KOTO is a not-for-profit restaurant and vocational training program that is changing the lives of street and disadvantaged youth in Vietnam. It’s name, KOTO, stands for know one, teach one and is based on the idea that learning should be passed on and knowledge is meant to be shared. Not too dissimilar from our own principle here behind Fish.
After hearing about this life-changing organisation, I knew I just had to pay it a visit when I was in Vietnam a few months ago. The waitress we had that afternoon at KOTO was Thao, a delightful 21 year old Front-of-House trainee in her second year. She grew up in Hanoi and during our chat she expressed a keen interest to get back there after her course to work at a local restaurant. Thao was super friendly and eager to please us as diners at the restaurant and as you can see, she was happy to pose for a photo with me.
The meal we ate was probably one of the best we had in Vietnam and the hot summer weather of Ho Chi Minh really inspired us to try a KOTO Colours, their signature cocktail, a refreshing blend of Midori, Malibu, passionfruit and a lime. Our visit was as affordable as it was delicious; 150,000 Vietnamese dong (about AU$10) per person for their lunch special of three courses.
It was a Vietnamese-Australian, Jimmy Pham, who opened the first training centre in hospitality in Hanoi more than a decade ago, giving disadvantaged youth the possibility to learn and thrive in their lives.
“We see trainees grow from timid, shy teenagers into young adults who are not only sought-after hospitality professionals, but also well-rounded, responsible community-minded citizens, ready to embrace challenges that lie ahead.”
KOTO is so much more than just a two year hospitality course for disadvantaged young people. It provides training in cooking, bar tending or front of house, as well as practical life skills, as well as English lessons. Their course has been structured and monitored by Australian education facility, Box Hill Institute, for the past 10 years. At the end of the course, graduates are assisted and supported in gaining employment in open market restaurants and hotels across Vietnam.
Coincidentally, about a week before my visit to KOTO, I had done a Vietnamese cooking class whilst in Hoi An, and our chef, Phi, was actually a KOTO graduate from about 8 years earlier. He spoke very highly of the course and life-changing opportunity it provided him.
In the week that we had lunch there, they also been visited by guests including the US Consular General, a Vietnamese celebrity and some large international corporate brands. President Bill Clinton even visited once a few years ago!
It’s innovative organisations like KOTO that are playing a part in the country’s advancement. Poverty has fallen rapidly in Vietnam; from nearly 60% in the early 1990s to about 20% in 2010, demonstrated in this diagram from The World Bank.
So, this Thursday, we say thank you to Jimmy Pham and everyone involved in the successful operations at KOTO; a true social enterprise really making a BIG difference in the lives of many young people and helping to turn a country around.
See you in the pond,
The Fish Chick.
P.S You can read more about KOTO in this informative article on the SBS website here.