What I learnt about travelling responsibly in Hoi An
With Earth Day fast approaching on April 22nd, Silkwinds, the in-flight magazine of Silk Air (the regional airline for Singapore Airlines) reached out to contributors on the topic of Sustainable Tourism. Here’s my small contribution about a noodle making experience in Hoi An, featured on p. 43 of this month’s (April) edition.
Wherever possible when travelling I try to contribute to tourism in a sustainable manner. During a trip to Vietnam, being part of this noodle making class run by STREETS International meant I was giving back to the local community. Before the class, I sat down and interviewed Sondra Stewart, one of the co-founders of STREETS International. She inspired me to write about the wonderful program run in Vietnam’s popular tourist town, Hoi An. For more about the story behind STREETS International, read on.
“Not every tourist who comes to Vietnam wants to bother about travelling responsibly and do loads of research about where to go and what to do. But what if someone does that research for them and then shares the information? It is then up to the traveller to decide if they want to go down that path or not. Sondra Stewart, co-founder of the STREETS International.
So what is STREETS International?
STREETS International is a not for profit organisation established to help disadvantaged Vietnamese children gain the necessary skills to work in Vietnam’s booming tourism industry. Students are selected using strict criteria and are mostly from impoverished backgrounds. They attend an 18-month training program at a culinary and hospitality school based in Hoi An. “It is not our intention to become an educational facility, we’re here to train our kids, so they can get jobs. We want to get the kids used to working in an environment with stringent standards,” said Sondra.
Once they complete their 18 months training the graduates leave STREETS qualified and confident to forge careers in the tourism and hospitality industry.
The beginnings of STREETS International
Neal Bermas, an international management consultant based in New York City first visited Vietnam in 1999. Although he’d seen poverty both in his own country and during overseas business travels, Neal struggled to forget the sadness in the faces of the street kids in Vietnam. Returning to Vietnam on business trips, Burmas felt compelled to do something for these kids who were unable to escape the poverty cycle. With Vietnam booming as a tourism destination, Bermas saw an opportunity for the street kids to become part of the growing tourism industry. Along with partner Sondra Stewart, a US-based business strategy expert and consultant, he established STREETS International as a not for profit organisation in 2007. Students were inducted into the first program in June 2009.
Oodles of Noodles class
Tour company G Adventures include a noodle making class called Oodles of Noodles at the STREETS International school (66 Thai Phien Street.) The day our tour group of 15 did the class, we were warmly greeted by two STREETS trainees before being ushered into a room lined with stainless steel benches covered with cooking utensils. In almost perfect English, the trainees shared stories about how their families could not afford to send them to school. During our cooking lesson, we chatted to the trainees. Their gratitude for the education and training STREETS provided felt genuine.
Once the class was over we sat down to lunch including the Mi Quang noodles, we’d prepared earlier. Unusually quiet for a moment, our group reflected on the difference the STREETS program has made to these young kids. “Speaking so confidently in your second language in front of a group of strangers shows the effectiveness of the program,” said Anna from Palmerston, New Zealand. We all agreed.
Mark from San Jose, USA added, “Any program that prepares kids in that way can only enhance their confidence in the world.”
In ten years, STREETS has become one of Vietnam’s most innovative social enterprises. The stats back this up. The program’s co-ordinators confirmed 100% of the 250 graduates find work within 60 days of graduation. And these are at many international hotels or resorts, including the Intercontinental Hotels, Hyatt Hotels, Sunrise Resort, The Nam Hai, Sheraton and Pullman Resort. A number of graduates have found work beyond Vietnam in countries like Singapore, Maldives and the UAE.
“As a tourist, if you want to do something, to have a connection, rather than give someone money and wonder what will that do, choose Oodles of Noodles,” says Sondra. “You get to experience a classroom, ask questions, talk with the students and gain an understanding of why you’d choose something like STREETS, over going to an orphanage.”
STREETS operate a café at 17 Le Loi Street in central Hoi An. Open to the general public, this is where the trainees put into practise what they’re learning.
STREETS offer a VIP Noodle Market Tour with a Noodle Making Class and authentic noodle lunch or dinner.
Duration: Three hours
Cost: $55 USD per person
To reserve a place email: firstname.lastname@example.org
For information on STREETS International email: email@example.com