Vietnamese-born Jimmy Pham grew up in Australia but, on his first visit to his birthplace, he was shocked by the poverty and the plight of the street kids he met – they were unwashed, starving, begging for money and living rough. It was 1996, Vietnam was still recovering from the war-torn years and was yet to burst on to the world stage as a hot tourist destination.
Jimmy started out feeding a handful of these young people but eventually decided to do something that might really change their lives. He gave up his job with a travel company and moved to Ho Chi Minh City where he set up a not-for-profit sandwich shop, called KOTO, staffed by street kids. He hoped that by training them to make and sell food, they would have a chance at a healthy, safe future.
Twenty years on, KOTO is an internationally recognised social enterprise, with two training restaurants and a training school. The program is a two-year vocational program, with the students provided a safe home, food and healthcare during their course.