Community Engagement is a Marathon for St. Olaf Alumnus
This article originally appeared in the St. Olaf College Newsroom.
Six years ago, St. Olaf College alumnus Duy Ha ’14 founded a sports organization in Vietnam to host the first marathon in Hanoi in a quarter century.
It was a success — and since then, the organization has hosted many other races and inspired groups across the country to host them as well. Their work has raised awareness for endurance sports throughout Vietnam, where there are now up to 30 races a year.
The ongoing power of this work recently led Ha to be named to the Forbes 30 Under 30 cohort in Vietnam.
Ha founded Race Vietnam, the sports company that hosts these marathons, in 2016. “The mission of the sport organization was to raise awareness for endurance sports because Vietnam was such a developing country and people cared more about work,” Ha says. “However, the first-ever thing is always the toughest, so you need to use all the connections you have and all the skills you have to convince people that it’s something that is not harmful.”
Ha’s perseverance has had positive ripple effects, inspiring people to live a healthier lifestyle in Vietnam.
His work with community engagement, however, did not start with Race Vietnam. “What got me into Forbes Vietnam is the community engagement that I’ve done since high school,” he says. “It has been very consistent and it gives people a lot of opportunities and has an impact on Vietnam.”
While at St. Olaf, Ha was a Davis Projects for Peace grant recipient. For his project he created a rainforest education program in Vietnam called “Rung Oi!,” which translates to “Hi, Forest!” Inspired by a group of elementary students participating in an experiential learning program in the forests of Costa Rica, Ha was moved to create an interactive learning experience surrounding the rainforests in Hanoi.
His project attracted 720 applicants from 30 educational institutions in Vietnam, and established partnerships with Vietnam’s Center for Education and Development and the Center for Development of Community Initiative and Environment. His transformative work was highlighted in broadcasts and news articles.
Additionally, Ha was part of the group that originally piloted the beloved Ole Thrift Store, a student-run nonprofit at St. Olaf that promotes practical sustainability on campus by establishing responsible consumerism.
Off campus, Ha was the co-president of VietAbroader, a nonprofit organization founded in New York by Vietnamese students in the U.S. “Every year in the summer, we hold conferences advocating for people to go to U.S. colleges and universities,” Ha says. “Back then, it was the biggest organization in Vietnam advocating for education overseas with a U.S. focus.”
During his time as co-president, he organized education and youth-empowerment events that attracted over a thousand attendees. He also established official partnerships with EducationUSA, a branch of the U.S. Embassy in Vietnam.
Additionally, Ha was a recipient of the Finstad Entrepreneurial Grant, a St. Olaf fund that provided students or teams that developed the best business plan for a for-profit venture. He created a project that empowers and funds grassroots, social projects in Vietnam.
“We started with four projects that year, and two of them, along with the initial Davis Project for Peace, are still ongoing today,” he says.
One of the ongoing projects centers around preserving and promoting Vietnamese intangible cultural heritage, specifically Cheo, a form of generally satirical musical theater often encompassing dance, traditionally performed by Vietnamese peasants in northern Vietnam. The other project aimed to promote applications of math modeling into the daily lives of students.
Ha cites the optimism and idealism of St. Olaf and U.S. education as the biggest influence on his work. “Sometimes when you live in a setting for a long time, there are some things that you consider static and unchangeable. But when I came back home from St. Olaf, I had a very fresh mindset,” he says. “You learn that if you want something, anything is possible.”