Abandoned by his parents, Mr. Quoc Anh became a shoeshine boy at 13, earning $1 to $1.50 a day. He slept on sidewalks, sheltering in doorways during downpours, or curled up in trees in city parks to avoid being mugged. Two years ago he lost a leg after jumping off a train he was riding without a ticket.
Now studying in Class 17, he lives in one of KOTO's comfortable homes as one of the 100 current students, all disadvantaged youths between ages 16 and 22.
Besides culinary skills, Quoc Anh learns English, computer know-how, and essential "life skills" at KOTO's modern, well-equipped four-story training center. For the first time in his life he goes on field trips and attends social events.
"Before, I had no hope for the future," he says. Now he does. "I want to become Hanoi's best barista," Quoc Anh pledges.
That's no pipe dream. Last year a KOTO trainee won the Vietnam National Barista Championship.
Pham Van Phuong also once roamed the streets shining shoes. Yet last year, after working as a chef at Hanoi's Metropole and Hilton hotels, the KOTO alumnus bought a $60,000 home for his parents and sister.
Now he's back at KOTO training students. "With every new graduate," he says, "you know you've changed another life."
Work in the hotel and restaurant industry "is the most employable skill I can give them," Pham says. "But I have no degree in it or anything." Born in Saigon during the Vietnam War, Pham moved to Australia at age 8 with his Vietnamese mother and five brothers.
Growing up poor in Sydney, he helped out at his struggling single mother's small butcher shop, made doughnuts, and sold sandwiches and vacuum cleaners.
In 1996, as a young adult working for a travel agency, Pham returned to Vietnam as a tour leader for Australian tourists.