Student develops library project to address education gap in home country of Vietnam

A simple Google search for “community service work” last spring turned into a life-changing experience for Trang Ho ’15. Thanks to support from some members of the College community, she attended a weeklong leadership summit in Singapore last summer that left her feeling empowered to take on a project designed to bring knowledge to the countryside village in Vietnam that she calls home.

At the first-ever SEALNet Youth Leadership Summit, Trang joined 17 other participants from Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) member nations studying at different colleges and universities across the globe. The philosophy of SEALNet, which stands for the Southeast Asian Service Leadership Network, is to provide young people with leadership skills, motivation, and inspiration to take action.

Trang, an economics and international relations double major, said she wanted to attend to “find out about how to create an impact for the community of Southeast Asia. I’m passionate about how I contribute to that region.”

In fact, she already has started building a library collection for her home village in an effort to provide the people with skills that will help them better prepare for their future. Having attended high school in the country’s capital of Hanoi, she can attest to the education gap that exists between the country and urban areas of Vietnam, and she wanted to do something about it.

Attending the summit gave her additional tools to be successful in developing and sustaining that idea and showed her the importance of building feelings of trust, empathy, and love within communities.

The “intense” scheduled was filled with informative discussions about Southeast Asia, including the countries’ economies, community service needs, and more. They also learned about each other’s cultures through performances and presentations. For example, a Malaysian group sang their country’s national anthem, and a Vietnamese group demonstrated traditional painting.

 “From that experience, we can see we have a lot of things in common,” Trang said.

They also participated in a community service project in Singapore’s Chinatown, attended workshops on leadership, project planning, and fundraising, and heard from prominent guest speakers, including Kishore Mahbubani, the former Singapore ambassador to the United Nations. He inspired Trang when he called the region “the most promising in the world.”

Currently, Trang and a fellow participant from Thailand are finalizing a grant proposal that would allow her to expand her library project. Their deadline is Oct. 12.

Trang plans to use her education at Lake Forest and the leadership skills she learned at the summit to own a business some day. Rather than staying in the United States as she originally planned, though, she now expects to return to Southeast Asia after graduation.

“After summit, I decided I really want to go back and contribute to the region. People are trying to change the region through community service work.”