During a visit to hospital as a youth, Dong Ngoc Ha was struck by the plight of patients who were not fully covered by health insurance and had lost the ability to work. There was a stark contrast between the local medical infrastructure and the glamorous city hospitals he had seen on TV; and Dong Ngoc Ha always remembered the patients who left the hospital staggering after learning they could not afford liver transplant surgery. Seeing people struggle with unaffordable treatments, he dreamt of changing things.
At the same time, Dong Ngoc Ha’s family had faced many struggles of their own. Hardships in life, parental responsibilities, and prejudices had stopped his mother from pursuing her dream of education. Following financial difficulties, they moved to Hanoi for a fresh start in 2008, living in a dilapidated apartment with just 24 square metres to house four people. However, in Hanoi, Dong Ngoc Ha counted himself lucky to be able to attend a well-equipped school. This started him on a long journey of scientific learning, spending weekends at the local bookstore and decorating his bedroom wall with notes on genetics.
As he grew older, his desire to contribute knowledge to the community also began to grow stronger, and he realised that scientific progress would be the best way to help push his country forward. His new goal was to find new, more effective and more affordable cures for fatal illnesses. Becoming a leading scholar in biology and physics would allow him to integrate knowledge from both fields, improve Vietnamese people’s lives – and beyond that, to contribute to science more widely.
As a student, Dong Ngoc Ha has contributed a great deal to his community by tutoring classmates in biology, serving as an Olympiad trainer, and organising academic events and activities. In 2019, he founded the Biology For All Vietnam project – the first pro-bono project for gifted students in Vietnam – and led a team of seven lecturers to teach National Biology Olympiad teams in 10 provinces across Vietnam. During the pandemic, Biology For All also held webinars, provided support, and continue to foster gifted students nationwide.
Dong Ngoc Ha has also received a number of awards, including the Labor Order (Third Class) in recognition of outstanding achievements in labour, creativity or national construction; a silver medal at the International Biology Olympiad 2020; and First Prize at the Vietnam Biology Olympiad 2020. If Dong Ngoc Ha wins the Global Student Prize, he will use the funds to finance an annual Hanoi Maker Faire, a free online tutoring system, a STEM partnership with Hong Kong and Vietnamese universities, and a Biology For All collaboration with Olympiad Medalists in other subjects.