Student Stories

Nguyen Huu Manh


What do you think about a dot in the middle of a blank page?

Without any hesitation, some people might say “It is just a black dot!”, or “simply nothing”. But for Manh, “No matter how ugly that black dot is, it is the starting point to continue drawing the picture of your life.”

Manh's father passed away, leaving his poor mother and 2 young kids behind. With the death of his father, he lost a coach who could guide him on his path to the future. The story of his life turned to a gloomy page. He gave up school to play video games all day long; he got involved in robbery and became a thief. On the day that he was taken to reform school, he realized that he was paying an expensive price for his lifestyle. That price could even be his own life. He recalls: “The reform school is another world. It is a world of bitterness, competition, burdens and of course, deprivation.”

Coming back to society on parole on Vietnam’s Independence Day, Manh couldn’t help asking: “Would my family and my friends still welcome me back, after all I have done?”. Manh thought of his mother, who was collecting every single penny she could by cleaning the streets from dawn to dusk, through rain and sunshine. All his mother wanted was for him and his brother to grow up and become “good people”. His brother struggled to pay school fees, and he didn't even have an old bicycle to go to his college.

Manh then decided to leave his family to attend a “transition home”, where post-reform school students were supported to reintegrate into the community. He took some general courses and learnt some welding skills. But life is not always kind and simple, and the small amounts of money he received for his work pushed him into a cycle of 14 hour working days. Talking about that time, one time he was brought. It was not just the physical hardness but also the dangerous environment and humiliation which kept on pushing him down.

One day, the manager of his “transition home” introduced him to REACH. Looking back on his time at REACH, Manh says it made him a different person. The facilitator’s enthusiasm, care and peer support planted the seeds of confidence in his soul. It was also at REACH where Manh learnt the meaning of “one black dot” in his life.

It has been more than 5 years since Manh graduated from REACH. In that time, Manh has moved to many different levels and positions in the hospitality service. Manh has worked for Pullman, Sheraton, InterContinetal and also provided set-up services for newly established restaurants. Now, Manh has 3 years of experience working in managerial positions. He is currently F&B manager of a Singaporean restaurant in a busy street in Hanoi.

Manh is silently helping other people around him.  “Being good alone is not enough, helping others become good is what you need to do.” He has been organizing charity visits, calling for support for others and guest lecturing at REACH. Spending his time, effort and sometimes even a little of his salary on the people from similar backgrounds, he hopes to awaken the good in them. For some people who are still standing at the crossroads, not knowing which way to go next, Manh has one piece of advice: “A disadvantaged circumstance, an ugly look or even a bad history may not and should not prevent us from standing straight with our head held high in life”.

Other students

  • Ngo Van Nhuong

    Ngo Van Nhuong knows what it’s like to grow up in a crowded house. He, his two sisters, his younger brother, his mother and his father all live together in a small 20-square meter hut just outside Hoi An ancient town. His married sister’s home is far away but she has moved back in to look for work. There is only one bed so Nhuong, his father and his brother sleep on the floor.
  • Nguyen Thi Trieu Anh

    Nguyen Thi Trieu Anh’s father left when she was just 12 years old, but she still remembers him. She remembers the countless times he got drunk and beat her and her younger brother. The abuse was so frequent that when he left, she finally felt safe.
  • Nguyen Thi Ngoc Yen

    From the moment you meet Yen, you can instantly tell she is very responsible for a person her age. Being a carer for her elderly parents has meant she has always known the importance of looking after family. Her 60-year old mother cannot stand for more than five minutes due to Sciatica. Her father, 64, is an unemployed fisherman, recently affected by the widely publicized dead fish epidemic plaguing central Vietnam.
  • Nguyen Phan Thuy Linh

    Even though it’s been five years, Linh still finds it difficult to talk about her father’s leaving. She hasn’t heard from him since but she knows from the other villagers that he has a new wife and family.
  • Pham Van Cuong

    Cuong is 22, and comes from the Muong, a ethnic minority group in Vietnam. His family lives in Ngoc Lac, one of the poor mountainous districts in Thanh Hoa province. His family is under preferential treatment.