Go Forward With Your Will
By Jasmin Yiu
There are many times of decision making behind the success of hundreds of street kids, and each affects so many lives. With the ups and downs in nurturing KOTO, Jimmy Pham has seen through different meanings of life.
|Jimmy Pham poses with some KOTO trainees in Hanoi|
Know One, Teach One (KOTO) became one of the biggest and best known restaurants in Hanoi in 2008. The KOTO training center in Saigon opened in 2010 with the vigorous process from applying and examining, to adapting to a new life. The two-month recruitment brings 30 street children to KOTO every six months.
“I said ‘Congratulations! You’re about to change your life!’” founder and CEO Jimmy Pham, 43, recalls every time he hands out letters of recruitment to street children. “It’s moving to me to say their old life was over, and the letter makes the date they’re going to start a new chapter in their life.”
KOTO, as a not-for-profit restaurant and vocational training program, has trained more than 300 street kids in Vietnam. There are totally four stages in the whole two-year training program. The training provides courses on English, life skill, computer literacy, cooking techniques, communication and job-seeking skills. Apart from social skills, the program also instructs mentoring, extracurricular activities and working experience.
Trainees are also required to do 15 hours of community services per year, for example visiting orphanages, feeding and caring the elderly, and joining environmental protection projects. “I ask trainees to do community services because I want students to experience them,” says Pham, explaining the meaning behind of KOTO, “In line with the KOTO spirit, if you have the ability to help someone who is less fortunate, then you should help them.”
Living with the others as a family, trainees learn how to control their temper, anger and emotions in a proper way. Outstanding trainees may also have a chance to access further education scholarships offered by Le Cordon Bleu and Box Hill Institute, which is another milestone of life changing.
Apart from street children, KOTO has also changed his life, Pham says. “I’ve gained lots of skills from KOTO, such as leadership and problem solving,” says Pham whose father is Korean and mother Vietnamese. Remembering the hardships he has gone through, Pham shows a glimpse of tiredness. “I bear great responsibility. Every decision making affects so many lives; I therefore haven’t taken that lightly. Especially, at the beginning, we were neither a non-governmental organization (NGO), nor an institute. We were nothing! So, what should the license the government gave us be?”
Pham has no holiday. His everyday’s life is all about KOTO, from planning different activities for street kids to paying wages to the staff. “I don’t have my personal life. I’ve tried getting away for four or five days on my birthday. Just that!”
Building up KOTO, with great losses, sacrifices and incredible hardships, has earned Pham an invaluable lesson, he says. “I could have had a very comfortable life in Australia,” says Pham, who migrated to Australia when he turned two. “But I chose to be here. I have never regretted it.”
Pham says the most important thing KOTO has given him is his successful purpose. “The kids give me a will and a purpose to live with. I’m very lucky that I have so many children.”
The KOTO restaurant in Saigon will be opening next month. For the long term, he is planning to set up more KOTOs outside Vietnam. “I’d like to have some in Cambodia. But my next step will be one in the Philippines by the end of next year.”