In the old imperial city of Huê´ many families lost their homes by the river – and with it their livelihood. A multi-faceted programme initiated by the TUI Care Foundation opens the way to a new vocational future: young people are training at the TUI Academy – and their parents are forming groups to invest and found companies.

Many families in Huê´ made a living from little market stalls. The TUI Academy programme is building skills for youngsters with training that helps them on the path to self-determination.

It takes skill to serve the grilled marinated chicken fillets in a thin bamboo cane, especially as distributing the spices is at least as important as preparing the meat. Coriander, lemongrass and aniseed – it is all a matter of balance. Thien is satisfied with his effort. He shows it to the head chef, who gazes at it critically as usual before nodding. Thien passes the dish to his colleague Hoa. The young woman in the bright green smock smiles and carries it to the guests at the big round table by the fountain in the restaurant garden. Hoa knows what to expect next: a chorus of “aahs” and “oohs”, because guests at the restaurant TRE love the seductive sight and smell of this house speciality.

“Tre” is the Vietnamese word for bamboo, the country’s national plant. It sets the tone not only for this dish, but also for the ambience throughout the restaurant, which resembles a small oasis with its gardens, little ponds and fountain. It is not long since the restaurant opened, but already it ranks among the top addresses in this city in Central Vietnam. Evaluations for TRE are excellent, the guests agree: the food, the atmosphere, the service are almost perfect. And that is partly down to young employees like Hoa and Thien. Both of them are engaged in work experience at TRE as students at the TUI Academy Vietnam, a programme devised jointly by the TUI Care Foundation and Plan International for youngsters in Huê´.

»Every success story motivates other youngsters –  and this brings about real changes in society.«

Thomas Ellerbeck, Chair of the Board of Trustees, TUI Care Foundation

In only a few weeks the restaurant on the Perfume River became a favourite haunt for lovers of Vietnamese cuisine.

The background to this project is a story of urban change and new opportunities. As in many other cities around the world, a river in Huê´ was for many centuries the vital artery for an entire region. Here, near the shores of the South Chinese Sea, people traded, fished and ferried along the Perfume River, which took its striking name from the sweet smell of the tropical timber once transported downstream. Several thousand families settled on houseboats or in huts along the riverbank. They had to work hard to make ends meet. The children did not attend school. Instead they helped to process the caught fish or to sell it as a snack – until about ten years ago, when the lives of these families altered dramatically.

Since that time, Huê´has evolved into a city both modern and historical and it relies increasingly on education and tourism. The university is a magnet for many young people – and visitors from around the globe love the flair of this ancient Vietnamese imperial residence and, enthroned at the heart of it, the old citadel with its Forbidden City that was recognised in 1993 as a UNESCO World Heritage site. Many residents profit from the rising numbers of guests, but for the fishing communities along the Perfume River it heralded a new era where the old employment patterns no longer functioned. A few years ago the houseboats and huts were cleared, and the families moved to new flats on the edge of town in the hope of a better future. But the difficult conditions came too.

The youngsters pass on the knowledge they acquire, multiplying the programme’s impact.

Within a very short space of time these families had to confront a crucial question: which direction was the future to take? One element of that is provided by the TUI Academy Vietnam, which opens new prospects for disadvantaged youngsters and their families in Huê´. “The principal lever for the development of young people is education,” says Thomas Ellerbeck, who chairs the Board of Trustees of the TUI Care Foundation, adding: “In many parts of the world, the tremendous potential of the younger generation cannot be tapped because they lack education opportunities. That is why our TUI Academy initiative is supporting young men and women on their path to a self-determined future, drawing on the opportunities presented by the growing tourism sector. In Vietnam we are helping people who would otherwise have no chance to enter training, just as we are doing in the Dominican Republic, Zanzibar and Namibia.”

Many youngsters on the new estates never completed their schooling, which means they cannot be admitted to vocational training. They are threatened by unemployment and a life in poverty. The Foundation came up with an idea for building on the skills these young people have, professionalising them and encouraging their development. For it is not the case that these youngsters have achieved nothing at all: many of them have already earned their spurs in the tiny family businesses on the Perfume River by selling goods or helping out in kitchens. On a small scale, they have learned how to win customers, what defines good service and how markets function.

At TRE young people from socially deprived families can gain practical experience of restaurant waitering and kitchens.

The restaurant TRE is the flagship for job training at the TUI Academy Vietnam, which currently has 350 young participants. But the programme in Huê´ has had a tangible influence on other sectors too. The young men and women learn skills in food trucks, hairdressing salons and make-up studios, gain commercial experience, refine their craft, practise talking to customers. In addition, they attend courses to acquire knowledge about subjects like tourism and catering. “It’s wonderful to see how our programme is transforming Huê´, how confident these young people are becoming and how they go out in search of opportunities,” recounts Thomas Ellerbeck. “Every success story motivates other youngsters in turn – and this brings about real changes in society.” Ly, who took part in the project, is a good example. “Now I can support my family financially and I have the courage to help other children in my neighbourhood,” says the 17-year-old, who is working as a hairdresser. “I am proud of what I do and what I have achieved.” For many young people in Huê´ this is an entirely new feeling.

But the project was not set up simply to train young people: “The TUI Academy considers the families of programme participants as a whole and works with all the generations,” says Thomas Ellerbeck. “It is this integrated approach that makes the programme so effective.” To counter violence, nearly 2,000 children and teenagers take part in age-appropriate assertiveness training; safe playgrounds and meeting places have been created in residential areas. So that the young participants in the programme do not have to carry the entire financial burden for their families, parents are granted access to microloans, enabling them to set up independent small businesses. 20 self-help saver groups targeted at mothers give these women a grounding in economics. The participants make small contributions to a fund and discuss ideas for start-ups, agreeing amongst themselves which to support. This way the women discover what it means to invest and build confidence – and they are also motivated to come up with small, innovative business models of their own. And gradually, a completely new landscape of small, local companies is taking shape in Huê´ − especially around the growing tourism sector – together with a healthy economy where many people can now earn a living.