Quynh came to London from Vietnam in 1994. She is the coordinator of Deptford-based Vietnamese Children and Families Association which includes the Vietnamese Supplementary School, or Vietschool. She was instrumental in setting up the organisation in 2003. The group began “supporting Vietnamese women to deal with problems, such as domestic violence and child protection.” and has continued to provide support and opportunities to Vietnamese women and their families since then.
For Quynh, an essential part of developing the organisation has been deepening her understanding of Vietnamese people and their experiences. When she first came to the UK, she found it hard to understand how people who had lived here for many years, despite speaking two languages, “they speak fluently Vietnamese, they speak fluently Chinese“, had not learnt English.
In 1977, the first Vietnamese refugees arrived in the UK and by 1979 some families had been resettled in Lewisham. In Autumn 1980, there were an estimated 33 Vietnamese households in Deptford, Deptford and Downham, on the Boundfield Estate, and in Sydenham and Forest Hill.1 There was little infrastructure and few resources to support them.2 Quynh gradually began to understand the trauma many people had been through, the mental health issues that many suffered, the challenges they had faced in dealing with their experiences and finding their way in London.
“I teach Vietnamese for the children. And I teach Vietnamese for English people as well, so that I understand the difficulty or the differences between the two languages.”
Quynh explains the more she learnt about her own community, the more it informed her decision about what she needed need to do to help. Challenges related to language have continued to affect the community in different ways.
Where many of the first generation of Vietnamese didn’t speak English, the next generation did learn the language, but found it difficult to communicate with their parents. Now their children are not able to understand or communicate with their grandparents because they don’t speak Vietnamese.
Quynh is a language teacher and saw how her skills could respond to real need in the community. With others she set up the Vietnamese Supplementary School, or Vietschool, with help from Lewisham Council, the Children’s Fund and other funding that helped them to get established.
The supplementary school began at Deptford Green School teaching children Vietnamese language and culture, Maths and English, and developed to become part of a network of supplementary schools. The school is now based at Woodpecker Community Centre in New Cross where it holds classes for 5-15 year olds and provides opportunities for volunteers to help with the running of it.
Quynh is feels passionately about continuing to address the needs in a changing community and also creating opportunities for more people from other communities to experience and enjoy the rich Vietnamese language and culture.
“I love the Vietnamese community so I love to see how it develops, and I want to contribute my little part in that journey…I don’t want to come back and always people say, ‘Oh, the Vietnamese community – they are isolated, they don’t want to mix up with anyone.”
1 1982 ‘Vietnamese Refugees in Lewisham. An analysis of the Resettlement Programme 1979-1982’ Voluntary Action Lewisham