On The Record with Quyên Lưu, One of Việt Nam’s Emerging Young Leaders

Published May 9, 2017 in Episode 71

On May 4, the U.S. Department of State hosted its annual Emerging Young Leaders Award. The program recognizes ten youth from around the world for their courage in resolving conflict, promoting security, and creating economic opportunity in challenging environments. Among the 10 recipients was Quyên Lưu, a YouTube sensation and social advocate from Việt Nam. Quyên and her comic artist friends created Ếch Phu Hồ, or “be a smart frog” in English, a YouTube channel featuring short videos explaining controversial social topics ranging from:

Eating dog meat:

To… Understanding LGBT issues:

To... Urging government budget transparency:

Their videos have earned over a million views and 15,000 subscribers. Each video is carefully constructed with hand-drawn animations and clever and comical script writing.

Contributing reporter Nhựt Phó attended the award ceremony and spoke with Lưu about Ếch Phu Hồ’s origin story and her team’s experience navigating censorship.

Quyên Lưu (left), of Todocabi.vn, is honored as one of ten global emerging young leaders by the U.S. State Department on May 4, 2017. (Photo: Loa/Nhựt Phó)

Quyên Lưu (left), of Todocabi.vn, is honored as one of ten global emerging young leaders by the U.S. State Department on May 4, 2017. (Photo: Loa/Nhựt Phó)

Nhựt Phó: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself, where you’re from, how you got here?

Quyên Lưu: Yeah, my name is Quyên and I’m from Việt Nam. I attended these awards because I was nominated by the embassy in Việt Nam. I just came here from the 30th of April and this is the first time I’ve come to the US and it’s very exciting.

Nhựt Phó: What have you done so far, do you like it?

Quyên Lưu: Yeah, I have to say, I am very grateful for the organiser because they have done great work; everything is well organised, I have to say, yes.

Nhựt Phó: So they had talked a little bit about how you raised a campaign; did it through your videos, can you tell us how you started making videos, how you started YouTube?

Quyên Lưu: My project started from April, 2014, so it has been more than three  years now, and we started making videos on YouTube… Because that time, I saw a picture on Facebook -- a farmer, a female farmer; she’s sitting next to spring rice and with a bottle with very green water inside. Then people started commenting very rudely like, ‘you are killing us with this kind of chemical’ because they thought that that farmer was using some toxic chemical to make it look nicer. So they started very rude and vitriol comments like that and some days later, some newspaper, they talked about that picture and it turns out, this is just from pandan. It’s natural and it’s not toxic and then I realised that people are so fast; they are so fast at judging and I think it’s because people lack information, so they come to the decision so fast like that, and they don’t know that it hurts people, so that’s why I, that’s why we, actually, we started making videos on controversial issues in Việt Nam and we want to offer different [texts], like pros and cons, case studies all over the world, and for the audience to have their own say. We believe that when we have more information, more knowledge, our decisions will become more intelligent.

Nhựt Phó: So when you say ‘we’, it’s the YouTube channel, which is ‘Ếch Phu Hồ’, right?

Quyên Lưu: Yeah

Nhựt Phó: So where did that name come from?

Quyên Lưu: This project, you can translate it into English, ‘be a smart frog’. In Việt Nam, we have an idiom, like a frog in the well, to indicate people who have tunnel vision, sitting in the bottom of the well and think that he or she,has seen the whole sky above. In our project, ‘be a smart frog’, we want to widen the knowledge, to widen the well, yeah, so people have a better understanding of social issues, yeah.

Nhựt Phó: Yeah, that’s amazing!

Quyên Lưu: Yeah, thank you.

Nhựt Phó: So can you describe the process of making these videos then?

Quyên Lưu: Okay, the process of making these videos: first, we have to research. We spend a lot of our energy to research, I mean, because we don’t want to be biased and we want to be very… We just take the information from credited sources. First we research and then we have to write the script and then we draw the storyboard. The storyboard is something you do to draft what will be on the screen like that, and then we draw. We have a...

Nhựt Phó: You’re the one drawing, right?

Quyên Lưu: No, I’m not the one who draws. Another.. We have 2 people and we start drawing and filming. At the time, we use everything we have. We film by camera, like an amateur camera and then we have… We record and then we edit video. I attempt to research, write scenarios and record and edit videos.

Nhựt Phó: These are all the things you do?

Quyên Lưu: We do, together.

Nhựt Phó: What is… Do you have a particular role in your YouTube channel group, or you kind of just all help each other out?

Quyên Lưu: At the first stage, in the years from 2014 and 2015, we just helped each other, like we do everything we needed to do. After that, we realised that we need to be better organised because you can not run a project without a clear role for everyone. So we started to have organisation, structure and now my role in the ‘Ếch Phu Hồ’ is kind of fundraiser and like content builder.

Nhựt Phó: Have you ever been censored by the government?

Quyên Lưu: Yes.

Nhựt Phó: What happened?

Quyên Lưu: At the time, we were in Oxfam in Việt Nam, you know Oxfam… Oxfam Việt Nam; we carried a project named ‘Tớ Đố Cậu Biết’ to promote transparency in the state budget of Việt Nam, that’s kind of very a sensitive topic in Việt Nam, you know, and we have been censored for one time, because that time, we didn’t have any experience about this field. We usually just talk about like dog meat, masturbation... Things like that. It’s not very sensitive but state budget is a whole different story. So we have been censored, but it was not so serious… They just called Oxfam; ‘You guys should not say things like this, things like that’. So from that, we learned how to, where to stop, like the limit, so yeah…

Nhựt Phó: Okay, so one last question, so your videos are described as representing ‘the voice of the new generation in Việt Nam’; what is that voice telling the world?

Quyên Lưu: Sorry, I just wanted to add a little bit of information about the previous question...

Nhựt Phó: Sure, of course.

Quyên Lưu:The censorship in Việt Nam, I think is totally understandable. I think it happens in every government because they want to have like people to have a better look at their government. I think, it’s understandable. Please repeat your question…

Nhựt Phó: Sure, so your videos are described as representing ‘the voice of the new generation in Việt Nam’, so what do you think that voice is saying?

Quyên Lưu: Let me tell you a little bit, like an overview of this project. In this project, we promote critical thinking, active dialogue and deep reflection among Việt Namese youth, by presenting social issues in [an] informative, interactive and creative media platform and media production. This media production; now we have animation videos, we have interactive magazines and we have debate sessions. We aim to become the leading source of information and discussion about social issues in Việt Nam, which I think is completely possible. Yeah, and the voice of youth; I believe in our project; it is… We keep a positive outlook about our society; about our community; about our country, yeah.. And I think we.. In youth, we have will to study, I mean, will to learn, actually, we have the will to learn new things and they are willing to change, and I think that’s very great.

Nhựt Phó: Thank you, that was beautiful.