Former Australian schoolteacher lends a hand

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Trish Franklin, CEO for Loreto Vietnam Australia Program, a charity in Ho Chi Minh City, visits children who benefit from the program

Trish Franklin came from Melbourne, Australia to Ho Chi Minh City in 1995 and, like many expatriates, she never left.

"I couldn't stay if I weren't happy," she said, during an interview with Thanh Nien Weekly. "I work with wonderful people."

For the past 16 years, Franklin has served as the CEO for the Loreto Vietnam, an Australian charity established in HCMC to provide education to disabled and disadvantaged children.

Franklin said she's always on the lookout for more hands to help children in need.

She has always had a special love for children, and cannot separate her personal life from her work.

Before coming to Vietnam, she worked as a primary school teacher in Melbourne.

She first arrived in HCMC, in 1995, to work as a volunteer.

"At first I planned to stay one year (in Saigon) then apply for a license for this program," she said.

With 60 percent funding from Australia and the rest the from Vietnam and various international donors, the Loreto Vietnam Australia Program began with a broad mission that includes aiding rural children, and kids who are blind or vision-impaired, intellectually challenged or otherwise disadvantaged.

With the aim of "lifting learners into the future", the program has assisted innumerable children toward becoming independent.

Franklin said the program has helped some 10,000 disabled, disadvantaged and poor children. As part of this ongoing commitment, it organizes lots of creative activities for these kids.

"We teach English to blind children at Nguyen Dinh Chieu School and they learn very well. We also go swimming with them on Saturday afternoons. We try to help them experience what they can't see," she said.

Nguyen Thanh Tam, the school's headmaster from 2001 until March 2011, is grateful for the assistance from Franklin's organization.

"For 13 years, Loreto Vietnam Australia Program has been helping Nguyen Dinh Chieu to build computer and music classrooms," Tam said.

"In addition, Ms. Trish Franklin and other volunteers teach 10 English classes every year. And she provides 80 to 100 scholarships per year (VND2 million each) and supports the graduates who go on to university (with five to ten VND5 million scholarships annually)," Tam said.

"Thanks to the support of Loreto, the students become more confident. For example, a while back they started a massage center and now there are seven in town started by former Nguyen Dinh Chieu students who work there and study at university. "

In Ho Chi Minh City, Loreto has financed the construction of additional classrooms at primary schools and kindergartens in Hoc Mon, Cu Chi and Binh Chanh, Ba Diem and Can Gio.

"Many children in those districts have to walk a long way to school, where they must learn in shifts. We have helped build over 20 classrooms of government standard," Franklin said.

 Besides building, expanding and equipping schools and kindergartens in urban and rural areas, the Loreto Vietnam Australia Program provides scholarships, bicycles, school packs, uniforms, other essentials to students in need.

"Phu Yen and Ca Mau are faraway places where children are very disadvantaged," Franklin said. "We plan to undertake projects there in 2011."

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