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Dreams become deeds

Staying healthy, finishing school, finding a job. When you are 15 years old and you grow up in a remote, poor village in Central Vietnam, some basic conditions for a ‘normal’ life seem to be lacking. MCNV started a project in Huong Hoa in which we look beyond the health of teenage girls. 

We try to encourage the girls to finish their school and we also help them finding a job so that they can provide for themselves. Such a broad approach to the challenges works well, we learned in Dien Bien, where we worked with groups of teenagers before.

I’m talking with a group of teenage girls in the village house of Cu Bai Village in Huong Hoa district. They giggle shyly, none of them speak English. At first glance, these cheerful girls could also be city dwellers with their sportswear and homemade bracelets. But the contrast with the city can hardly be greater. The village consists of a few simple wooden houses, we see some pigs and chickens roaming around. Apart from badminton and volleyball on a barren field, there is nothing to do here. A somewhat larger village is hours away, the roads are very bad. There is no bus here and these young people have no money for a motorbike, most of them walk long hours back and forth to school.

In their free time, the girls help their parents with the household and weeding the land. Only a little rice is grown here for own consumption, anything else will not grow on the dry, rocky soil. They don’t answer my question about what their dream job is. Some want to become a hairdresser or work in the nearby factory, but even though the end of their education is near, they still have no idea. They love singing, music and sports but you can’t live from that.

We walk with Ho Thi Chan (15 years old) to her house, where she lives with her grandparents. Her mother’s house is 10 km away, her father died when she was little. As their sole source of income, the family gathers some tree bark, which they sell to a glue factory. She helps her grandfather in the house and she later wants to go and work in the factory, a government job. Privacy, so important for teenage girls worldwide, does not exist in this house, as the family shares one large open living space. Chan only has some clothes and an old cell phone. Once a week there is an hour of wifi at the village hall and only then she can use her cell phone, she laughs shyly.

For these ethnic tribes, the Bru-Van Kieu and Paco, MCNV started a project in which 1500 girls aged 12 to 19 are taught the skills to stand on their own two feet. We do not only teach them about sexual health, this project goes much further. The girls are encouraged to go to school, to learn a trade and when their education is complete, we try to create extra job opportunities (see Coffee & Bamboo).

Making plans for later

“Addressing multiple issues at the same time works better in these poor villages,” says MCNV’s Nguyen Dinh Dai, who supervises the project. “We mainly focus on the girls, because they play an important role in securing an income for their families. Together we try to break the downward spiral: they live in poverty, with a high risk of teenage pregnancies and child marriages, as a result of which the girls cannot finish school, become unemployed and therefore remain extremely poor. To break this, we naturally provide the teenagers with information about sexual issues and we encourage them to finish school. In addition, we create real jobs and stimulate new vocational training. In the villages we also provide information to everyone, including parents, about child protection and marriage laws. MCNV has gained years of experience in livelihood projects in the province of Quang Tri, which also includes Huong Hoa, in which we looked beyond just health issues. By also tackling the worst poverty, people are more likely to improve their lives permanently,” Dai explains.

Coffee & Bamboo

Two small-scale initiatives immediately provided jobs – thus extra income – in the poorest villages in Huong Hoa. A group of girls learned English and how to make coffee, after which they went to work in Hoi An at a coffeeshop of a Dutch entrepreneur. It was well paid and nice work, but a few girls got homesick, something to take into account in the next selection of participants. In another village we encourage the production of bamboo products – bamboo grows there abundantly – such as drinking straws and lamps, for the Swedish market. We are also looking for new markets for sustainable bamboo products, so that more villagers can get involved. And we have another idea: training young people to become beekeepers. Acacias grow around the villages and bee honey from the acacia blossom will yield a good price on the market. Initiatives such as these, where we use as much as possible the natural resources available in the vicinity of the villages, help people to get out of poverty structurally.

What we ask from you

In Huong Hoa, MCNV has started improving the living conditions of 1500 teenage girls in the six poorest villages. By not only advising the girls on sexual health, but also by encouraging them to finish their education, to follow a vocational training and to find work, we can continue to improve their lives. A total of € 44,000 is needed to guide the girls to education and work in the coming years. If you raise € 20,000 together this summer, we can make significant progress already this year! Not only the girls, but also their families benefit from the structural improvements that we can only achieve together with you.

Thank you very much for your (extra) donation!