Empowering Children

Rationale/ Development

This activity was developed collaboratively between Macquarie University staff, Koto and Bahay Tuluyan (BT). The purpose is to reflect on the capacity of marginalised young people to embark on positive transformative change. The activity is also aimed at challenging condescending, colonialist and “save the world” approaches to development, by instead focusing on the potential marginalised communities have in addressing their disadvantage.


45 mins


  • Success stories from KOTO and BT (in forms of videos, photos, written scenarios)


1) Present the following stories of children and young people as part of the pre-departure activity. The stories provide some information on the lives of these young people’s childhood to students (i.e. they have no stable carers, live in a remote village with few facilities and no access to education, or live and work in the streets).

a. Trieu Van Le’s Story:

Deconstructing the Concept of Childhood‘I was born in a poor farming village in a rural province, North West of Hanoi. I am the second child in a family of six. When I was nine, my mother passed away. My father was fortunate to remarry one year later. However, my family circumstances became worse because of my father’s dependency on alcohol. As a result of his alcohol abuse, he suffered from cirrhosis of the liver and gastritis, and he passed away seven months later. This was the most difficult time in my life, as I had now lost both my parents who had brought me up, and provided me guidance for all those years were no longer available. I still existed, but I did not truly live.’


Play first 1.40 minutes Hanoi Congratulatory Video (play mute)



b. Cora’s Story: (pseudonym)

‘When I was born into this world I felt the warmth of my parents’ love. I was the first child of my mother and father. That was also when I felt and experienced poverty. Many years went past until there was ten of us children. Because of this our needs increased. When I started studying was when I first experienced mixing with street children. I experienced knocking on car windows and asking for small change. Until I got used to it. I also learned to sell rags in the middle of the street and in the heat of the sun. After going to school from 6am until 12 noon I would start selling rags… As a result of extreme poverty I stopped studying. For three years we put up with sleeping on the side of the sidewalk. Our companions were other street children. We had to wake up early in the morning so that we could buy our stock… If we didn’t have rags to sell we would get some sampaguita flowers from the owner which we would pay for when we sold them. Sometimes we begged. We saved the money we earned and then sent it to our family.’


c. Rayyan’s Story: (pseudonym)

‘Lots of things happened to me because we are a broken family. I became a beggar and learnt to do things that I shouldn’t do. I tried using illegal drugs… I stole and sometimes got involved in riots, fighting here and fighting there. I learnt to fight to defend myself. I had to beg so I would have something to eat and then I would sleep on the cold cement of the street. Sometimes I went to sleep with nothing in my stomach. Do you know what it feels like the pain of having nothing in your stomach? When I woke up in the morning I would go back to stealing… It is like you are not thinking of anything except surviving. Then after all that the police catch you, they beat you up. Once they have finished, they let you go. That’s why we learned to fit them. I was not scared of anyone… I just know that what I was doing was right.’
2) Prompt students to answer the following questions

  • What do you think these people are doing at the moment?
  • How far do you think they got in life?
  • Why?

3) Present students with scenario provided by KOTO describing what actually happened to Trieu Van Le (through access to education, etc.) and videos from Bahay Tuluyan of two other remarkable youth, Girly and Rio.

a. Continuation of Trieu Van Le’s story:

‘In 2004, entering KOTO was a golden opportunity for me to transform my life. It was the place where I found sunshine and a strong belief for a brighter future ahead. Living and studying at KOTO was the most unforgettable period of my life. I had so many extraordinary experiences during the KOTO training program, and I made friends with trainees who also had disadvantaged backgrounds. KOTO not only provided us with hospitality and English training, but also taught us how to love, share, build our self-esteem, and explore our potential. More importantly, KOTO gave us a nurturing environment.

I graduated in March 2006. The Gouman Hotel (currently operated by Movenpik) – where I worked for one year and developed skills in food and beverage services – was my first job after the KOTO training program. After that, in 2007,  I was offered an opportunity to work at KOTO, where I became (and still am) a brother-like figure for new trainees, with who I was, and always will be, willing to share my skills and experience. Amazingly, after putting gin the effort to contribute to the KOTO program and its development, I was promoted to be KOTO Training Restaurant Manager and honourably awarded a scholarship to study a Diploma of Hospitality Management in 2012 at TAFE NSW Northern Sydney Institute, Ryde College (NSI).’


Grats photob. Girly’s story:


c. Rio’s story:


4) Ask students to reflect on:

  • Were you surprised by these life stories?
  • What factors can contribute to changing one’s path of disadvantage into a success story?
  • What can contribute to children’s empowerment?
  • How can disadvantaged young people be assisted so they can exercise their agency and transform their lives in a positive way?
  • What are the barriers to young people’s empowerment?

5) Ask students to discuss:

  • What can they do while on placement to contribute to young people’s empowerment?

6) To wrap up the session:

  • Discuss our (Western) engrained condescending, colonial, “saving the world” attitudes. Why do we have them? What harm do they do? (For this item students should reflect on their answers to point 2) above)
  • Discuss why is it important to believe in young people’s agency and in their capacity to be the engines for change in their own lives.
  • Reflect on their own role as “volunteers” engaged in “development”.

Additional Resources:

  • Read ‘Dung’s Story’: ‘Life Support’ by James Allen in The Word November 2011 p.41. This article tells the story of ‘Dung’, a girl who experienced a series of family tragedies during her childhood and was forced to find a way to support her mother, father and brother. As a story of courage, determination and family loyalty it offers another inspirational vignette from KOTO.

The story of Dung