Children have cultural rights. They need the space to express them.
This recognition was the most significant outcome of the three-year Tieng noi tre tho (Children's Voice) project that has just ended, marking the beginning of a determined effort to establish a stage for children's theater in Vietnam.
The project "woke up large parts of our community who saw that our responsibility to our children extended beyond telling them what to do. It's about listening to their hopes and dreams and giving them the opportunity to be productive and creative," said Hoang Duan, who directed the project in Vietnam.
Duan said although funding from the Swedish International Cooperation Development Agency (SIDA) had ended, "we artists will still try to go on with the project."
Children's Voice is an international theater project in Asia that had already scored significant successes in India and Bangladesh before it was launched in China, Laos and Vietnam in 2007.
Both the individuals and organizations participating in the project have frequently returned to the awareness that children are our future. Through lively, educational plays and art workshops, it was found that the child artists clearly gained confidence, were more articulate and gave free expression to their dreams and hopes.
Duan said that when he first submitted an art project proposal targeting underprivileged children, his Swedish audience was surprised that there were such children in Vietnam. When they told him that Sweden did not have any such children, Duan was even more motivated to do something for the disadvantaged children.
A conference held in Ho Chi Minh City earlier last week to sum up project activities gathered representatives from Vietnamese and Indian theaters as well as from the Swedish Center of ITI (International Theater Institute).
In Vietnam, the project collaborators were the Vietnam Youth Theater in Hanoi, HCMC Drama Theater and HCMC Small Theater. Artists from these theaters worked with children to put up more than 200 free performances for rural and disadvantaged children.
Apart from professional artists, officers, volunteers and teachers from elementary schools and children's centers attended training courses offered by Swedish theater experts. After taking the courses, their skills in approaching and performing with children improved remarkably.
The development in performing skills and the ability to "really see and hear" the children sparked the urge among the artists to build a stage just for children.
The local theaters are working on a plan to collaborate with local and international firms to realize their dream and some tourism and milk companies have expressed their willingness to participate.
Duan said that over the three years of Children's Voice in Vietnam, there were many times "the young artists and I could not hold back tears on hearing the children's dreams. It was just simple things, like having enough money to buy bread to escape being hungry, or having their lost parents or grandparents back.
"Some children with cancer did not live long enough to enjoy more than two shows. We met them and never had a chance to say goodbye."