REI-Vietnam News

Tea Talk Dreams Realized Beget Greater Dreams

by REI-Vietnam |

Image: Tea Talk Dreams Realized Beget Greater Dreams

When Michael Ong first put pen to paper for an entrepreneurial social work class assignment as a student at Washington University, he imagined Tea Talk as a small, cozy café where he and his wife, Jacqueline, would interact with customers about social issues over a cup of tea or coffee. Now, two years after Tea Talk opened its doors in 2012, his dreams have been realized in a greater way than he could have imagined. Over 1300 young people have participated in various programs that Tea Talk has offered; CoRE, a Vietnamese NGO focused on Counseling, Research, and Empowerment has been birthed; and visions of Tea Talk 2 are on the discussion table. (Michael and Trang are pictured above holding the license for CoRE as an NGO.)v

The Dream

A visionary dream carries one through the rough times, such as experiencing financial challenges when a generator is stolen, when another shop opens its doors nearby and clientele are siphoned off, and when incoming revenue does not cover expenses. Michael has experienced these challenges and more, and there have been any number of times of discouragement when he was tempted to quit. But the dream persists. What is the dream?

Simply put, Michael’s dream is to see young people grow into wholeness and well-being on every level. Through Tea Talk, Michael has seen young people helped with foundational life skills, as well as changes of attitude, character development, internalization of altruistic values, and increased perseverance in the face of adversity. Michael’s dream is also to see the day when students who have been impacted by Tea Talk say, “I want to take what I have received and pass it on to others.” Michael’s dream is that not only young people in Hanoi would be impacted, but also that the young people who work at Tea Talk would be inspired to take what they have learned to their families, their communities and their progeny, and that some would desire to take these life lessons to other cities and provinces in Vietnam, and even to places outside of Vietnam: to developing neighbor countries such as Myanmar and Laos, and to developed countries like Singapore or the USA. This is what compels Michael to stay focused on Tea Talk and to dream even bigger dreams.

Tea Talk Enterprise

The Tea Talk Enterprise has two components: Tea Talk Café and CoRE Community. Tea Talk Café is under the direction and management of two Vietnamese men, Tien and Bien. Tea Talk Café handles the facilities, the food preparation and food service, and the booking of groups who use Tea Talk for business meetings. Food services include breakfast, lunch, bakery, full coffee and tea services including afternoon tea, and special catered events.

Food plate A sample lunch offering

Lunch at TT Staff enjoying lunch together

Tien, Father and Brother Tien, business owner (center) with his brother and father

Atmosphere of Tea Talk Café

Customers enjoy the atmosphere of Tea Talk Café. They feel more like they are coming home than merely patronizing a café. The smiles and greetings from the staff say, “Come in. You are welcome here.” Customers are valued not just for the business that they bring, but they are valued for the persons that they are…persons with intrinsic worth, needs and dreams.

Michael has set the direction of this approach. When he hires people to work at Tea Talk Café, he does not necessarily look for the best qualified; rather, he looks for people who will benefit from the experience of working there. He hires those who have had challenging life experiences so they have an opportunity to grow and mature as persons. The bottom line for Michael is not the monetary profit but the greatest impact in helping others to grow.

Girl at Coffee Bar Staff welcoming customer

5 girls having tea Five friends sharing afternoon tea

Tea Talk CoRE

The newly licensed CoRE Community, Center for Counseling, Research, and Empowering Communities handles the program and social services side of Tea Talk. By becoming a recognized Vietnamese NGO, CoRE has the potential to partner with other NGO’s, universities, hospitals, international organizations, government agencies and businesses to bring programs to a wider audience of people In Hanoi and other cities in Vietnam. CoRE is directed and managed by two Vietnamese women, Trang and Huong, (pictured below) who have a big vision for the impact that CoRE can make.

Trang and Huong

Let’s Talk, Para-counseling training

Let’s Talk is the flagship program offered by CoRE. Basic listening and counseling skills are offered to 18-40 year olds. Every three months approximately 150 people apply for this training. Sixty are short-listed and then 20 are selected. A 10-session training program imparts basic listening and counseling skills, gives students opportunities to practice skills with each other, and then gives them the opportunity to use their newly acquired skills with customers. The impact on students personally is that some who have been shackled by shyness have become more open and responsive in relating to others. Feedback from their friends and peers include comments such as, “You understand me!” and “You have grown!”

Students in training Tea Talkers in training

Cycle 2 Tea Talkers Cycle 2 Tea Talkers

CoRE’s Four Year Plan

CoRE is in the second year of a four-year expansion program. CoRE hopes to expand from Hanoi to other cities in Vietnam, including Quang Ninh and Danang City. The target group of CoRE includes young adults under 30, whether they be in schools and university settings, students at social project centers, or youth leaders or others in the community.

The content areas in which CoRE endeavors to help young people are the areas of mental health, essential life skills, planning and development, management of clubs and projects, leadership and organizing skills, and specialized skills in social work and counseling. Methodology for implementation of the CoRE programs includes surveying, research, training/education, consulting, monitoring, and capacity building.

Shine Picture Girls Gain Confidence in Shine Workshop

Needs at Tea Talk Enterprise

Michael troubleshoots and consults on both sides (Tea Talk Café and CoRE Community) of Tea Talk Enterprise. Finances are a persistent challenge for Tea Talk Café. A recent business mentor advised Michael that resources will be needed to replace equipment which begins to expire after a few years of use. Michael can appreciate that as the cappuccino maker has died after just two years of use.

Michael says that for every 100 persons who come for CoRE programs, 95 are ladies. Michael would love to have more female mentors who are of a certain age and maturity to help young women who are in their 18-20’s navigate life’s transitions. “Young people of this age group can quickly become disillusioned about career choices and choosing life partners” Michael says. CoRE could also use the help of another social worker and psychologist as they expand into greater networks of influence.

People who have a heart for Tea Talk Enterprise can contribute in the areas of time, resources and services. Contact REI-Vietnam if you would like to help.

Michael’s Family

Michael's family Michael, Grace, Jacqueline

Michael and Jacqueline first came to Vietnam in 2001 when their daughter Grace was 2 years old. Jacqueline was dedicated to home schooling Grace for her first years. Later, while Michael earned his Master’s in Social Work at Washington University in St. Louis, Grace had the opportunity to be educated in a classroom setting. Currently she studies at Concordia International School in Hanoi while Jacqueline uses her talents serving as an art and Mandarin teacher at the school.

Grace is a typical Third Culture Kid (TCK) who adapts easily to new cultures. One of the challenges of being a TCK is the frequent loss of friendships, not only because you, the TCK, move more often than the norm, but also because your TCK friends move more frequently. Though only a rising sophomore, Grace will begin her college hunt in the US this summer.

Stay tuned for the continuing story….

We first wrote an article on Tea Talk in May, 2012 As stated above, the initial dreams begat greater dreams. Tea Talk Café and CoRE are unfolding stories—and there are bigger dreams to come.

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