In light of coronavirus spread concerns, Vietnam will temporarily suspend visa issuance for foreigners entering the country for a period of 30 days starting Wednesday (March 18).
In light of coronavirus spread concerns, Vietnam will temporarily suspend visa issuance for foreigners entering the country for a period of 30 days starting Wednesday (March 18).
In over the last 10 years, in Binh Dai District, Ben Tre Province, there is a project that has been providing life-changing instrument for thousands of women to rise against poverty…
From poverty to financial independence
In the past, Ms. Truong Thi Phuong (born in 1972) and her husband, residents of Phu Thanh Hamlet, Phu Vang Commune, Binh Dai District, Ben Tre province used to made a living out of a small vegetables garden and some seasonal jobs, which generated a modest amount of income.
Despite being diligent, they still struggled to make ends meet. When their children got into college, the couple were over the moon but also extremely worried. The kids would have a brighter future than their parents but how could they manage to pay for their four-year tuition fees and other expenses in the city.
Ms.Truong Thi Phuong and her grocery store.
Phuong’s family life came to a turning point in 2015, when she became member of the Women Union of Phu Vang Commune and began to get accesss to the Micro Credit and Saving project, implemented by the Medical Committee Netherlands-Vietnam (MCNV) and sponsors.
With the loan provided by the project, Phuong and her husband shortly sleeved up to find their ways out of poverty. Part of the cash was spent on poultry rearing, while the rest was invested in launching a small grocery store.
“At the beginning, due to my lack of experiences, we faced a lot of challenges”, Phuong recalled.
Fortunately, thanks to active participation in science and technology transfer workshops held by local Women Union, Phuong and her husband soon acquired fundamental knowledges in farming as well as doing business. Step by step, their ‘startup’ started to yield profits, providing a stable source of income, and at the same time, could be used as capital to feed new investment.
After several microcredit cycles, following the advices of project staff and the senior members of local Women Union, Phuong bought a cow which later gave birth to two calves. After deducting all costs of rearing, they earned around VND tens million annually.
Since the rearing was not time-consuming, Phuong’s husband spent the rest of his day on some part-time jobs such as bricklaying, fishing, which earned him VND few hundred thousand per day.
After 5 years of participating in the Micro Credit and Saving project of Binh Dai district, Ms. Truong Thi Phuong and her husband have filed for crossing their name in the poor households list.
From the bottom where the couple could not make ends meet, now they have secured stable and sufficient income. As the two children have graduated from colleges and have found jobs, the family is free from worries about livelihoods. Their old wobbly house has been renovated into a fully furnished one.
Phuong also has more time for community activities. She is very enthusiastic about sharing her experience in doing business with her neighbors, fellows, and lending supports to those in need.
“‘A stitch in time saves nine’, more than anyone, I understand what it is like to live in poverty. At the moment, I am willing to help anyone in need”, she said.
Striving from the bottom, she is always grateful for what the Micro Credit and Saving project and her fellows have done to support her.
Freshwater security against salinity
Ben Tre is severely affected by saline intrusion. Illustration photo: VNA
Located in the Mekong delta region, Ben Tre is severely affected by saline intrusion. Even local water plants are affected with salinity of 2 grammes.
Located on an islet, Binh Dai district’s four sides were surrounded by rivers and seas, making the area more vulnerable to saline intrusion (high salinity, deep intrusion level). Local residents are facing huge challenges as saline intrusion negatively affected agricultural production and daily life.
In the fierce battle against salinity, Binh Dai district was lucky enough to receive aid from the Micro Credit and Saving project. Along with providing loans to support livelihoods, the project has also assisted poor, nearly poor, and disadvantaged households to build water containers and purchase rainwater and freshwater storing tanks for daily life and production.
Ms.Nguyen Thi Kim Oanh and her water container.
“In 2016, I registered for a loan of VND five million to build two 4m3 water containers; the costs for materials and workers was around VND six million …” , said Ms. Nguyen Thi Kim Oanh (Tan Long hamlet, Thanh Phuoc commune).
According to Oanh, thanks to the project, her family could store enough freshwater to use for the whole year. In the dry season, the family consume more well water therefore they always have extra stock of rainwater.
Being aware of the benefit in the long run, in 2018, Oanh continued to take a new loan of VND five million to build two 6m3 water containers, the two cost around VND seven million.
Ms. Nguyen Thi Phuong Thao (born in 1985) lives in Vinh Tan hamlet, Vang Quoi Dong commune is another beneficiary of the project. Thank to the 6m3 rainwater, freshwater container, her three-member family now can feel secured during drought season.
“Because saline intrusion occurs every year, I decided to build container to store rainwater or freshwater for daily use. In 2016, I filed for a VND five million in 24 months to build two containers. I was thrilled as they were so helpful. Without them, we would have had to use saltwater like the previous years, which negatively affects sanitation. I am going to borrow some more to build another two containers. If salinization persists, I am afraid that there will not be enough freshwater…”
Unfortunately, this week we had to decide to cancel the donor tour in April.
