By Nguyen Thi Hai Yen and Ngo Quoc Dung.
“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 project supports. The event happened some time ago, but the glint in her eyes and the excitement in her voice made us feel like it just happened yesterday.
There are many students among the 200+ in Grade 1 to Grade 5 at the commune’s school who with their grandparents because Quan Chu is a poor community and parents must go far from home to earn a living. Also, many students must travel along hillside trails by bike or walking for about 4 kilometers or more on their own to get to school on 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 easily exposed to risks of being victims of abuse and assault now. This is because even remote, conservative, rural Vietnam is affected by a rapidly changing society. So, this is what the awareness-raising was about: risk of harm to children, including being trafficked away and abused emotionally, physically and even sexually.
Interestingly to us, as CWS staff, we were glad to realize that not just the knowledge, but also 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 that this was “something that happen somewhere else” (as they sometimes heard on TV) “but not in our Commune.” However, 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 because “abuse” is not limited to physical, sexual abuse; it takes other forms like lewd and suggestive looks and talk or, worse, exposing one’s genitals or pressuring a child to expose him or herself. The realizations were shocking, but important – especially because parents and grandparents learned about the signals and signed to realize if a child is sexual 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. While we did not love the fact that we need to raise this issue and educate families about it, we are proud that we had
the courage, and CWS global 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.
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