When the SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals) were first introduced in September 2015, it was noted that the goals were a significant improvement from the previous MDGs (Millennium Development Goals) in that the SDGs actually surveyed people in different countries and territories to determine what were the most pressing issues in the world.
Given the MDGs were not achieved by the deadline of 2015, it was great to see that a much more inclusive goal setting process was implemented to decide on the 17 goals to be achieved by 2030. However, two questions still remain: How do we determine which goals are relevant to each country… and how do we mobilise individuals and countries to achieve these goals?
In collaboration with the UN, one of AIESEC’s pledges was to align our projects to the SDGs, meaning every volunteer opportunity in some way contributes to the achievement of the goals. The alliance led me to undertake a 2 month volunteering program in Vietnam, working towards SGD no 4: Quality Education. You can read more about that experience here, however one thing I realised was that it wasn’t until I went to Vietnam that I could finally understand the relevance of the SDGs.
As I was undergoing my exchange, it was easy to see how important quality education was for Vietnam. Mere conversations with the founders of the non-profit I worked for led me to understand that quality English education is imperative for the youth in Vietnam as it opens up doors for better opportunities for them. Not only that, quality education in general is vital to ensure that future generations can help improve the conditions of their countries.
The sheer excitement of the students when we visited their classes to teach English as well as the fact that so many students opted to take extra English classes outside of school crystallised the notion that the youth in Vietnam value their educational opportunities and are driven in improving their skills. It was a very humbling experience being able to impact these students through teaching English.
In addition to volunteering, I was lucky enough to attend a leadership conference while I was in Vietnam. Conversations with two Vietnamese AIESECers both reaffirmed and challenged my view on the importance of quality education. One of them stressed the importance of quality education, stating that not all children are currently receiving the right to education, whilst adding that financial investment is crucial, especially for remote and rural areas in Vietnam. However, when I asked my other friend which SDG was most important for her country, the answer I was given centred around SDG no 13: Climate Action. Her reasoning is as follows:
“Last year we suffered a terrible marine life crisis in the central of Vietnam due to the toxic waste of factories. Tons of dead fish were found, the marine life was seriously destructed, which negatively affected the livelihood of fishermen and safety of fish consumers. What is worse is that we didn't see the government's efforts in solving this problem. They are trying to keep it in silence though a lot of protests have been raised. Besides, our citizens' mindset about environment protection is not well educated. It can be seen through full of trash on the street, the overuse of plastic bags and tons of waste to rivers... It is predicted that Vietnam will be top country to suffer the most from climate change in the future. I believe that environment is the fundamental part of our life. Without any climate action, we would face significant risks to agriculture, water resources, coastal infrastructure, and human health.”
From an outsider's perspective, it was interesting to see that two people had such different responses to the same question. It made me realise that there is so much complexity to the SDGs and that there is so much more to be done in order to fully understand and improve a developing country like Vietnam. I am grateful that I was able to have such meaningful conversations during my exchange—it was through these interactions that I learnt the most about Vietnam.
At AIESEC, we believe that we need to see a country to understand it and once we understand it, we can start to change it. My experience in Vietnam no doubt validated this statement and reinforced the importance of cross cultural understanding.
To find out more about how you can make an impact this summer in Vietnam head to: https://www.aiesecaustralia.org/explore/vietnam