“It was a great event that our school had. So many student parents, both dads or moms, joined … and even some grandparents, too. The feedback from them is also good, and it shows an increasing interest of the community on the issues, I think.”
Luong Thi Hong is Deputy Head Teacher of the primary school in Quan Chu commune, and she excitedly told us about the awareness-raising event that her school organized with CWS support. The event happened some time ago, but the glint in her eye and the excitement in her voice made us feel like it just happened yesterday.
Of the more than 200 students in Grades 1 through 5 at the commune’s school, many live with their grandparents. Quan Chu is a poor community, and parents must often go far from home to earn a living. Also, many students must travel along hillside trails by bike or by foot for 2.5 miles or more on their own to get to school because their parents or grandparents cannot take them by motorbike.
The school is, of course, very concerned about their young students’ safety, especially because they are very innocent and are now more easily exposed to the risks of being victims of abuse and assault. This is because even remote, conservative, rural Vietnam is affected by a rapidly changing society. So, this is what the awareness-raising was about: the risk of harm to children, including being trafficked away and abused emotionally, physically and even sexually.
Our CWS team was glad to realize that it wasn’t just a time of knowledge and information sharing. The mindset of adults who joined our session changed significantly from our time together. When asked before our presentation about what they think of child sexual abuse, almost all parents and grandparents talked about adults “having sex with children” or said that this was “something that happens somewhere else but not in our Commune.” They had heard about it on TV, but like so many of us it seemed like something that happens “somewhere else.”
People’s perceptions and understanding were quite different after the event: they now know that this is a hidden danger that can happen from within the community at any time. Abuse is not limited to physical, sexual abuse; it takes other forms like lewd and suggestive looks or comments or, worse, an adult exposing himself/herself to a child or pressuring a child to expose him or herself. These realizations were shocking, but important – especially because parents and grandparents learned about the signals that indicate that a child has been sexually abused as well as how to help children build skills to protect themselves from harm and avoid risks.
Speaking after the event, some parents said they thought discussion of this issue was meaningful because it became more real than just seeing a program on TV, which makes the issue seem out of context and unreal.
Luong Thi Hong told us, “While obviously we don’t like that there is a need to raise this issue and educate families about it, we are proud that we had the courage, and CWS support, to talk about tough issues. And, it seems that parents are interested to talk more with us, and many said they appreciated the time we took to bring them together.”