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TRA-MY NGUYEN: OBAMA LEADER & PIONEER IN EDTECH

Biography

 

Tra-My Nguyen is the Country Director at Kidspire Vietnam (https://kidspirevietnam.org/), an educational nonprofit that supports orphan children and youth in their transition from their time in an orphanage to their young adult lives. Over the course of the decade Tra-My has done this work, she also helped launch the Maker Academy program in 2016 to engage Vietnamese orphans in hands-on learning activities in a variety of subjects, including STEM and robotics. To date, the award-winning Maker Academy has reached over 1,700 children from underserved communities.

 

As an active member of the FOSSASIA open tech community since 2017, Tra-My is a speaker, mentor, and facilitator at events like the FOSSASIA Summit.

 

Since 2020, Tra-My has been the first Chapter Ambassador of Technovation in Vietnam - a global challenge empowering girls in technology, leadership, and entrepreneurship. Tra-My is selected to be one of 35 Obama Leaders Cohort 2022 representing 23 nations and territories across Pacific Asia.

 

Tra-My is passionate about providing equity education to underprivileged children and empowering girls in Vietnam. She has a deep desire to hold space for children and young people to unleash their core values. Since 2012, she has loved to apply mindfulness to work and life - focus more on the here and in the now.



 

Interview Questions


1. Can you share a specific story or moment from your journey with Kidspire Vietnam that truly inspired you and reinforced your commitment to empowering underprivileged children and youth in Vietnam?


Every time after teaching and interacting with my students at Kidspire, I feel inspired and reinforced for my comittement. It’s especially rewarding when I witnessed students engaging with the activities I’ve planned, grasping new concepts, or when moments of reconciliation occur, fostering understanding and love within the classroom. I’d like to share a recent story that illustrates this. I mentor a group of three underserved girls who are behind their peers by three to five years academically. For reasons unknown to me, there was hatress from one girl towards another in the group. She refused to look at her peer and participate in group discussions. One day, the session’s focus was on empathy. I facilitated the conversation, encouraging each girl to write down a few personal challenges before sharing it with the group. As it happened, the two girls who were at odds with each other shared that they faced the same issue: their families did not support their education beyond grade 5. Both were considered “stupid" and were told that their educational opportunities should be passed on to their younger brother and sister. As they shared their stories, both were crying. While their relationship did not transform overnight, the seeds of understanding and reconciliation were sown, and I can feel the group’s tension gradually eased.


2. Your Maker Academy program has made a significant impact on the lives of over 1,700 children. What advice would you give to others looking to create similar initiatives and engage young minds in hands-on learning?


Begin with a long-term vision and take small, manageable steps towards it. Embrace the process of trial and error. Always keep in mind the reasons why you started and the core values you want to instill in young minds. Along the journey, unexpected challenges will arise—focus on the positive moments as motivation to persevere. Surround yourself with the right people who share your vision and are committed to building the initiative with you.

 

3. Becoming the Chapter Ambassador of Technovation in Vietnam is a remarkable achievement. What motivates you to empower girls in technology, leadership, and entrepreneurship, and how can others get involved in similar initiatives?


I think what motivated me were the stories related to pursuing education from my grandmother, my mother, and my own students.

My grandma became an orphan at an early age due to the war. She couldn’t go to school. So, she learned by standing outside and peer through the classroom windows to see how the other kids learned, then practice writing on sand or banana leaves.

My mom also faced many challenges pursuing her education. After grade 7, shortly before her 13th birthday, my mom had to quit school and sell fruit on the street to help support her family with 9 siblings.

I grew up in a remote rural province in the central highlands of Vietnam - with limited access to information and technology. Luckily, my mom raised me and my sister in a way that always encouraged us to go on to higher Education. However, I hardly find the joyful and meaningful of education even I am also the top students in classroom.

Every day, my female students are bombarded with discouraging messages: ‘Technology is just for boys, not for girls. Girls can just become homemakers - cooking, sewing and taking care of the family’ or ‘You are stupid, you should give the education opportunities for your younger brother!’.

