Ly Quynh Nhi Nguyen

Assistant to the Village Director SOS Children's Villages in Vietnam
photo: © Stefan Lechner Photography

With the right ingredients, you can bake any cake

Have you ever tried to change someone’s mind? I did, many times in my work. Let me tell you about one of them. It was my second year at SOS Children’s Village Dalat as the sponsorship secretary. Since I was an English teacher before, the Village Director asked me to help the 18-year-old children to be well-prepared for their English test in the high school graduation examination.

English is our foreign language and most students find it too difficult as a subject to deal with in the examination because it focuses so much on grammar rules and writing skills. In our country, the graduation exam, in which the tests are on mathematics, English and literature, is compulsory for every student at the age of 18. Without passing this examination, students cannot have higher education (i.e. at a college or university) for their future career.
My English class at that time was a small one. There were only about 8 students. As the graduation examination had proved to be very challenging in previous years, I asked my students to memorise the grammar rules in class and at home. In the next class, I spent time checking if they had learned them by heart or not, and then asked them to do the exercises.
Challenging situations and rejection
Things went well for two months and then one day, one boy – Tan  – failed to come to class. When I talked to him later, he said, “I don’t want to come to your class any longer because it won’t help. I just feel the heavy pressure you put on us and I don’t like it at all.” It was like an icy shower over my head and also something came into my throat. I just told him, “OK. First go home for lunch and we will talk about it later.”
After two days, I met him again and tried to tell him nicely to come back to class, but he still said no. Two more days passed and I hadn’t slept for four nights. I was fighting about whether I should continue to persuade Tan or not. If I did, it wasn’t what he wanted. But if I didn’t, his chance to become a table tennis trainer would be impossible. But there was definitely something I could do and I had to do it.
About the deep will of guidance
Two days later, I stopped him on his way back home from school. “What have you decided?” I asked. “It is better for me not to go to your English class,” he said. I tried to stay calm and told him, “If you don’t go to my English class, your bad result in the graduation exam will lead you nowhere. You will not be a table tennis trainer, which is what you’ve dreamed of. Please think about it carefully. The examination is drawing near, it is only two months, which fly by so quickly. I can only help you in these two months. After that, I cannot because it is not necessary. I am here for your benefit only, not mine. The good result in the graduation exam is also for you, not for me. If I do as you wish, it is much easier for me but it isn’t a wise choice.”
Two days passed, and Tan came back to my English class. I was also aware of the pressure he had mentioned. So I tried to minimise it as best I could. The best moment for me was when Tan, overjoyed, announced the graduation result to me. All 8 students passed the English test and Tan got 7 marks out of 10. To him it was a new record because he had only got 4 or 5 marks for any English test before. I was happy with this of course.
The Village Director thanked me for the good results of the 8 children, especially Tan. I told him without hesitation that the children had made the difference, not me. I just gave them the ingredients: flour, sugar, butter, eggs… and showed them how to bake the cake. They were the people who made the delicious cakes, not me.
Tan went on to study table tennis after the entrance examination, which was quite easy for him. Later he came back to me with the good news that he had passed all the English tests at his university no matter how difficult they were. I wish I could have a picture of him to show you. It is a picture of a very nice young man who is now a table tennis trainer, full of energy, enthusiasm, love and happiness. Happiness, yes, because he also got married last June.

Ly Quynh Nhi Nguyen

Ly trained as an English teacher but got her first job as a secretary for the Hermann Gmeiner School in Dalat, Vietnam. A few years later, she became the high school English teacher, then the secretary of SOS Children’s Villages Dalat and, in 2018, she was appointed as assistant to the Village Director. Four jobs in 25 years with the same organisation required Ly to learn a lot. 
Ly believes that family is the root of society. When she was growing up, her parents taught her a lot about responsibility, care and love, and now it is her turn. She tries to fulfil her everyday duties as a wife and as a mother of two adult sons. In her free time, she enjoys spending time with family, whether it is cooking, playing sports, reading or watching movies together.
Dalat, according to Ly, is the most beautiful part of the earth that she knowns. It is located on a plateau in the south of Vietnam, with a cool climate that enables many kinds of trees, vegetables and flowers to grow and blossom all year round. Ly hopes that one day, each of you can come and find out yourselves. It is her pleasure to accompany you there.