In 1990 the Vietnamese government gave permission to the Sisters of the Congregation of Notre Dame to open a free school for some of the poorest children in Saigon. The first 17 students were the children of prostitutes. The building that housed the first school was a former pigsty.
In 1998 the school moved into a row of rooms, which became their new school. It was to this Anh Linh Free School that Jerilyn Fosdick Hirsch came as a volunteer to teach English in March of 2004. Jerilyn Fosdick Hirsch and Bob Mac Murdo founded Bridges to Learning (B2L) in the fall of 2004 to assist the school and its children.
In 2004 Bridges to Learning began to provide the assistance needed for Anh Linh School to expand.
In the spring of 2007, with financial support from Bridges, the construction of a new secondary school was completed. By the fall of 2008, B2L had helped fund the construction of a new elementary school building, and dormitory with space for 30 orphaned or abandoned girls. In 2009 an additional expansion provided dormitory rooms for 16 young women to allow them to attend local universities. In 2010 the organization helped fund a dorm for 10 boys set up in a house down the road.
Over the past 20 years, Anh Linh has developed into a school that meets the unique and demanding needs of very poor children. For example, Anh Linh gives older children a chance to start school in the first grade even if they have never attended school before, in a manner that does not diminish their feelings of self-worth and in a way that bolsters their confidence. Many of the younger siblings of children attending Anh Linh (a total of 122) are age appropriate and are provided scholarships through Anh Linh to attend public school in the city. Children have a wide variety of options that support the specific educational, health and wellness needs of each child.
The staff at Anh Linh Free School understand and respond to the needs of each unique child. As a result, the children thrive. This is the model that Bridges to Learning will be using to evaluate and support future educational programs and schools.
As an instrumental partner for the Anh Linh School, B2L has been credited for supporting:
- Construction of a new middle school
- Construction of a new elementary school building, with classrooms, a kitchen and all purpose room, a library, a computer room, conference rooms, a dormitory, and dormitory housing available for a total of 30 orphaned or abandoned girls and 22 young women who are attending college
- Instruction that allows the children to meet Vietnam curriculum standards and pass standardized exams: of the 30 students who finished 5th grade during the 2009-2010 school year, 100% passed the Vietnam national exam to enter into 6th grade
- A new computer lab with 45 new computers and a computer teacher
- Relationships with two international schools that are committed to assisting Anh Linh students by creating an Anh Linh website, providing wireless Internet for the school, teaching English, and attracting resources and dollars
- Support from 102 sponsors who provide tuition and other supports to their sponsored children
- New clothes, school supplies, and special programs for the students for the Autumn Lunar Festival, the Annual Tet Lunar Festivals, National Teacher Appreciation Day, and the Universal Day of the Child.
- Extra food for students including cooking oil, meat, soup and essentials to help them through lean times when they are away from school and when their family cannot access these commodities
- Special classes or program opportunities to inspire children to achieve their dreams including English, dancing, music, and vocational courses
In addition, Bridges to Learning supports the extraordinary help that Anh Linh often provides for students.
A few children have had surgeries (heart, jaw reconstruction, and deformities repair). Staff have purchased housing, paid for counseling, gotten children out of detention camps when their parents have been sent to prison, obtained glasses, paid for dental work, purchased clothes and even put a bathroom in a house where leaking sewage made life unbearable.
The needs of each child are evaluated and supported with the intent to keep the child in school, healthy, nourished and encouraged to aspire towards their individual hopes and dreams.
Bridges to Learning support the Anh Linh schools by building schools, supporting student & educational operationgs, creating partnerships, and providing public understanding about the risk of sexual and commercial exploitation that these children face without education.
- Anh Linh has received permission to build a high school class each year for the next four years.
- Anh Linh is setting up night school for teenagers who must work during the day
- Anh Linh is looking at bringing this functioning model to other areas of need
Support for Schools and Educational Programs
- School materials and resources, such as books, blackboards, clean water to drink, and computers and science labs
- Nutritional meals and programs to improve the health of the children
- English language instruction
- Financial support for on going capital improvements and equipment repair
Support for Students
- Educational sponsorships for individual children, through their schools
- Access to health care, including eyeglasses, counselling, surgery when needed, dental care
- Bridges has contributed to the maintenance of quality English teachers and learning aides
Collaborations and Partnerships
Collaborations and partnership programs that strengthen the organizations that we serve. Bridges works with other organizations to help change conditions in these complicated situations. Bridges to Learning has helped the Singapore American School (SAS) in Singapore and the South Saigon International School partner with the Anh Linh Free School. These students bring the Anh Linh students help with their English and companionship. They also build websites, maintain technology and donate computers, books and supplies. Bridges to Learning is beginning to create collaborations between college students and Anh Linh students as well.
Bridges uses the stories about the remarkable progress being made by these desperately poor students to help people here understand the value of education in a global context. There are indeed ways that we can act locally and yet wonderfully affect the life of a child we may never meet. Building a heartfelt connection across the miles is the mission of Bridges to Learning.