“Versatile approach takes time, but it really works”

Interview with Marijke and Pieter

“Versatile approach takes time, but it really works”

By Saskia Stevens

Marijke Postma-Rustenhoven and Pieter van den Hombergh, chairman and vice-chairman of the Supervisory Board of MCNV, visited Laos and Vietnam in November because of the 50th anniversary. A great opportunity to see with your own eyes how MCNV works and to listen to the findings of colleagues on the spot. Back in the Netherlands, they face some tough issues: which approach do we want to take in the coming years in cooperation with Vietnam and Laos? What is the best way to continue to use half a century of knowledge and experience gained in Vietnam for the people who need it so badly? And also: is it still necessary? Marijke and Pieter share their personal thoughts.

Pieter: “For me, a project like LEARN * in Laos is a good example of the type of activity that MCNV could focus on in the near future. We bring together students, doctors and scientists from our network to investigate health issues together. With the results thereof we are helping the Laos government, which is really desperate for this type of information, so that they can make better decisions to help the population.”

Marijke: “LEARN combines three spearheads of our work. What we do has scientific value for the longer term and we enable the government to develop substantiated policies based on advice. And people get practical solutions for their health and nutrition. That is an extension of the traditional “charitas” idea. Helping people becomes more interesting if you know how to translate your method into training and education, and to a better government policy.”

Pieter: “Take the project of the teenage girls in Vietnam who too often get pregnant too early and therefor have to leave school. The project was set up with limited resources and it is now ready for the next step, making the results visible and measurable: a good project evaluation is desirable. But we need extra money for that. I think the MCNV donors still want to support that. Based on fifty years of experience, MCNV has a well-considered approach, with the result that the government regularly follows our advice. Practical experience combined with research and well-founded advice thus offer a coherent approach that is also interesting for other organizations.

Solidarity forever

Marijke: ”Of course, our donors nowadays care for other topics than they did 50 years ago. Emergency aid is no longer needed, but there are vulnerable groups, particularly in rural areas, that are in danger of lagging behind. Solidarity with these groups, the basic idea we had in the sixties, still has not changed. Our colleagues in Vietnam tell us what is happening within these vulnerable and hard-to-reach groups and the government listens to our policy advice. MCNV really has something to offer in that.”

Pieter: “To visit an MCNV project is a must for all donors who have not yet been to Vietnam. It was a pleasant sensation for me to see that we experience the same concerns and compassion as our Vietnamese colleagues and partners. Vietnam has developed strongly in a materialistic sense. It is also great to see that there is so much compassion among the population with people who have less.”

Continue independently in Vietnam?

Marijke: “We are still thinking about MCNV becoming independent in Vietnam. In principle, the identification of problems and thinking up solutions can be done entirely in Vietnam and Laos, that goes without saying. The question is if and how we can support that. MCNV is now an International Non-Governmental Organization (INGO), but in order to develop ties with the population and to find a sufficient number of donors among the Vietnamese population and the Vietnamese business community, it is necessary to set up a local NGO in Vietnam. You simply cannot raise funds in Vietnam from the office in Amsterdam. There will mainly be moral support from the Dutch office when setting up a local NGO, because the projects are continuing and funding from the Netherlands remains needed. The Dutch donors are indispensable, they are still the backbone of MCNV.”

Pieter: “We could think of good new themes for our work in Vietnam, but the basis is improving health, well-being and living conditions. Ultimately, that is a very broad range, because climate change and the promotion of entrepreneurship also influence people’s well-being. I don’t think our approach should change in the coming period.”

Why continue to invest in MCNV projects?

Marijke: “MCNV is very good at Community Based Development, the development of people from within the villages and communities themselves. And I want to emphasize that in this organization nothing sticks to the fingers, which is a very important issue among donors, and rightly so!

Pieter: “MCNV has its roots in the communities, our projects are based on solidarity and they are concrete, appealing projects. The commitment of the fellow workers in Vietnam and Laos is fantastic.”

* In Laos the five-year LEARN program (Lao Equity through policy Analysis and Research Networks), is largely funded by the European Commission, and aims to improve the capacity of health institutions and health policies both within Laos and in the wider Mekong region.