Social Enterprises in Vietnam with a Health and Wellbeing Focus

I recently had the pleasure of visiting Vietnam, exploring my dad’s home country and understanding more about my Vietnamese heritage. Vietnam is a developing country and a lot of support services for certain marginalised groups do not exist in the government structure. As such, it becomes even more important for tourists to support self-made social initiatives as they are often the only source of support for the people they help.*

Vietnamese people have an incredibly strong sense of community and support for each other. It is humbling and inspiring to be around so many people who tirelessly give and remain so positive, despite being in often difficult situations themselves. Many of the social enterprises on this list were born out of the desire for the community to help itself and the wellbeing of their families.

This list is a part reflection and part celebration for those social enterprises which focus on the health and wellbeing of the environment and communities in poorer/marginalised spaces.

Reaching Out Teahouse, Hoi An

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Reaching Out Teahouse in Hoi An was established in 2000 by a group of friends with disabilities. They were fed up of being marginalised from society which focused on their differences and incapabilities, rather than celebrating what they can do. They set up Reaching Out Teahouse to prove that they could make meaningful (and delicious!) contributions to society. They now employ around 70 people from a mix of abilities and backgrounds.

The teahouse is a celebration of silence. All of the waiting staff are deaf and/or mute, and it is encouraged to not speak in the teahouse and enjoy and appreciate the silence in this space. It is delightfully considered, which

Reaching out also sell teapots and other gifts from their artisans in their shop. You can also watch the artisans at work and hear their stories of how learning a new craft has made them feel empowered.

Healing the Wounded Heart Shop, Hue

Healing the Wounded Heart logo and gift tag - it comes with every purchase!

Healing the Wounded Heart logo and gift tag - it comes with every purchase!

This wonderful social enterprise in Hue helps three causes at once! Healing the Wounded Heart is a shop which sells upcycled gifts made from recycled ocean waste. All of the gifts are made by disabled artisans and profits go towards funding heart surgeries for families struggling to pay hospital bills. Everything about this shop is a win win!

Omamori Spa, Hanoi

Thang, a blind therapist, learning how to massage a client with his teacher.

Set up by Blindlink, Omamori Spa is a massage parlour and spa where all the staff are blind and visually impaired.

Hue Student Tours, Hue

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Hue Student Tours was set up by a young English Teacher in Hue when she realised that her students’ English theory skills were far better than their pronunciation. They offer 100% free, custom-designed tours of Hue, led by local students. You only have to pay for petrol and meals. It’s a great chance for local students to learn English and improve their career prospects and you get to see the city at the same time. The students also use their newly learnt skills to teach English to children in rural villages who cannot otherwise afford English lessons.

Streets International, Hoi An

Two students being taught how to cut vegetables in the streets kitchens. The chefs are wearing orange hats

STREETS provides impoverished youth with professional-level training and apprenticing, including English language and life skills, for careers in culinary arts and hospitality service. Their program responds to the growing resource demands of the hospitality sector in Vietnam and beyond. Everyone who graduates from the project is employed in a renowned hotel or restaurant in the tourist areas of the city, so that they can earn a steady wage and support their communities. To quote the restaurant manager, it takes just one person from a rural village to be accepted to the programme to motivate the whole community to apply.

Zo Paper, Hanoi

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Zo paper project is an all female led social enterprise which works to preserve the ancient art of do paper making. Dó paper is named after the Dó tree from which it is made. It is one of the most durable, organic and lightweight forms of paper in the world: but it is dying. This tradition is over 800 years old and used to be made in villages in Hà Nội. Now, its made by only two ethnic minority families in the mường village in the Hòa Bình province. Its a hugely laborious process involving 100 steps and a lot of patience to grind the bark into pulp. The profits from our workshop and from the products in their shop are sent back to the village to support the families who keep this tradition going and provide them with a stable income.

Other ways to support Communities in Vietnam

  • Avoid buying mass-produced clothes from markets and double-check where custom tailors are making their clothes. There is a huge problem of sweatshops and cheap labour in Vietnam with devastating effects on the physical health of their workers.

  • Buy lottery tickets from sellers. Lottery sellers are usually older people or disabled people who have lost their families to preventable illnesses. This is their only way to make an income without exploiting themselves as there is no benefit system.

  • Buy from different street sellers to spread out the wealth.

  • Donate to Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation which works to prevent child trafficking and equip street children with skills to get jobs.

  • If you speak Vietnamese as well as another language, use it as a chance for a cultural exchange! Teaching foreign languages to Vietnamese locals makes it easier for them to get better paying jobs.

  • Remember how lucky you are to be travelling in Vietnam. A lot of Vietnamese people will never be able to leave the country due to strict government rules and huge deposits which greatly exceed the average annual income. Show this gratitude by not haggling too much in markets.

* To find out more about the poverty in Vietnam watch this quick video. The host has a certain attitude which takes a while to get used to, but his actual interviews with the street sellers offer a good insight into the current situation in Vietnam. There’s also a blog about winning the lottery in Vietnam and an interview with CNN about sellers.
** To learn more about ethnic minorities in Vietnam, visit photographer Rehanh’s blog and gallery

Sophia Luu