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Vietnam officially the Socialist Republic of Vietnam is the most populous country among the mainland Southeast Asian countries. It's Capital is Hanoi and the largest city is Ho Chi Minh City. The official language is Vietnamese and as of July 2005 the estimated population is 84,238,000.

Vietnam is located in South East Asia. It is bound by the South China Sea to the east, Laos and Cambodia to the west and China to the north. The country can be divided into three regions, North Vietnam, Central Vietnam and South Vietnam. North Vietnam is mountainous especially in the north and northwestern sections while the lowlands consist of the Red River Delta and the coastal plains. Central Vietnam is divided into a narrow coastal strip, a broad plateau and the Annamite Mountain Chain, which separates the plateau from the coastal lowlands. The lower one third of South Vietnam including the Mekong River System is a low and marshy flat land while further north and east, upland forests as well as rugged terrain dominate.

The Vietnamese government recognizes 54 ethnic groups, of which the Viet is the largest; according to official Vietnamese figures (1999 census), ethnic Vietnamese account for 86% of the nation's population. The ethnic Vietnamese inhabit a little less than half of Vietnam, while the ethnic minorities inhabit the majority of Vietnam's land (albeit the least fertile parts of the country).

Some ethnic groups: Vietnamese 86%, Khmer Krom 1.5%, Chinese 3%, Muong, Tai, Meo, Man, Cham...

Vietnam is a single-party socialist republic. A new state constitution was approved in April 1992, reaffirming the central role of the Communist Party of Vietnam in politics and society, and outlining government reorganization and increased market reforms in the economy.

Life expectancy at birth:
total population: 70.35 years
male: 67.86 years
female: 73.02 years (2004 est.)

definition: age 15 and over can read and write
total population: 94% (2004 consensus)

-Mahayana Buddhism-Taoism 78%
-Theravada Buddhism 5%
- Christianity- 8%
-Roman Catholic- 7%
-Protestant- 1%
-Muslim-0.7% Cao Dai- 7-8 million followers

Languages: Vietnamese (official), Khmer, Chinese, English, French, tribal languages (Tai-Kadai, Mon-Khmer, and Malayo-Polynesian)

Age structure:
0-14 years: 29.4% (male 12,524,098; female 11,807,763)
15-64 years: 65% (male 26,475,156; female 27,239,543)
65 years and over: 5.6% (male 1,928,568; female 2,714,390
HIV/AIDS - people living with HIV/AIDS
220,000 (2003 est.)
HIV/AIDS - deaths
9,000 (2003 est.)

GNP per capita: (2004) $550

What was the story I was covering?
In September 2006 I took my first trip to Vietnam. Plan USA ( asked me to document the lives of the “street and working children”. In 1999 I documented the street children of Brazil and I remember driving in a car (for my safety) while meeting and photographing the street children. This experience in Vietnam was very different. In certain cities of Vietnam there are children that work all day in the streets. They may work as early as 6am and end the day at 7pm. If they have had a good day they will make about 10-15,000 Dong, a little over $1. They are not homeless. Many of them travel from far away to get into the larger cities to work. The reason they do this is for survival. They want to help their families make ends meet. This is not something that is allowed or approved of by the government but until the government can change it they are willing to work at ways to give the children a better life. So together with Plan and the government a program was created for the integrated night classes. They are called integrated since each class may have children from a wide range of ages. The jobs that the street & working children do vary:
• Selling lottery tickets
• Sand pickers (…children collect sand at the bottom of the river and sell it to construction sites)
• Shoe shiners
• Rubbish collectors (collecting plastic, metal and selling it)
• Domestic cleaner
• Selling soup
• Collecting and selling firewood

The integrated classes are offered at night from 7pm until about 9pm. They are held in random buildings that have been made available. The classes may be in a primary school or a vacant office building and the location can vary from month to month. While traveling in Hue province, my Plan host and guide with Lisa was the amazing Hue, Plan Project Officer (appropriately named in Hue!) who spent the next 2 days showing us the work that Plan is involved in.

When I do my FACES OF TOMORROW documentary work I always ask the children 4 questions and then allow them to ask me any questions they want. In the beginning of my travels I found a lot of shyness and trepidation in their answers. However when I met with the street & working children they were alive with a sense of inner strength and sense of self that I had not witnessed before. I can only imagine that working on the streets is a place where these children have no choice but to be “survivors”. And with that came shining confidence and real inner strength. They did not have the discipline skills that the other students I met had, but they had this radiant heart that beamed at me as I walked into the classroom. They welcomed me with a local song and when we went into the Questions and Answers session they had plenty to say and plenty to ask! It was quite an amazing experience. They were also the only children who wanted to actually touch me and play with me. Hold my hand, dance with me, jump with me and play with me. It was beautiful.

Which NGO’s (non-government agencies) was I representing?
I was covering the work of Plan USA :

My final thoughts

This year marked the 7-year anniversary of my FACES OF TOMORROW project and I was able to reflect for a moment at all the countries that I have visited. With all of them there are differences and similarities. The difference with my travels to Vietnam is clearly the rate that the economy and lifestyle is growing. The poverty rate is lowering, the education levels are increasing and the international markets are noticing the new opportunities. The similarities that Vietnam and it’s children have in common with the other children of the world (that I have seen so far)…is their love and desire for EDUCATION. Whether it is a street & working child that was thrilled to have a night school to go to, or a boat family that struggled to get their children in to any school they could, or even a young 4-year old that was so happy when a Plan ECCD (Pre School) opened that she could go to everyday. In my heart and mind this is what all the children want. The children around the world want to have the consistency of a school whether it is a makeshift tent, or an abandoned office building for night school. Not only do I believe that they feel safe here, and sometimes more loved than at home, but they also really love to learn. They believe that they can have a better life with education. The people of Vietnam were so gracious and kind to me and the memories will be in my heart forever.


faces of tomorrow, photographs by diana barnett