By Ninette Cheng
Northwest Asian Weekly
Boeing’s relationship with Vietnam is probably most often thought of in terms of aerospace, but education is a philanthropic issue for the company as well. Last month, Gov. Chris Gregoire paid a visit to one of the newest primary schools funded by Boeing and constructed by East Meets West (EMW) foundation.
Since 2006, Boeing has participated in the funding of 17 primary schools in Vietnam. The aerospace manufacturer and top Washington employer works with a number of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) including EMW, the Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation (WAF), and the Global Community Services Foundation (GCSF) to build schools across 12 provinces.
“This originated from a commitment to Prime Minister Van Khai in 2004 to do projects as part of the Boeing community efforts in Vietnam,” said Miles Kotay, Boeing’s communications manager for Asia. “After considering several alternatives, Boeing found a need commensurate with our values and social responsibility initiatives.”
Most recently, Gregoire traveled to Thua Thien Hue for the latest school opening. The governor spoke of the hope that some of the students would join the other 1,200 Vietnamese students in Washington in the future.
The newest primary school features fully furnished classrooms, a UV water treatment system, modern bathrooms, landscaping, gates, fences, a paved pathway, and day-long school sessions.
Jack Bernard, EMW’s development director for Vietnam, is based part-time out of Seattle and part-time out of Saigon. His job is to explore the fundraising potential for EMW including its Vietnamese schools.
“The original agreement [for Boeing] was undoubtedly tied to the sale of airplanes to Vietnam Airlines. However, Boeing has been an extremely good corporate citizen in Vietnam, contributing significantly to disaster relief as well as this school construction program,” he said.
EMW and Boeing have collaboratively built eight schools in Vietnam.
“The relationship is not exclusive; it is competitive,” Barnard said. “Other NGOs also compete for the construction contract.”
Boeing has built 10 schools with EMW, five with WAF, and two with GCSF.
“Boeing selects projects based on a number of criteria. One of their concerns surrounds geographical equity so that the schools are evenly distributed around the country,” he said.
Whereas Boeing is involved in the funding, EMW works on construction of the schools.
“One aspect of our work is school construction, but we also have education projects that involve pre-school and early education programs, teacher training, and scholarships for students from families in the lowest 10% of the economic spectrum,” Bernard said.
Boeing and EMW focus on building schools in rural areas where the needs are the greatest, Kotay said.
“Our work in this area is seen as necessary because the government does not have the resources to satisfy the need for schools and kindergartens at this time, although improvements in this area are being made as the Vietnamese economy continues to grow at a rapid rate,” Bernard said.
A priority for the schools is clean water sanitation systems. Many of the villages have no other source of clean water.
“We construct clean water and sanitation systems for existing schools and provide, in some instances, personal hygiene training for teachers and students at those schools,” Bernard said.
“[The schools] have often become the social center of the community and a source of fresh water because they have a water filtration system,” Kotay said.
Building schools in a foreign country has not been easy. The project has come with significant challenges concerning money, ethics, and weather.
“Finding enough money to underwrite these projects is always the biggest challenge,” Bernard said.
“Government bureaucratic red tape is also a challenge, but EMW has been doing business here for a long time and we have established credibility wherever we have had programs and projects.
“Also, it is important in the beginning to make it clear that the organization is honorable and has ethical standards so that there is an understanding that no bribes will be paid,” Bernard continued. “Some organizations think that this is part of the system, but EMW is respected for maintaining ethical standards.”
At the end of the day, Barnard hopes the schools will make a long-term contribution to the community.
“The goal for all of our programs is sustainability,” he said. “When we build a school or a clean water system or provide machines for a neo-natal ward, we turn the completed project over to the local community.”
Kotay, like Gov. Gregoire, hopes to see the students in the United States someday.
“Hopefully someday, children from these schools will grow up to design, build, fly, maintain Boeing airplanes, maybe come to Seattle to help us design the next great airplane.” ♦
Ninette Cheng can be reached at email@example.com.