My name is Hap, and I am 16 years old. I live in a small wooden cottage in a community close to a mountain cliff in Ha Giang province, Vietnam.
My hometown is beautiful, with high mountains and green forests. Most of the people living here are ethnic minorities which makes our culture diverse.
My parents and I are Dao, the ninth largest ethnic group in Vietnam. Our ancestors migrated from China in the 12th century and made their home in the mountainous region of northern Vietnam. As a Dao girl, I wear a long black blouse, with trousers embroidered by my mother. These traditional clothes feature embroidery based on personal memories, and my mother’s design is unique.
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At the moment, I’m in ninth grade — the last grade of secondary school. My school is a center in the community. In the past, there was no road, so I had to walk through mountainous lanes on my own. During the winter, it was scary as it was so dark.
Nowadays, my journey to school is easier — and shorter — as a new cement road was recently built by the local government and my community, with the support of Plan International Vietnam.
However, the issue of studying is never easy for ethnic girls like me. Since grade six, I have seen girls my age drop out to get married and have children. In our culture, girls normally get married from age 13. If a man or a boy likes a girl, they can easily “kidnap” her, take her to his house and ask his parents to bring a betrothal gift to the girl’s family. Then, they become husband and wife.
Last year, Glamour magazine heard about my story and invited me to New York to receive one of their “Women of the Year” awards in September. It was the first time I had left my village and seen Hanoi. It was the first time I had gone on a plane. And it was the first time I had met so many new people from different cultures but felt like we were friends.
I learned whether we are from Vietnam, Pakistan, Bolivia or even the United States, a girl’s right to an education can be challenged. I don’t speak English and most of others girls who received the award could not speak English either, but we communicated through this common bond and through the language of love and sympathy.
The trip flew by and my life changed again. I realized I would like to study English, so if I get another opportunity like this, I can say thank you to my supporters.
Right now, though, I must graduate from secondary school, so I can go to high school next year. It will be a challenge, as the nearest high school is two hours away by car. This means I’ll have to stay in a boarding school during the week. I won’t be able to help my parents, and schooling and boarding expenses are a challenge.
However, I want to make it, and although I know it’s not possible for everyone, I want to go to high school — a dream for all Dao girls.
The text was originally written in Vietnamese but was translated to English by Plan International.
How can we ensure that girls like Hap have access to quality education? Share your views by leaving a comment below.
Youth Will is an online conversation hosted by Devex in partnership with Chemonics, The Commonwealth Secretariat, The MasterCard Foundation and UN-Habitat to explore the power that youth around the globe hold to change their own futures and those of their peers.