Little H’Mong Girl Leader making Big Changes in Ha Giang
Dung never thought of herself as someone who would stand out in a crowd. But as a member of the “Champions of Change” club and the Children’s Council in Xin Man district, Ha Giang province, this 15-year-old is advocating for the elimination of Early, Child, and Forced Marriage in her community.
Dung’s grandmother often said: “Your mum didn’t know how to cook or hold a baby when she became a bride.” As the eldest amongst five siblings, Dung had to take care of them, and other responsibilities like farm work and house chores. Dung knew her family wanted her to get married early, too, because they seemed most proud of her when she did the housework, because it would make her a good wife. They didn’t want Dung to continue her study in high school, or participate in extracurricular activities. They would rather save that money for her little brother, the only boy in the family.
But Dung was never discouraged. She always did her best at school and aimed for scholarships at the high school for ethnic minority girls. She was part of a project called “Using rice flour to make clay” to help poor children use cheaper materials to knead and sculpt when their parents couldn’t afford to buy clay. Her research project won second place in the “Science and Technology Competition in Schools” at the district level, and fourth prize at the provincial level. Dung was confident in her own ability, but she wanted to support others as well.
As part of the “Time to Act! Support Youth Activism to Eliminate Child, Early, and Forced Marriage in Vietnam” project, she joined the Champions of Change club where she learned what early marriage was, and the negative impacts that follow. It was a topic close to heart as Dung had witnessed firsthand how quickly her mum’s health deteriorate. Dung understood the hardships young women have to go through, so she decided to stand up and raise her voice, helping her peers and adults in the community alike, to question and challenge these social norms.
“The first time I facilitated a CoC Session for youths were in La Chi Chai village. Many of the participants were older than me, so they just sat there and stared at me. Some were married already, and they brought their children with them. I was quite shaken at that time. But I regained my composure, and I organised a warm up game for all of them. Seeing them laugh and having fun, I realised that I was a part of their community too. So I continued and used my H’Mong language to share my mum’s story as an example. The awareness raising was more successful than I had ever expected,” shared Dung.
At these peer-to-peer communication sessions, Dung continued to improve upon her public speaking abilities and facilitation skills. Dung was further encouraged by other club members, so she reached out and talked to her peers at high risk of child marriage in her community. She shared her stories and lessons with honesty, and connected her two friends with the school teachers who supported them to stop their marriage. Her teacher proudly commended her for her observant eyes and her ability to quickly adapt to different groups and context. As she continue to grow more confident as a leader, Dung was introduced to the district’s Children’s Council, and she became one of the youngest, most dedicated members.
When asked about her achievements, Dung said: “I was nervous, of course. But my task was to honestly present the problems the children in my community face and bring their aspirations to the leaders. I didn’t have time to worry, I did it with confidence and pride!”
We wanted to continue our discussion with Dung, but she had to politely decline and hurried back to take care of the 6 cows and cook for her siblings at home. Before she left, Dung shared with us: “What I cherish most when participating in the project is exceeding my own limitations. In the past, my mum taught me that girls should be good at housework and master the farm job to get married and settle down. I can do more now. I wish to enroll in high school and then college or university. After that, I will return here to work in the commune People’s Committees or Unions. One day I will become a leader, and I can do more for the children in my community. As a leader, my priority will be allocating resources to eliminate my community’s harmful practices and child marriage.”
For someone who never claimed to stand out from the crowd, this little H’Mong leader is striving for big changes. The project “Time to Act! Support Youth Activism to Eliminate Child, Early, and Forced Marriage in Vietnam” implemented in Ha Giang province is offering support to help raise the awareness and capacity of young leaders such as Dung to lead the youth movement.
Protection from violence, Sexual and reproductive health and rights, Youth empowerment, Activism, child marriage, Gender-based violence, girls’ leadership, Teenage pregnancy