Sao Biển. Room for education
An old story which teaches us that each and every one of us can contribute to making the world a better place is the reason behind the organization’s name – „Sao Bien“ which is the Vietnamese word for starfish.
‘The starfish’ story or ‘We Can Make A Difference’
While walking along a beach, an elderly gentleman saw someone in the distance bending down, picking something up and throwing it into the ocean. As he got closer, he noticed that the figure was that of a young man, picking up starfish one by one and tossing each one gently back into the water. He came closer and called out, “Good morning! May I ask what it is that you are doing?” The young man paused, looked up, and replied “Throwing starfish into the ocean.” The old man smiled, and said, “I must ask, then, why are you throwing starfish into the ocean?” To this, the young man replied, “The sun is up and it is low tide. If I don’t throw them in now, they’ll die.” Upon hearing this, the elderly observer commented, “But, young man, do you not realise that there are miles and miles of beach and there are starfish all along every mile? You can’t possibly make a difference!” The young man listened politely. Then he bent down, picked up another starfish, threw it back into the ocean past the breaking waves and said, “It has made a difference to this one.”
The story („The Star Thrower“), written by Loren Eiseley, was first published in 1969 in „The Unexpected Universe“ and many different versions of it have been written since then.
The organization aims to give children between the ages of 6 and 11 access to quality education by building schools in very remote and very poor villages in Vietnam. In this way it aims to contribute to the children’s right for education, as anchored in the Sustainable Development Goals.
Sao Bien solely focuses on those areas in Vietnam which, due to their location and poverty, have not received sufficient support from the State and other NGOs in the past. These areas are mostly populated by ethnic minorities.
Many organizations shy away from the logistical troubles and additional costs that are often connected with these remote locations.
Agreements with the local authorities ensure proper use of the building after completion.
The project is implemented with the help of different local partners whose support is essential in particular for finding a suitable location, contact with local authorities, and smooth and efficient implementation.
High efficiency is achieved by a lean organization with an experienced project manager based in Vietnam and an NGO-experienced board based in Vienna that handles financials, risk management, and legal aspects. Therefore, no money is wasted on headquarters and other overhead costs but reaches the children in need.
The first projects were all located in the Northern part of Vietnam, which is very mountainous and very poor. Sao Bien aims to expand its activities into the Central and Southern part of Vietnam and to work nationwide.
After a decision on the location has been made, the coordination with the local authorities and the planning of the construction takes place. In particular, the cooperation with the local authorities would be impossible without reliable and well-connected local partner organizations.
Decisions regarding the number or the size of the classrooms are always taken in close coordination with the local authorities. This ensures that the project matches the specific needs of a particular village. The final decision is taken by Sao Bien’s board.
While some preparation work and transportation is executed with strong support and involvement of the local population, the construction of the building itself is undertaken by local construction companies.
Sao Bien involves the local people and local authorities as well as teachers from the very beginning. This ensures a high degree of identification with the project and, at the same time, guarantees that the school exactly matches the specific needs of the particular village.
Due to the poor or impossible access by road, a steel-based construction with a solid foundation is usually favored in order to mitigate logistic problems.
A typical school project includes two or three classrooms with furniture, a teachers’ room, a toilet and electricity. If possible, solar panels are used.
Teachers’ rooms are essential to enable teachers to live in the village, as the poor roads do not allow them to return to their home village every day.
Agreements with local authorities ensure the proper use of the building after completion and that the ongoing costs are borne by the local authorities.
The average costs of a project are around Euro 10,000. One school gives around 40 children access to quality education. The lifetime of a school (steel-based construction) is around 20 years and thus will improve the lives and futures of several generations of primary school children.
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