Vietnamese Chef teaching street kids how to cook!

8 November 2010Jimmy Pham
BBC News

Since opening the doors to his famous Koto – Know One Teach One – restaurant in Hanoi in 2000, he has helped around 400 homeless children to become industrious cooks.

At his non-profit hospitality training centre he has passed on both cooking and life skills.

“I came to Vietnam never wanting to start a project as big as Koto, I just wanted to make a difference,” he recalls.

“I look back now and realise that it has given me this incredible joy.”
Hand to mouth

Born in Ho Chi Minh City to a single mum with six children during the Vietnam war, Mr Pham lived in Australia from the age of eight before he returned to his homeland in the early 1990s.

It was there his Koto project was born after he stumbled across a group of children selling coconuts on the streets in 1996.

“I found these street kids carrying coconuts and working 16 hours a day,” he explained to the BBC World Service’s Outlook programme. “They were living from hand to mouth.

“So I took them and 60 other kids to dinner for the next two weeks.”

But it was another three years before the idea for his restaurant first came to fruition.

“At the time I thought I knew better,” he admitted. “I gave them fish everyday for that period but then they pulled me aside.”

“They said: ‘Look we trust you now but you can’t keep on looking after us this way. We’re going to need a job. We need you to show us how to fish for ourselves’.”

From there, his Koto project was launched. Children not only learned how to cook but were taught lessons in life too.

“The first thing you receive is housing and medical checks along with vaccinations,” Mr Pham explained.

“You learn about team building and life skills programmes, vocational training and English, which gives you the confidence to meet people.”
Presidential visit

Interest in his restaurant gathered pace and within months former US President Bill Clinton dropped by for a bite to eat with an entourage of 80 reporters.

So suspicious were the Vietnamese government following Mr Clinton’s stop-off that they feared Mr Pham was a member of the CIA.

“I think I was under watch for about three or four years after that,” he laughs. “But I’m glad we went through that phase because I’ve got the green light now to go on and do the wonderful things that Koto is doing.”

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The Harvest/La Cosecha to premier at IDFA in Amsterdam November 20th!

Harvest IDFATHE HARVEST/LA COSECHA is having its world premier at the International Documentary Film Association’s 23rd annual Festival– the world’s largest documentary film festival held annually since 1988 in Amsterdam!

The objective of the IDFA is to promote creative documentaries and to present them to as wide an audience as possible. It started as a small festival and has grown to an eleven-day festival, screening more than 200 documentaries and attracting nearly 120,000 visitors.

The program for the 23rd annual festival contains some 280 titles (selected from 3,200 submissions), 84 of which are documentaries that will have their world premiere at the festival. We are so very proud that THE HARVEST will be joining this group of some of the best documentaries of the year.

THE HARVEST/LA COSECHA tells the stories of 4 of the estimated 400,000 children who work in the US fields without the protection of child labor laws. To help their families survive, they leave behind school, friends, and their home to travel across the country looking for work – grueling, tiring, dangerous work– picking the produce we all eat. Under current US Child Labor laws, children 12 years of age and older are allowed to work in the fields without the same restrictions that protect other children in any other industry. THE HARVEST joins these children and their families for the 2009 harvest season as they face dangers on the road and in the fields, joyful family reunions, and sometimes tragedy.

Apart from its international film program, the variety of genres and the many European and world premieres featured each year, the IDFA festival also hosts debates, forums and workshops. Director U. Roberto Romano will be on hand at several of the public screenings of THE HARVEST to talk about the film and answer your questions.

To find out about how to purchase tickets starting November 8th please visit

US waiving law that prevents aid to countries using child soldiers

child soldierBy Cassandra Clifford
Monday, November 1

The United States has found itself in the hot-seat, as human-rights group cast scorn and dismay at the Administration following memorandum issued by President Obama.  The memorandum, related to the 2007-2008 Child Soldiers Prevention Act (which Obama co-sponsored while serving in the Senate), essentially gives a free pass to four countries to continue receiving U.S. military aid despite their violation of the Act.  The Child Soldiers Prevention Act prohibits the recruitment of, and the use of children in armed conflict.

U.N. secretary-general’s special representative for Children in Armed Conflict, Radhika Coomaraswamy,  said “We are very disappointed — we didn’t see it coming,” but stated hat her office is not in the position to “second guess a security decision” by the United States, but that she would now urge the U.S. military to use its influence to convince these governments to sign U.N. action plans that are designed to release thousands of child soldiers from military service. She said she would press her case with the U.S. mission to the United Nations and then travel to Washington to make her case, hopefully with the Pentagon. (Turtle Bay)

The four countries for which sanctions will be waived against are; Chad, Yemen, Sudan, and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), all of which continue to use child soldiers. The U.S. provides training and support to the countries via the International Military Education and Training (IMET) fund, which provides military training and counter terrorism programs to the countries.  The reason for the failure to pull the funding from these countries was stated as “the national interest of the country.”  The basis for not withdrawing funding from the countries according to U.S. officials is that in doing such it would impede anti-terrorism efforts and hinder the introduction of other reforms.

Jesse Eaves, policy adviser on children’s issues for the humanitarian group World Vision, noted that the law did not mandate a cutoff of all forms of military assistance for offenders. For example, they could have still gotten help in eliminating their use of child soldiers.  “That kind of assistance is still allowed under the law without invoking the waiver. That’s why this is a disturbing step,” he said (The Washington Post).

There are some 300,000 child soldiers across the globe.  A former child soldier’s life is not returned to them once the gun is removed from their hand, we must ensure that they are not forgotten. Former child soldiers remain at risk for further violations, such as physical, mental and sexual abuse, they are also at high risk for HIV/AIDS, and are also at risk to become abusers themselves. As a global community, including and led by the United States, we must act to ensure that not only prevention plans, laws and disarmament policies are put into place, but that adequate and extensive rehabilitation of former child soldiers is given top priority.  The support for international law by the U.S. is vital to ensure an end to the plight of child soldiers around the world, and the administration must act with urgency to end this practice.

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