Housekeeper empowers victims of domestic violence

By Hai Hien   April 21, 2020 | 03:33 pm GMT+7

Dang Thi Huong refused an opportunity of a better life in Australia, returning to Vietnam to support women facing violence at home.

On a sunny day in April, a small house on Hanoi’s Au Co Street was filled with the buttery smell of baking. 

Cooking and baking help the women earn up to VND7 million ($297.8) per month. With 50 percent of their rental fee covered, they also have the chance to learn English, yoga and other soft skills. All for free.

HopeBox, a two-year-old social enterprise empowering women who have experienced domestic violence, was established by Dang Thi Huong, who has rescued and offered vocational training to many.

Huong is the fisrt Vietnamese to receive awards for the best international undergraduates  and the best international students in Victoria state. Photo courtesy of Huong.

Huong is one in ten Vietnamese to attend Australia-Vietnam Young Leadership Dialogue in 2017, presenting her idea of supporting Vietnamese women who had experienced domestic violence. Photo courtesy of Huong.

"I witnessed my friends being beaten by their husbands, so while studying in Australia, I decided to return home to help and connect with women like Thuy," said Huong, who worked as a housekeeper and food vendor before earning her master’s in Australia.

In 1999, Huong, 13, left her family in the northern province of Vinh Phuc to work for a family in Hanoi. She sent her entire VND150,000 ($6.4) per month to her parents, living with Huong’s older brother and younger sister.

After four years, she was allowed to attend evening continuation classes, but was fired after two months when her employer complained she stayed up too late and did not focus on her job.

The 17-year-old girl resided beneath the stairs of an old apartment block, selling food during the day while attending evening classes.

"My goal was to enter university and change my life. My mother did not want me to stay in Hanoi, but if I had returned home, my education would have suffered."

To make enough money for her family, she woke at 2 a.m. to cook sticky rice she sold outside schools until 8-9 a.m., after which she sold tea and snacks until midnight. 

Huong came across many types of people in the two years beneath the stairs, eventually carrying a knife due to harassment by from drug addicts.

"A big deal will grow smaller and a smaller deal become nothing," Huong remembered her mother telling her.

In April 2006, Huong became a trainee at a social enterprise focused on teaching hospitality skills to homeless children. In time, she started work as a waiter and cashier at a five-star hotel.

Huong received a scholarship for a business management program at Box Hill Institute in Australia in 2012. Thanks to her progress, she earned another scholarship for a master’s program in entrepreneurship at Swinburne University of Technology.

In 2017, she was selected as one in ten Vietnamese to attend Australia-Vietnam Young Leadership Dialogue, presenting her idea of supporting Vietnamese women who had experienced domestic violence.

Talking of a friend she had supported since 2013, Huong said: "She was beaten by the husband whenever he got drunk. I think the only way to help those like her is to give them a job."

In 2017, she gave up working as a business analyst at a technology firm in Australia and returned to Vietnam. One year later, HopeBox was born with three founders.

At this social enterprise, women suffering from violence are taught how to bake and prepare gift boxes. Depending on their skills, some directly join production, while others manage. 

"We see each other as family members. Learning and working has given me the most beautiful experience of my life," Thuy said.

Huong (second from right) and Korean visiting students learning about HopeBox in February 2020. Photo courtesy of Huong. 

Huong (second from right) and visiting South Korean students at HopeBox in February, 2020. Photo courtesy of Huong. 

Covid-19 has had an adverse effect on HopeBox’s earnings, but Huong has no intentions to close up shop, afraid the women may again enter a cycle of violence and have no means to support their children.
Instead of making lunch boxes, they are now making cakes, snacks and pasta sauce to serve home-cook clients.

"I always look for a solution to help HopeBox overcome obstacles," said Huong.

 
 
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