Update: 10:32 | 23/12/2019
The world always needs heroes and influencers to make it a better place, and in 2019 there were six from Vietnam.
Human trafficking fighter
Ta Ngoc Van is chief lawyer and founding member of the Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation, a Hanoi-based nonprofit organization that rescues women and girls trafficked to China for the sex trade and victims of forced labor.
Van, 37, has saved over 800 trafficking victims and provided legal representation to 90 victims of human trafficking and sexual abuse in court cases.
For such contributions, Van was named a ‘Class of Asia 21’ Young Leader in August.
The annual list of young leaders is compiled by the Asia Society, a U.S. nonprofit that works to address a range of challenges facing Asia and the world. It includes leaders under the age of 40 from 31 countries and territories in the Asia-Pacific region.
His efforts earned him the trust of the police and government, who regularly invite him to assist with their anti-trafficking and legal reform initiatives, the organization said.
Green energy advocate
Nguy Thi Khanh, founder and director of Green Innovation and Development Center (GreenID), has dedicated her career to combating environmental degradation.
In March she became the first Vietnamese ever to make it to the global list of 100 most influential people in climate policy published by Apolitical, a U.K.-based network for government which helps public servants find ideas, people and partners they need to take on the hardest challenges facing their societies for her advocacy of sustainable energy solutions.
Khanh, 43, found a place in the academia and advocacy category of the list. Apolitical’s funders and partners include the U.K.'s Cabinet Office, the European Commission, the Canadian government, and the World Economic Forum.
The list also included Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old Swede who started a school strike for climate outside the Swedish parliament, and David Attenborough, a renowned English broadcaster, natural historian and environmental advocate.
In 2011 Khanh founded GreenID to educate rural communities on renewable energy and convince officials to amend their policies toward sustainable development.
She is also the advocacy coordinator for the Vietnam Rivers Network, a forum designed to protect rivers and promote sustainable development. One of her most significant contributions is an effort to curb pollution caused by burning of coal.
She has used her scientific research and worked closely with authorities to promote long-term, sustainable energy projects and reduce Vietnam’s dependency on coal, helping reducing carbon dioxide emissions in the country by 115 million tons a year.
For their efforts to support the disabled and protecting wildlife, Nguyen Thi Van and conservationist Nguyen Thi Thu Trang made it to the 2019 BBC 100 women list in October.
Van, CEO and a co-founder of the Will to Live Center, was born with spinal muscular atrophy but never let that stop her from pursuing her dreams. Based on her brother's suggestion "to train disabled people, show them how to use technology and English to connect with the world," she founded the center in 2003.
Her organization has trained more than 1,000 people, 80-90 percent of whom are now employed with some being their family's breadwinners.
At 33, she wants the environment in Vietnam to enable people with talent and devotion to develop "instead of people feeling they need to move abroad to use their skills," Van told the BBC.
Seeking to create an equal working environment for everyone, she also runs social enterprise Imagator, which employs 80 people, half of them disabled.
The other Vietnamese on the list, Trang, 29, is a wildlife conservationist. Growing up in Vietnam and seeing from a young age monkeys chained and sold on the streets and bears held captive to extract bile, she travels to preservation sites, safaris and national parks to save animals.
She is the founder of WildAct, which monitors the illegal wildlife trade and organizes educational programs for youths. "For the future of nature conservation, it is important that women's voices are heard and their actions are recognized," the BBC quoted her as saying.
The BBC’s annual list, which this year poses the question what the future would look like if it were driven by women, also includes U.S. congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Mexican Oscar nominee Yalitza Aparicio and Thunberg.
For their contributions to healthcare, two Vietnamese doctors were named in the list of 100 most outstanding researchers of 2019 by Singapore’s Asian Scientist magazine in July.
Surgeon of the children
Nguyen Thanh Liem, 67, a leading pediatric endoscopic surgeon and director of the Vinmec Research Institute for Stem Cell and Gene Technology, a biomedical institute belonging to Vinmec Healthcare in Hanoi, was the first in Vietnam to perform a laparoscopic surgery on a child in 1997 and to carry out kidney and liver transplants for children.
More than 15 years ago he operated on and separated five pairs of conjoined twins. Besides his stellar surgical career, Liem has also pioneered stem cell therapies for conditions such as cerebral palsy and autism at the Vinmec Research Institute of Stem Cell and Gene Technology.
He introduced robot-assisted surgeries and other advanced technologies to bring life-changing treatments to children.
Nguyen Thi Hiep, 38, head of the biomedical engineering department at the International University, Vietnam National University, Ho Chi Minh City, has developed a smart nanoparticle gel that can accelerate tissue regeneration.
A cross-linking gel based on chitosan, a type of sugar extracted from shell fish, and hyaluronic acid, the gel is for external use to stop bleeding and disinfect and heal wounds.
Hiep said even people with no knowledge of first aid can apply the gel when someone is hurt before taking the victim to hospital, adding that the product would be particularly useful for people in remote areas far from medical facilities.
She was also honored for her research on homecare solutions to reduce the pressure on the public healthcare system.
A fund raising event in Ho Chi Minh City on December 15 raised 1.5 billion VND (over 64,400 USD) for children with cancer in the country.