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Saturday, August 27, 2011

KOTO Saigon

“The greatest accomplishment for the person who has helped you, is to see you stand on your own two feet and then in turn help someone else that reminds you of yourself, because if you Know One, then you should Teach One.” Mr Jimmy Pham, KOTO Founder and Director 

KOTO stands for Know One, Teach One. It is founded on the belief that if you’re in a position where you can help someone less fortunate, then you should help them.The greatest thanks you can receive is to one day see that person be in a position to do the same for someone else. KOTO staff experience this everyday as they see trainees grow from timid, shy teenagers into young adults who are not only sought after as hospitality professionals, but also well-rounded, responsible community-minded citizens ready to embrace the challenges that lie ahead. KOTO Hanoi was founded in 2000 by Australian Jimmy Pham.  So who is Jimmy Pham and how does KOTO work?  He was born in Ho Chi Minh city just before the fall of Saigon and returned to Vietnam in 1996 aged 23.  It was his first proper visit since his family fled the country when he was 2 years old.  Already shocked by the number of young homeless, a chance meeting with 4 street kids changed everything for Pham, who had been working as a travel agent in Melbourne.  He spent 2 weeks with the 13 and 14 year olds, watching them carry coconuts for a dollar a day before sleeping in the riverbanks, living from hand to mouth.  He knew he need to help.  He asked them what they wanted out of life.  They simply replied, "we need skills so we can find stable jobs" and so the concept of KOTO was born.
He opened the original KOTO in Hanoi, taking the kids off the streets and providing them with the skills they could use to change their lives.  In just five years, KOTO has grown from a small sandwich shop in Hanoi to a 120-seat restaurant and an internationally accredited hospitality program that gives some very special young people the start in life that everyone deserves. The young people in the KOTO program study hospitality skills and English, and take part in an essential life skills program. They gain practical skills working at the KOTO restaurant. KOTO graduates complete the program as confident and capable young adults who are able to take control of their own lives. They are highly valued by the hospitality industry in Vietnam and many now work in top hotels and restaurants around the world, including Australia. KOTO trainees are all aged between 16 and 22 and are selected for the program based on their life situation. They must also have the capacity to undertake training and work in the hospitality industry, and be committed to KOTO's philosophy. 

After being accepted into KOTO, trainees are given vaccinations and health checks, they are provided with uniforms, laundry, accommodation in group houses, lunch every day and ongoing health care. The trainees are paid an allowance, which enables them to focus on their studies, save a little for the future and provide some financial support to their families. 

In January 2010 KOTO opened a new training centre, KOTO Saigon in Ho Chi Minh City. It is pleasing to see these founding philosophies so prominent in the hearts, minds and actions of the new team of staff and trainees.  Saigons trainees come from rural areas which include Danang, Lam Dong, Phan Thiet and the Mekong Delta regions, from central to southern Vietnam as well local orphanages and from the streets of Ho Chi Minh City.  They are in the process of renovating the new restaurant and are accepting donations with their "Buy a Brick, Build a Dream" campaign.  You can become part of the KOTO Saigon foundations by buying a brick now and having your name featured at the restaurant, forever.  For $100, your brick, inscribed with your name, will be part of the KOTO Saigon restaurant’s “Brick Wall”, and be regarded as an acknowledgement of those who supported KOTO Saigon restaurant in its founding days.  The Moggys are proud to be part of the wall!  If you would like to donate you can do it online at  If you don't live here let me know and I will happily go and take a photo of your brick once the restaurant opens and send it to you!  All donations over $2.00 to KOTO are tax deductible for Australian taxpayers.

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