Hà Thị Dung – Tour Operation Manager at Sapa O’chau – a social enterprise organizing tours for tourists. Profits are going to support children from local tribes in going to school.
Q1: What do you appreciate yourself in the business mainly for?
We are proud of our students, who went to university and now got good jobs. We can change the students‘ minds. When they come to us they are naïve, after two months with us they change a lot, they know how to work in teams, how to cook, live together, learn. What’s more, we can help 30 tour guides, we organize tours for them every day so they can get some income. Also local homestays, before they couldn’t get guests and now they have much more, they have stable funds and they could change their life. We try to choose very poor homestay to partner with. When they have a decent amount of clients coming from other sources we try to move to another one.
Q2: What is the biggest challenge for you now?
In Vietnam, Sapa it’s a small area but there are a lot of tour companies, a lot of competition. We want to support local guides but most of them didn’t go to school so they don’t know how to read or write. Their knowledge is limited, so sometimes if guests ask something, they cannot answer well. Some guests understand that but some don’t, they don’t want to go with a guide who doesn’t have knowledge. We already organized two training courses for guides to have more general knowledge, but it’s not enough. Our organization is very small so we cannot meet the demand. We have volunteers from around the world, every month, every year. They can teach our students English, math, some music or sport, but volunteers have no knowledge how to be a tour guide or how to work with foreign people. Most volunteers are students, they don’t have working skills. One more very challenging thing is to find job for students when they finish high school or university. They get married very early, 16, 18, 20. It is very difficult to encourage them to go to school even if we support them, give everything free of charge. Also families push them to come back, having baby before turning 20. Parents don’t understand the value of learning. They don’t want to change, they think children should have the same life as they had. And children obey parents, only few of them go against. We have 35 students but only half of them can continue to university or collage, the rest will come back home. Some of them if they studied English, they can become guide and we help them with getting guide license, but it’s not the case for many. Most of them can’t even speak Vietnamese, they have their own dialect, which make it difficult to study at schools.
Q3: What advice do you have for yourself in this situation?
We need to have more guests, every year we try to create new attractions, we hope that more people will come so we can help more students. I want to also have one good training course for guides every year, so the number can increase, we have 30 guides now and we hope to have 50 in the future. The problem with opening new tours is that for now we don’t have enough stuff. We want to hire locals, people from minorities, not foreigners or Vietnamese, but to find one who speaks English is very hard. Maybe from our students… but all of them want to be tour guides, they don’t want to work in the office. As guides they meet new people every day and they work shorter, and not in front of the computer.
Would you like to add something more?
This social enterprise was created to help local children to go to school. Now we have 35 students we support. What’s more we have around 30 tours with guides from local tribes. Every month we support 10-15 homestays by sending guests. 99% of our stuff are local people. We hope that next year, in 2017, we can double the number of students. Next year a lot of our students graduate high school and we can select more kids from the villages. When students come with us they can have free accommodation, food, school equipment, school fee and transport between village and school. We try to work hard to earn money and then we hope to buy the land with school to help even more children, because now we have to rent land from women, the cost for renting is a little bit high. When we pay for renting sometimes we can’t support children. It’s difficult to run a business in Vietnam.
The questions were asked on our behalf by Anna and Andrea from How to (ex) change the world.
Sapa, Vietnam, 5th November 2015