How I'm Empowering Orphans in Vietnam Through My Business
Tram* was one of the brightest and most sociable girls I met during one of my first mission trips with Kids Without Borders (KWB) at HP* orphanage in 2005. I was delivering clothes, toys and food to disadvantaged children in Vietnam, my home country. She joyfully brought me to different houses in the orphanage and introduced me to other kids. Her eyes sparkled when she shared that she would be taking the university entrance exam soon to start a new life.
We exchanged emails and I tried to stay in touch with her. Each summer that I was back to Vietnam, I continued to visit the orphanages with KWB. Because kids typically left the orphanages at the age of 18, I no longer saw Tram again. I heard that she had dropped out college because she couldn’t afford it, and that she was now working in a motel’s kitchen.
For a while, I heard the great news that she met a successful Taiwanese man who bought her a nice house in the suburb. Then I heard that he brought her with him to Taiwan, and had a beautiful baby boy. Last year I heard that she ran away from Taiwan, and was now back in Vietnam because she couldn’t handle the life and treatment from the man she had married.
Tram’s story is surprisingly not unique. Children in foster care and charities, if fortunate, are provided with sufficient food, care and K-12 education until they are 18 years old and become adults.They then need to leave, without support to carry them into adulthood. I wanted to create a sustainable solution for this transition that could be replicated in orphanages around the world. With my love of fashion, and passion for doing good in the world, I founded the jewelry brand Ivylish, which fuels entrepreneurship and empowers youth in developing countries.
Overseas, our international design team creates the vision for each collection and the US-based business team brings the brand to the global market. At home, local artisans I work with handmade our jewelry and help groom kids in orphanages with vocational training so that they have stable jobs once they grow up. Part of our profits are dedicated to support scholarships for bright kids like Tram to be able to finish school, and take English and computer classes. I envision myself connecting artisans and disadvantaged children to consumers worldwide so that more kids like Tram have such an opportunity.
My goal is to scale this program across Vietnam and in other developing countries. Some of the kids we’ve worked with, now adults, are now the caretakers or frequent supporters for other kids at the orphanages. We believe that they are the best caretakers and mentors for other orphans, because they understand the challenges associated with adulthood after life in an orphanage.