly Vietnam Business Forum Magazine (published in English and Vietnamese), which features in-depth coverage of industries, events and diplomatic relations between Vietnam and other countries. The magazine connects businesses and investors, and serves as a market database for Vietnam’s business community.

Dr Khuong is one of twelve Australian Alumni Ambassadors from eight Indo-Pacific countries recently appointed by the Australian Government who will work with Australia’s diplomatic missions in their home countries to grow Australia’s global alumni community by raising the profile of Australia’s world class education system and strengthening ties between Australia and the rest of the world.

The Australia Awards are prestigious international Scholarships and Fellowships funded by the Australian Government. They offer the next generation of global leaders an opportunity to undertake study, research and professional development in Australia and for high-achieving Australians to do the same overseas.

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Ngan Phuong Loan: Challenges Are Not Obstacles

Ngan Phuong Loan, an Australian alumnus of Nung ethnic minority, has become Lang Son’s only woman member of the 14th National Assembly, after being elected in May 2016.

Ngan Phuong Loan studied the Master of Education program at RMIT (Melbourne campus, Australia) on the Vietnamese Government’s SEQAP (Quality Assurance Program for School Education) scholarship from 2014 to 2015. After finishing her studies, she went back to her teaching position at Lang Son Pedagogy College, where she actively used what she had learned in Australia.

“I designed lessons in a more practical method to encourage my students to be more independent in their thinking. My college and I have already organized 4 seminars and training workshop including one national seminar and one with the participation of international experts.”


Ms Ngan Phuong Loan

Ngan Phuong Loan is a member of the evaluation committee of the GOT TALENT competition for 10th grade students of Chu Van An gifted high school (Lang Son), in January, 2016.

Ms Phuong Loan was also chosen to be one of the presenters at the 2nd International VietTESOL conference in Hanoi in November 2015.

“My presentation, which proposed a new method of evaluating students’ analytical reading ability in studying English, came from my experience in Australia. When given a reading assignment, many Vietnamese students only read to understand the main ideas, without analyzing the strength and weakness of the presented points. However, when our professors graded our work, they not only asked us to summarize the main idea but also to give our personal opinions", she said.

“I love the Australian way of teaching which encourages creativity and independent thinking in students. All the assignments require students to read documents, to provide analyses with convincing evidence and, most importantly, to indicate how to apply what they learned. There is therefore not one single correct answer for everyone,” she added.

Loan visits Maru Koala  Animal Park

Ngan Phuong Loan visits Maru Koala & Animal Park (Victoria, Australia) in May, 2014.

Ms Phuong Loan had many sweet memories in Australia, and one of them was her winter break in 2014. “My friends and I went to Launceston (Tasmania) to spend our winter break. As Launceston was not as busy as Melbourne, we decided to call a taxi to ask for a recommended restaurant. The taxi driver suggested a Thai restaurant. But it turned out to be already closed, so the taxi driver asked us whether we wanted to go around the area for sight-seeing. After giving us a tour, he took us back to the apartment we rented. He only charged us AUD20 for taking us to the Thai restaurant. The trip around Launceston was free. He said it was the gift to welcome us to Launceston and wished us a great vacation there. My deepest impression of Australia is the country’s open-minded, kind and hospitable people.”

Loan during her winter vacation in Victoria

Ngan Phuong Loan during her winter vacation in July, 2014 in Mt. Buller, Victoria, Australia.

Wishing to contribute more to her community upon returning to Vietnam, Ngan Phuong Loan felt being a member of the National Assembly would help her to have opportunities to do this more effectively. She was nominated by Lang Son Department of Education and Training.

In Ngan Phuong Loan’s plan of action to run for the National Assembly, she indicated her strong interest in gender issues and education for ethnic minority students in Lang Son. She wrote that she was anxious about helping to improve the working and studying conditions for teachers and students, especially in remote communes and career opportunities for students after graduation.

According to her plan, if she was elected, she would pay special attention to improving the quality of education and training, and linking training and education to social demands. She would also work closely with the provincial Women’s Union to ensure women’s and children’s interests.

“I feel happy and proud to be chosen a representative of my people. At the same time, being Lang Son’s only woman representative in the National Assembly, I need to make more efforts not to disappoint those who have chosen me, as well as to contribute to the voice of women in the society,” Ms Phuong Loan commented about the election result.

Ms Phuong Loan is also fully aware of the challenges she will have to deal with in this important role.

“Being a woman and a young member of the National Assembly from a North East mountainous border province, working in the education sector and not having been in many different positions, I know I will have to deal with many challenges, such as gender prejudices and tasks in the areas outside education. However, I think challenges are not obstacles. With the voters’ confidence, my knowledge, skills, experience and efforts, I believe I could fulfill the duties and responsibilities of a National Assembly member,” she said.

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