Fulbright University Vietnam Student Promotes New Methods in Community Development

Speeches Shim

Wednesday, September 16, 2020
Vũ Đức Huy (center) at Fulbright University Vietnam.

Vũ Đức Huy comes from a remote city in Kon Tum province, a region in the Central Highlands of Vietnam bordering Laos and Cambodia. He has always been dedicated to helping others and volunteered frequently in community initiatives in his hometown. Huy also worked with children and in orphanages, and in 2017, he founded YUU Organization to educate ethnic minority children in the region. 

In 2019, Huy joined the USAID-supported Fulbright University Vietnam (FUV), the first fully independent non-profit university in Vietnam. FUV exposed him to new ideas about community service and efficient civic engagement. He also learned to apply development methodologies grounded in sound research, solid planning, and gradual implementation, and discovered that not all forms of assistance are created equal. Most importantly, he was introduced to a way of thinking that always puts the needs of the recipient first.

“When we conducted a survey among young people in Kon Tum, 92 percent assumed civic engagement is charity. But what was most concerning was how most of their reasons to participate in community projects was to build a CV, to gain a scholarship, or to have a story to share.” For Huy, those short-term projects fundamentally benefit the implementer the most, instead of the beneficiary. “It’s fulfilling empathy and compassion. But because it feels good does not mean it does good. Without solid research, the way we support the beneficiaries doesn’t necessarily address their needs.”

YUU’s main activities still support ethnic minority children in Kon Tum. But now his organization also empowers young talented students to actively engage in community development through the Youth Engagement Training Initiative (YETI), experiential learning model that focuses on beneficiary needs, like the one he encountered at FUV. As COVID-19 hit Vietnam, YUU’s summer camp was postponed to Spring 2021 and redesigned as an online experience where Huy and his team will train 20 volunteers over five days. With guidance from Dr. Kevin Hart, an FUV professor, Huy and his team learned about beneficiary-focused  community engagement. He also collaborated with Huy to figure out how to best utilize the experiential learning model to improve the capacity of volunteers participating in YETI. The program now involves role playing activities that help students bridge the perspective gap between implementers and beneficiaries, gamification tools and virtual reality, and an introduction to project design. 
Photo: Vũ Đức Huy and ethnic minority kids in a summer camp activity in Kon Tum in 2018.
Vũ Đức Huy and ethnic minority kids in a summer camp activity in Kon Tum in 2018.
YUU Organization

FUV also provided financial support and helped connect YUU Organization with other civic engagement professionals. Through these connections, YUU Organization secured additional support from other universities and partners, including Bard College, G.A.P. Institute, Pitzer College, and American University of Central Asia.

“This is a very ambitious project, but we’ve received a tremendous amount of support. We have a very diverse team, different universities and youth organizations helping us or collaborating with us. That is important because we are tackling a very multidimensional problem, and this is not something where we can compromise on quality. By training more volunteers, we can change the landscape of civic engagement in a lasting manner,” explains Huy.

USAID has been supporting FUV since its launch in 2017. Current USAID support will help FUV advance its goal of achieving international accreditation; developing executive education and other programs; and advancing shared value partnerships with Vietnam’s technology, manufacturing, and service industry sectors.