Vietnam was my third international posting and my first as a Country Director. There are many single stories told about Vietnam – “the American War”, “great food” and “beautiful beaches” and Vietnamese people – “friendly” and “hard-working”.
And while these are undoubtedly true there are so many more stories to tell. I now think of the Vietnamese as being more passionate about their country than anywhere else I have ever lived and so personally and collectively committed to making the future better than the past for their children and grandchildren. My youngest daughter shares her birthday with Ho Chi Minh and we could not be prouder.
When Mark Kent the British Ambassador finished his term in the country, he was invited to mark the occasion at the Presidential Palace with the Vice President Madam Nguyen Thi Doan. I accompanied him along with other senior folks from our Embassy and the Vice-President spoke to each of us in turn. I was at the end of the line as I knew my place and when I was introduced she broke into fluent and enthusiastic English because I was the British Council Director. As the jaws of her officials and interpreters dropped she broke protocol and explained that she had learnt English at the British Council in the 1990s and then gently chastised me for not having invited her to our new premises as she was a proud alumna! Building trust and creating opportunity through English.
Vietnam always felt like a place where you were encouraged to do something for the first time – we opened partner teaching centres in local schools; funded local artists through the country’s first ever art auction; introduced social enterprise into the economy and changed the law along the way; sowed the seeds for an inaugural Vietnam-UK university in Da Nang. And in our very own office we launched an internship scheme for disabled people in partnership with a local disability organisation. None of my colleagues dared to disagree with the Director championing of this initiative but I am not sure they thought it would ever happen until I announced that a new post of Personal Assistant to the Director would be given to our first intern, Giang Do. Making a difference in people’s lives. Some of the (now employed) interns write to me on my birthday and at Tet. Making a difference in my life.
“My youngest daughter shares her birthday with Ho Chi Minh and we could not be prouder.”