Such an incredibly beautiful city. Hoi An is located on Vietnam’s central coast and is well known for its Ancient Town, with an architectural mixture of eras and styles that portrays its charm.
Colourful lanterns zigzag across the streets and hang down from shop fronts, their glow creating a magical atmosphere that’s hard to forget in the evenings in particular. At night, flat boats glide down the canal and offer tourists the opportunity to light a lantern and float it down the river to make a wish: a truly magical experience that will bring a smile to your face.
The captivating charm of Hoi An doesn’t end here though. A variety of fun and unusual activities are on offer down whichever bustling, lantern-strung street you decide to turn. Whilst on a tour with the brilliant G-Adventures group (which I would highly recommend!) we were taken to visit “Oodles of Noodles”, a restaurant in Hoi An where we would be taking a cooking class.
This project is set up G-Adventures and The Planeterra Foundation, and is run by STREETS International, an organisation that aims to bring youth out of poverty and provide opportunities in catering and hospitality for them. With an estimated 20,000 children living on the streets across Vietnam, the extensive hospitality training provided creates new opportunities for youth in need.
Founder and chairperson of STREETS International, Neal Bermas, explains that “twenty years ago I was inspired by the haunting eyes of a small group of impoverished children selling postcards on the sidewalk in Ho Chi Minh City’s District One.”
“I envisioned a possibility to work with the street youth I saw living in poverty. To care for, prepare and develop them so they could meet the human resource needs for the country’s emerging tourism industry, which professionally I knew a lot about. I wanted to do something and as a result in 2007 I founded STREETS International and grew it into one of Southeast Asia’s most innovative social enterprises.”
At the Oodles of Noodles restaurant, the energy and enthusiasm of the young staff put a big smile on my face from the moment I walked in and was an incredibly rewarding experience. Jokes, smiles and laughter filled the room we were in as we began our noodle making experience.
After being given a demonstration by the staff on how to make one of the noodle recipes using a hotpot and bamboo stick, we all gathered into small groups to have a go ourselves. A member of staff supervised us and encouraged with a big smile, laughing along as a few of the group managed to drop the food.
As well as learning about the hospitality industry, Oodles of Noodles acts as a beneficial way for the youth apprenticing in the programme to practice their English language. Whilst there, the children confidently asked us questions and were keen to learn new English words and phrases to enable their development.
This initiative is further supported by events run by STREETS: Neale Bermas explains that “we have annual chef-inspired ‘STREETS Eats’ gala events in New York City and Ho Chi Minh City. We will resume these next year. Fortunately, most of our major annual event sponsors will make their sponsorship donations this year even without an event”.
In order to expand further, STREETS is also developing new plans: “We have started an outreach programme into Cambodia and now have several Cambodian youth in our Hoi An programme.”
“I am excited about the prospects of further outreach and programme expansion into Cambodia, perhaps beyond. We have three parts of the programme; the residential and life skills component, the English, hospitality and culinary classroom education, and of course, the apprenticing in our restaurant and noodle making and tours enterprises. All the parts are essential and one without the other doesn’t make sense either.”
As we all know, Coronavirus has affected many enterprises and people in different ways. For STREETS, they have had to suspend the programme and enterprises for some months: “we continue to keep our boys and girls’ dormitories open and supervised – many of our trainees had no other places to go. However, as the world now knows, Vietnam has done an exemplary job with the pandemic. As a result, our programme is fully open, we graduated with one class and started our fifteenth class just last month.”
“However, as a result of international tourism and travel being brought to a standstill, we have had to suspend/close our Oodles of Noodles until the year ends and have just recently re-opened the STREETS Restaurant Cafe on weekends. We are seeing very few guests, but it’s enough to keep our apprenticing component going.”
“We must do additional fundraising to support the revenues we would see from our enterprises during this period, it’s a challenge. But, in Vietnam we are all healthy, and able to function relatively normal day-to-day lives and we are very lucky and appreciative of this.”
Oodles of Noodles is both an amazing way to help people as well as a fun and rewarding experience in noodle making. To help STREETS and spread awareness of their amazing work, Neal recommends “looking at the website, sponsoring a trainee and giving other disadvantaged youth the great life changing opportunity that STREETS provides.”
“As soon as travel resumes, and it will, come visit and experience STREETS yourself!” If you are ever visiting Hoi An, Oodles of Noodles is not an experience to miss!