It is very unfortunate and sad for all who were so much looking forward to this trip. Donors, as well as the MCNV colleagues in Vietnam and Lao PDR, were so enthusiastic about receiving the group and showing them around.
An analysis (see here) prepared by Pham Dung (MCNV Director Vietnam), and previous discussions about the current situation in Vietnam and in the Netherlands, have led to the decision that MCNV does not want (and cannot) take any risks and can’t bear responsibility for carrying out this trip under these circumstances.
This is the responsibility for (the health of) the participants and tour management as well as for MCNV employees and other people in Vietnam and Lao involved in the organization of the journey.
In the coming period and of course with a caveat to Corona developments, we will look at possible travel dates later in the year. Of course we’ll keep all the fun ideas – as planned for this trip – until another time in 2020!
Tom Fluitsma (tour guide) and Karin Vlug
For additional information: email@example.com
The International Day of Persons with Disabilities, December 3rd, was innitiated by the World Programme of Action Concerning Disabled Persons and adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1992. This day aims to promote people’s understanding about the disability issues and mobilize support for the dignity, rights and well-being of persons with dsiabilities. It also seeks to increase awareness of governments, organizations and individuals about the integration of persons with disabilities in every aspect of political, social, economic and cultural life. One focus of the International Day of Persons with Disabilities (IDPD) every year is to advocate for the enactment of the national and international laws and standards related to persons with disabilities and the rights of persons with disabilities to participate equally in all aspects of society development. Each year, the UN announces a different theme for the day.
The theme for this 2019 IDPD is ‘Promoting the participation of persons with disabilities and their leadership: taking action on the 2030 Development Agenda’. The theme focuses on the empowerment of persons with disabilities for inclusive, equitable and sustainable development as envisaged in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which pledges to ‘leave no one behind’ and recognizes disability as a cross-cutting issues, to be considered in the implementation of its 17 Sustainable Development Goals.
Every year, MCNV collaborates with its partners to celebrate the IDPD December the 3rd by organizing celebration activities with the utmost spirit of supporting and maximizing activities to promote the rights of persons with disabilities, showing respects for the dignity of persons with disabilities, recognizing the contribution of persons with disabilities to the society. / .
Pieter van den Hombergh is a member of MCNV’s Supervisory Board, since 2016. After a brief flirtation with MCNV as a student in 1968, he became a tropical doctor and worked in Tanzania and Kenya. Later, as a family doctor in Almere city, he also remained active for Africa. At the end of 2018 he visited Vietnam and Laos on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of MCNV.
“I had not been in Vietnam since 1995, when there were still mainly bicycles in Hanoi. MCNV’s 50th anniversary was a great opportunity to visit Laos and Vietnam and I decided to take a holiday trip there together with my wife and some relatives. We cycled from the old Laotian capital Luang Prabang all the way to Vientiane and from there we took a plane to Vietnam. Laos had always been a mysterious distant land for me. It is a poor country but it is rich in culture. A country with very charming people and in the MCNV office that was no different. LEARN and Canteen are the MCNV projects in Laos, LEARN conducts research into nutrition and mother & child care. The Laos government is eager for health data in order to develop better policies, and the first LEARN reports have been greatly appreciated. A very nice project that leads to many contacts back and forth with VU and Wageningen and to exchanging of students.
The 50th anniversary ceremony of MCNV in Hanoi was a big success. For the fourth time already, MCNV received the Medal of Friendship from the president of Vietnam, presented by Mr. Don Tuan Phong of the Vietnam Union of Friendship Organizations. We were moved by the many large flower bouquets and congratulation gifts, including carvings made by handicapped people in the various MCNV projects. An emotional and beautiful film was shown with archive footage and reports of current projects, that showed 50 years of MCNV pass in a nutshell. The film featured Ad Spijkers and Ron Marchand, former MCNV staff members. The event was very well organized by local MCNV staff. One staff member – Hieu – had arranged for everyone in Laos and the Netherlands to be able to watch it live on Facebook. The ambassador of the Netherlands spoke, the Vietnamese TV broadcasted a summary and it hit the front page of the Vietnam Times. Everything that makes MCNV so special became clearly visible: the quality for everyone, but especially the less fortunate and people with disabilities, to engage in inspiring activities, in progress. So beautiful and heart-warming. Many were clearly emotional during the event and I felt that lump in my throat too. The event concluded with a stand-up buffet and beautiful music.
To experience the added value of projects
That Sunday we went to see a Microfinance project that was once started by MCNV. The chairwoman together with 20 other women received us and offered us tea with guava and pomelos. A number of women told us frankly and in detail how they had used the loans, often only a few hundred dollars, and how it had helped them to regain spirit and also some more purchasing power. They invited us in their homes and we could see how one woman had invested in wood, to make alternative medicine, another woman had bought pomelo trees and showed us her orchard, and a third woman showed us a fish pond, where unfortunately all fish had been washed out during a recent flood. They all mentioned how the cooperative had united them. The resulting bond was also an important added value of this project. For me it was not only a special and useful journey but also a journey in which I understood what the MCNV feeling is. After experiencing how honest and heart-warming all the projects are and feeling the dedication of the staff, you understand what drives them.”
