How Her Vang Became a Giver of Dreams to Other Young People in Laos
Her Vang was born into a rice farming family in Laos. Having struggled to access an education himself as a child, Her founded Givers of Dreams while still a student at UWC Maastricht. He began by writing down what he wished to do to help his community back in Laos and started a Gofundme page to achieve his aims. Within ten days, he had raised USD 1,000 to kickstart the initiative: he went to Laos during his summer break and was able to enroll 22 children in school.
In 2018, after starting at Bates college on a Davis scholarship, Her and his friend succeeded in raising over USD 15,000 to expand the scale of the Givers of Dreams project. They started a summer school for rural children that extended into a year-long project after Her decided to take the year off college, having seen the potential the project had unleashed over the summer months. At this time, there were 15 children living in the Givers of Dreams House and around 100 students commuting to the free English classes daily. In the academic year, 2019 - 2020, Her returned to the US to finish his studies with the aim of turning Givers of Dreams into a US non-profit. This status has now been achieved and Givers of Dreams continues to thrive as a community, leadership development, and education agency with the aim of giving young people the tools to solve their own problems and build a better future for their families.
In this Impact Story, Her shared his reflections with us on the path that led him to this point.
It was the biggest dream of my life to study abroad, and so getting accepted to UWC in 2015 was beyond what words could express. One of the first people I called was my mom. She had moved to the US when I was 9, in the hope that she could earn some money for us there so that my older siblings and I could go to school like other people. My mom had been everything to me. So I had decided then that I would study hard so that one day I could go to the US to study and visit my mom.
It was this determination which had led me to travel to the town of Luang Prabang at the age of 15, and which led me to find the American-run library there where I received free English classes and first learned about UWC.
So when I called my mom the day I got into UWC I told her I was one step closer to going to the US to visit her. In July 2017, on my way to Bates college on a Davis scholarship - I visited my mom for the first time in 11 years.
My first year at UWC wasn’t the best. I struggled academically. Before going to UWC I had little education: I didn’t even know what CO2 was before I arrived. But I learnt a lot from my time there. Perhaps most importantly, I met so many people from all over the world and from countries that I had never even heard of. UWC also consistently reminded us to become changemakers for our community and the world. Because UWC continuously watered the seed of a changemaker in me, I too started to think about how I could bring about change in my home community.
Of course, there were so many reasons why I started Givers of Dreams. It derived from many experiences and events in my life. Growing up in Laos and experiencing poverty firsthand, I understand the struggles underprivileged children are going through. I have gone through them myself and I have seen many of my friends drop out of school because of poverty. This was one of the reasons I wanted to contribute what I could to my community.
Another reason was that when I got to UWC and saw so many smart kids, it made me wonder about where all the smart kids in my community were. It’s not that we aren’t smart or that we don’t have dreams: we do. But we can’t get to them because of our poverty. If our parents couldn’t even afford to buy us food, how could we dream?
Rather than feeling sad about this, I took it as an opportunity to contribute what I can by fundraising in order to send impoverished children from my home community to school. I didn’t even think about the fact that I was still a student myself. I just went ahead and fundraised. I believe that the education and experience I got from UWC definitely gave me the courage to take that lunge. It also massively shaped how Givers of Dreams operates.
Some of the students at Givers of Dreams are from broken families themselves. Some have parents with drug addictions and some have single parents who can’t afford school fees for them. Many of these youth came to Givers of Dreams when they were around 10 - 12 years old. I remember teaching them everything from mopping the floor to designing a community project. Now they are in their teenage years and some of the boys are working towards becoming the first dance group in our community. A few others are learning about photography and video-making. Many of them are teaching English to their own siblings. And they are now leading the majority of activities happening at the Givers of Dreams house. I’m so proud of them because of the growth they have each gained - it’s been beyond anything I could have imagined.
Of course, there are so many challenges to running a nonprofit like Givers of Dreams. First of all, I had had no experience in running a charity prior to Givers of Dreams so everything was learned by the mistakes my team and I made on the way. Luckily, we have an amazing team and we have met some very generous people who are willing to advise us on how to do things.
There were so many times that I wanted to give it all up and live my own life, but looking at the faces of my students and their eagerness to learn keeps me motivated. It is my firm belief that educational opportunities open the door to opportunities to dream big and to fulfill our potential. When kids have hope and the means to maintain that hope, they too can become their own version of Doctor Salks, Pablo Casals or Picasso.