The problem of street children is one of the most pressing in Vietnam today, especially in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. Children and youth end up on the street for different reasons. Some have escaped from broken families or domestic violence; for others, street life is a means of earning income for their families. In addition, the breakdown of traditional family values and community structures leaves these youth without necessary care and support for their growth and development. Street children/youth do not have full knowledge of their rights and often are unaware of the risks in urban life. They are vulnerable to all forms of exploitation and abuse, especially girls who are at great risk of sexual exploitation. Although visible on the streets, they are also among the most ‘invisible’ and therefore hardest young people to reach with services such as education or healthcare, and the most difficult to protect. Their lives are hard and their future is limited as suggested by the Vietnamese name for them: “dust of life”.
In 1998, Vietnamese-Australian Jimmy Pham set up a not-for-profit called Street Voices, working with street children and starting a simple sandwich shop in Hanoi in 1999. In 2007, Street Voices was renamed KOTO “Know One, Teach One”, underlying its philosophy that knowledge is meant to be shared and former participants should pay it forward with younger youth. KOTO sought to give street and at-risk youth in cities and rural communities access to holistic and vocational skills development, where each young person builds their potential and self-confidence, and is empowered to live a life of dignity and independence (KOTO’s mission).
KOTO runs two programmes:
1. The KOTO Foundation provides at-risk youth with a two-year residential training programme in hospitality in Hanoi. The training, certified by the Box Hill Institute in Australia, combines vocational skills with personal development (e.g. healthy living, financial literacy, sexuality education, interpersonal and English language skills), and offers opportunities for youth to work in hotels and restaurants. Every six months, KOTO recruits between 40 to 45 youth 16-22.
2. The KOTO Social Enterprise is a means to generate income for the Foundation to train more students. Currently, KOTO Social Enterprise runs the KOTO Villa that offers a dine-in experience with social impact (brunch and evening menus delivered at home or to offices). In August 2017, KOTO received the leading recognition for social enterprises in Vietnam—the Blue Swallow Award of the Centre for Social Initiatives Promotions (CSIP) and the Vietnam Chamber of Commerce and Industry (VCCI).
Primary Location: Hanoi, Vietnam
Funded Since: 2008
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