HO CHI MINH CITY, Vietnam — A charity aimed at helping provide long-term funding for children’s education in Vietnam has raised nearly $400,000 to date, but officials say more is needed to continue helping the vast number of underprivileged students in that country.

Now entering its third year, the Educational Scholarship Program — also known as Furniture Industry for Education — has raised $380,000, including $87,505 so far in 2021. The fundraising goal for this year is $150,000, which the group is well on its way to achieving.

The money is used to help the Christina Noble Children’s Foundation and support its Sunshine School, which provides a primary school education to children in grades one through five.

The idea to help start a scholarship program came about when Robert Kimbrell, now chief operating officer of Holland House Furniture, became aware of the extreme poverty children were facing in Vietnam during a trip he made there in 2005. Kimbrell was traveling in Ho Chi Minh City, a city of more than 10 million and where most of Vietnam’s furniture exports to the U.S. are produced.

A presentation about ESP and CNCF that Kimbrell recently sent out to the industry pointed out the severity of the situation.

“The astronomical number of children living on the streets of Ho Chi Minh often support themselves by working 14 hours a day, seven days a week, scavenging at rubbish sites or selling chewing gum or lottery tickets,” it noted. “They live and work within, or in close proximity to, communities dominated by drugs and crime.

“Many children are at severe risk of falling victim to sexual and or economic exploitation. … Due to their lack of financial resources and the daily pressures they face, these children either never attend school or drop out at an early age.”

Just over two years ago, Kimbrell and Angela Hsu, vice president of manufacturer Green River Group, began working with the Christina Noble Children’s Foundation to help provide these underprivileged children in Vietnam an education. So far the initiative has supported more than 200 children.

Yet, the program faces challenges. According to a recent update on the ESP, the Sunshine School property has been taken back by the Vietnamese government to provide special needs education for medical residents of a nearby hospital.

He said that children from the Sunshine School have since been transferred to the ESP to continue their education.

In 2021, ESP plans to build a kindergarten on the outskirts of HCMC to give children a safe place to start their schooling. Longer term, it also wants to build a new Sunshine School in the same vicinity.

“These more rural areas, many of which our factories are located in, are the paces that need our help the most,” Kimbrell said.

The latest appeal asks for whatever level of support the industry can provide.

“Just imagine if 1,000 people in our industry gave $100 each,” he wrote. “Imagine how impactful that $100 is to a child whose family income may be less than that per month.”

To support or find out more about the cause, visit its website.

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