I am driven to bring joyful and meaningful education to children who face similar circumstances as my grandmother, my mother, myself, and my students. I want to challenge the status quo and create a world where girls are equally encouraged to pursue technology, leadership, and entrepreneurship.

To those who wish to support similar initiatives, I encourage you to become a positive role models, mentors, volunteers, or advocates in your local communities. Share your own stories, expertise, empower young minds, and help dismantle the barriers that prevent girls from realizing their full potential. Together, we can make a difference in the lives of countless young women and help pave the way for a more equitable future.


4. Being selected as one of the 35 Obama Leaders in 2022 is a prestigious recognition. What insights or experiences have you gained from this journey that you believe could inspire emerging leaders in your field?


I learned that the journey to becoming an emerging leader sometimes feels uncertain, lonely, and filled with self-doubt. However, I am not the only person experiencing these emotions; other leaders also have similar feelings. While being part of this ‘Ohana (meaning family in Hawaii, which is how we refer to ourselves), I was able to build more meaningful relationships with other incredible leaders. This journey transformed me into a new version of myself and helped me develop my 4C’s: Clarity in my mind, Compassion in my heart, Congruence in my whole self, and Courage in my actions.

From this journey, three particular moments had a profound impact on my growth as a leader:

● Having coaching sessions: I needed to gather the courage to show vulnerability and invest time and effort in doing inner child work with my supportive coach, Charis. This process helped me reconcile with my vulnerable inner child.

● Participating in a training session about Use of Self by Dr. Mee-Yan Cheung Judge helped me gain a deeper understanding of myself and how to lead with my best self.

● Listening to Koko Kondo’s incredible story, which began with insurmountable hopelessness and hatred but led to empathy, hope, and ultimately forgiveness. As the youngest atomic bomb survivor and an international peace activist, she engaged in a conversation with us about how she lived through one of the world’s most devastating tragedies—the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

I encourage emerging leaders in my field to embrace vulnerability, embark on a journey of self-discovery, and lead with authenticity and compassion. By doing so, you can build meaningful relationships with others and make a meaningful and lasting impact in your communities and beyond.


5. Can you share a specific example of how applying mindfulness to your work and life has positively influenced your ability to create change and empower others?

 

Two of the practices that I keep doing daily are mindful breathing and gratitude. The biggest change I can make is to become a kinder and more respectful person. Reflect instead of react. Previously, when someone said something I disagreed with or when I believed I was right, I would argue relentlessly, sometimes with a harsh tone that made it difficult to listen. However, with mindfulness, I have become better at listening to others. I use kinder and more considerate language, I ask follow-up questions, speak my own truth with nice speech, to seek understanding rather than focusing on being right or wrong. Additionally, before going to sleep, my daughter (sometimes with my husband) and I express gratitude for the things that made us thankful that day. This practice has helped us find more happiness in my life.

 

6. What strategies or approaches have been most effective in breaking down educational barriers for underprivileged children, and how can others replicate your success in their communities?

 

We cannot apply the same remedy to every situation, as each child we serve has unique needs. In my experience, the first crucial step is to connect with the children and truly understand their individual situations. This allows us to gain insight into their challenges and barriers to education.

 

The next step is to find different approaches to help them understand themselves better. This could involve implementing personalized learning methods, providing mentorship programs, or offering career guidance. By focusing on their individual strengths and interests, we can empower them to navigate their educational journey more effectively.

 

Equipping underprivileged children with essential values, mindsets, and skills is another key aspect. This includes fostering self-confidence, resilience and a growth mindset. By instilling these qualities, we prepare them to overcome obstacles and seize opportunities in their future.

 

Lastly, building supportive communities around these children is vital for long-term impact. This can be achieved by collaborating with local organizations, cooperates, government and community leaders. Together, we can create a network of support that provides resources, mentorship, and opportunities for the children to thrive.

 

7. What words of wisdom or encouragement would you offer to individuals who aspire to follow in your footsteps and make a meaningful impact in the lives of disadvantaged youth and girls, both in Vietnam and beyond?


Each of us has our own unique motivations, values and pace. Dream big, start with small steps, find the like-minded communities to support your cause. Doing good with both compassion and wisdom.  

 

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