Pieter van den Hombergh, vice-chairman of the Supervisory Board
*Photo: Mr. Pieter van den Hombergh (second from left) on behalf of MCNV to receive the fourth Medal of Friendship from the Vietnamese Government.
As soon as we cross the bridge over the Mekong River, the landscape changes. We enter the southern coastal province of Ben Tre, on our way to Binh Dai district. The many waterways make it impossible here to grow crops or to raise livestock on a large scale. The water is brackish and that makes the soil unsuitable for almost all crops. On pieces of land we see coconut palms and some houses. Along the main road there is more activity, a workshop, coffee shop and a few small shops have survived with minimal resources. The people in Binh Dai are poor, you can see that immediately. Many families are even extremely poor, and for them MCNV has started Micro credit projects ten years ago.
In 2009, the Women’s Union asked MCNV for support to provide loans to women in the poorest villages of Binh Dai, so that they could buy a cow, a goat or a couple of ducks to supplement their income. In the beginning the women struggled to repay the borrowed money. Some groups now succeed in providing loans using the paid back money. They save a little together and help each other out if they have trouble paying back, for example because a goat dies. They absorb setbacks in the group, thus creating a social safety net. The MCNV project staff supervise the credit groups, giving practical advice and organizing simple training courses on how to handle, borrow and save money. For these women, MCNV’s supervision is indispensable for now, as they are not yet fully confident.
After ten years, aren’t we done yet?
No, we are not there yet. Our experiences with other projects teach us that it takes longer to structurally improve the living conditions of the poorest people. We devised a plan to let more women and their families benefit from the positive effect of the credit groups. By working together in a cooperative production group, such as a mushroom farm or a fish drying facility, the women together can borrow a larger sum of money and thus earn a more stable income. The first groups started in Binh Dai in 2016 and we hope to be able to start another 22 together with our partners until 2020.
What do we know about mushrooms?
Nguyen Thi Anh Tho (37, son of 11), leader of the oyster mushroom group in An Phu, at first thought it would be impossible to grow mushrooms. “We had to come up with something to make money, because the vegetable and fruit harvest often failed because of the brackish water here. The Women’s Union told us: why don’t you grow oyster mushrooms, that is a good product to sell. But what did we know about that? We started in 2016 with 20 women and a loan of 186 million Dong (approx. 7000 Euro) and we received an explanation from a man who knew everything about oyster mushrooms. By working very hard, we have managed to earn a steady income. Our group now has 27 women. We are very proud of that!”
Phan Ngoc Minh is 36 and has 2 children aged 10 and 14. She enjoys working here. She used to be a tailor but there was not much demand for her work, she also works in rice growing. “Working in a group is good for me, I use the extra money for food and school expenses. I can now buy more for my children. I work here 8 hours a day. What is the best part? Harvesting the mushrooms!”
More work for more women
Along the road, in My Chanh village, we visit the new cooking group of leader Hong Van. She says: “Almost everyone works here during the day and there are many large gatherings such as weddings and funerals. It takes the villagers a lot of time to cook for all those people. We offer to cook at people’s homes or we prepare the food at home in my kitchen and then take it away.” By working together, the women will soon be able to cook for large groups of up to 600 guests, they calculated. Because most women work in the fields or keep a cow, and have no experience cooking for groups, they started following a cooking course together. Hong Van: “With the money loan, we will soon be able to buy cooking utensils, bowls, chopsticks, and even a refrigerator. And if all goes well, also a motorbike with a trailer to be able to deliver the food faster.” These women are enthusiastic and have plenty of plans, and when they leave they proudly offer their self-made calling card from the Hong Van Cooking Group.
Our request from you
We request your (extra) contribution this spring so that MCNV staff can continue to supervise the credit groups in Ben Tre. It is not easy to find extra money for these costs, the project money is only meant to give loans to the women. That is why we ask for your help! With an amount of € 20,000 the MCNV staff in Ben Tre can continue their advisory and support work until the summer of 2020. Only with your support can we continue to help the poorest women!
By Saskia Stevens
Some 175 guests attended the 50th anniversary of MCNV in Amsterdam. Donors from the very first days of MCNV, Mr. Pham Toan Thang and Mr. Nguyen Hai Tinh from the Embassy of Vietnam, staff from Vietnam, Lao PDR and Amsterdam, Supervisory Board members, ex-staff, ex-board members, Ms Mette Gonggrijp from the Dutch Ministery of Foreign Affairs, project partners and friends joined in the celebration in Pakhuis de Zwijger in Amsterdam.
Another article about MCNV on the occasion of the 50th anniversary is posted on the Vietnam Times of the Vietnam Union of Friendship Organizations. Information and stories about MCNV’s former advisor Ron Marchand and loyal donor Suus van Hekken are lively shared in this article. Here is the link to the article.
Last week, after a period of extensive discussions, the Supervisory Board of MCNV and Guus Paardekooper, General Director, have decided to end their collaboration. A difference of opinion on the MCNV policy for the coming years and more specific on its strategy and timing are at the root of this decision.