During her visit Her Majesty was accompanied by Ms Rana Flowers, Representative of UNICEF Viet Nam, Mr Luc Suykens President of the Board of UNICEF Belgium, Ms Christèle Devos Executive Director of UNICEF Belgium and by Mr Karl Van den Bossche, Ambassador of Belgium in Viet Nam.
Her Majesty the Queen witnessed how UNICEF Viet Nam supports the Government to close equity gaps and expand opportunities for the most vulnerable children. During her visit, she interacted with children, teachers, mothers and fathers, health workers and Government officials, learning first-hand about Viet Nam’s progress for every child.
“I have witnessed Viet Nam’s progress towards ensuring its children are healthy, safe, educated, protected and empowered to reach their full potential,” she remarked. “There are still many challenges, but this visit has reaffirmed for me that there are innovative and creative approaches being designed and tested that greatly enhance the opportunities and improve the wellbeing of children across this country”, Her Majesty added.
At her meetings with President Vo Van Thuong and later, the Minister of Education and Training, Mr Nguyen Kim Son, Her Majesty the Queen referred to Viet Nam’s achievements and learnt about national efforts to address children’s issues working closely with UNICEF. She also recognized that this year marks 50 years of close collaboration between Viet Nam and Belgium, “an opportunity for strengthening the longstanding ties of friendship and cooperation between the two countries”, she said.
Following these discussions, Her Majesty travelled to Lao Cai, a mountainous province in Northern Viet Nam, that ranks among the country’s poorest and where the majority of residents are from ethnic communities. In Lao Cai, Queen Mathilde was welcomed by Mr. Trịnh Xuân Trường, Chairman of the People's Committee of the Province. The committee is a long-standing partner to UNICEF, working together for children’s well-being and development.
Her Majesty witnessed new approaches piloted by the Ministry of Education and Training (MOET), with UNICEF support, to improve the quality of learning and digital literacy among the youngest ethnic minority girls and boys. She observed how Augmented Virtual Reality (AVR) is being used to nurture curiosity, joyful learning and transferable skills for preschool students. This pilot programme is closing the digital divide for children in remote, mountainous regions and ensuring that ethnic minority children, who are least likely to complete primary and secondary school, get the best possible start to their education.
With the aim of improving quality education for all children, particularly the most disadvantaged, UNICEF works with MOET to introduce digital learning, enhance STEM (Science, Technologies, Engineering and Math) education and build transferable skills. Special focus is given to expanding the use of mother tongue based bilingual education for ethnic minority children whose first language is not Vietnamese. This approach has been proven extremely effective in enhancing children’s learning outcomes in both mother tongue and Vietnamese languages.
Her Majesty the Queen also visited a community-based nutrition club, where she met mothers learning to better use local products to prepare nutritious meals for their families, particularly their young children. The clubs, initially launched with UNICEF support, are an example of where proven approaches are tested and scaled up by Government to reach even more children. In Lao Cai, the local health authorities have adopted this approach as a part of their efforts to reduce malnutrition rates in Lao Cai province in a context where child stunting rates reach over 37 per cent.
On her last day in Viet Nam, Her Majesty sat with a group of adolescents to talk about their concerns and mental wellbeing. The COVID-19 pandemic has seen increased mental health issues among children and adolescents around the world and in Viet Nam, with 21.7% of adolescents in Viet Nam reporting they experienced a mental health problem over the past year.
Addressing children’s and adolescents’ mental health is a priority area for UNICEF Viet Nam and a growing concern that Her Majesty has indicated is a key advocacy priority for her work globally with UNICEF. Her Majesty was pleased to note the work underway to promote positive mental health through actions that help children and adolescents to adopt and maintain healthy lifestyles, encouraging UNICEF and its partners to increase efforts to strengthen service provision, including by increasing budget allocation for mental health, integrating mental health into all social sectors, and improving referral systems at health-care facilities, schools and social welfare units./.