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Carin Holroyd with Cat Ne Students

The Donor: Carin Holroyd

The Gift: $175,000 and climbing

The Cause: The Vietnam Education Society

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The Reason: To build schools in rural Vietnam.

When Carin Holroyd and her husband Ken Coates adopted a baby girl from Vietnam nine years ago, they wanted to build on their connection to the country.

"I wanted to do something that might make some part of the world a bit better," recalled Professor Holroyd, a political science professor at the University of Waterloo who specializes in Asia. "I thought why not start with Vietnam, as our daughter was from there?"

Prof. Coates is also an academic - he's dean of Waterloo's Faculty of Arts - so the couple decided to focus on education.

In 2005, Prof. Holroyd travelled to Vietnam and the province where her daughter, Hana, was born. She met with local leaders who told her about the lack of educational facilities in the area, among the poorest in the country. "They were very short of school buildings and most of what they did have was in pretty bad shape," she recalled.

Prof. Holroyd picked one school in the village of Cat Ne and formed the Vietnam Educational Society to raise money to rebuild it. With the help of a U.S. charity called East Meets West Foundation, she raised enough money to build a 10-room school, a multipurpose centre and a four-room early-education building in the village. The community joined in, too, adding a parking area, a stage and fencing. A family in Vancouver also contributed money for a library. The Vietnamese government is providing teachers and Prof. Holroyd is now working on a three-room school in another village called Thai Thuy.

She has raised about $175,000 so far and is looking for more money to build additional schools and to help pay for students' fees.

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Last April, the couple returned to Vietnam with their daughter to attend the opening ceremonies in Cat Ne. It was Hana's first visit to her homeland and Prof. Holroyd said it left a deep impression. "It was neat for her but I think kind of sobering too," she said. Hana noticed immediately how much larger she was than the other children, Prof. Holroyd said. "The benefits of nutrition were abundantly clear."

"I asked her what she liked best about Vietnam and she said she really liked coming to Cat Ne. Then she said, 'But I realized I could be one of those children and it's just too hard to think about.' It definitely struck her."

pwaldie@globeandmail.com

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