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.
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
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.
Located in the remote mountainous area of Phu Yen province, 100% of Phu Mo commune’s residents are of Cham H’roi ethnic group. 25% of the children in the community are malnourished. Being aware of this situation, MCNV has cooperated with local partners in Phu Yen to bring about better meals and better lives to the children.
On contrary to the name which means “rich and fertile”, Phu Mo is known as the highest, remotest and poorest commune in the southern central province of Phu Yen.
With a population of more than 3,000, 70% of the local residents are impoverished or living on the threshold of poverty.
Local people earn their living on shifting cultivation, earning for their livings mostly by planting cassava. Due to the instable price, this crop only can help them generate a limited and instable income. Rice, cassava leaves, wild vegetables and chili mixed with salt are what usually seen in their daily meal.
According to a survey conducted by MCNV and Hue University of Medicine and Pharmacy in March 2018, 76.7% of the households in Phu Mo and Xuan Quang 1 communes (Dong Xuan district) did not have sufficient food to eat each year. Besides low income, people in these localities face with another challenge in access to food, which is the shortage of supply, since most nearby groceries only sell dried food like instant noodles, porridge and snack for kids. Meanwhile, in kindergartens, neither lunch nor breakfast is provided due to the lack of funding.
In Phu Mo commune, out of 100 kids, 25 suffer from malnourishment, in the form of stunting or underweight. In some villages, this rate even exceeds 50%.
Mang Thi Su, 25 years old, is a mother of two children: one boy (6 years old) and one girl (3 years old). Both of them were pale and weak, due to malnutrition. Feeding the kids was a tough job for the young mommy, since regardless of how hard she tried, her children kept refusing to eat.
According to MCNV, the high rate of malnutrition in Phu Yen is caused by several factors. Apart from economic constraint and scarcity of quality food supply, parents’ lack of understanding and knowledges in childcare and nutrition is a critical factor which must be tackled.
In June 2018, the concerns of Su and other women in Phu Mo commune began to be relieved thanks to the project “Scaling up of malnutrition fighting initiatives based on agricultural solutions in the mountainous areas of Vietnam and Laos ”(referred to as Nutrition Sensitive Agriculture – NSA), implemented by MCNV.
Thanks to the project, for the first time, Su gained basic knowledge in nutrition, learn how to prepare suitable meals for her children with tasty, nutritious yet still affordable dishes.
The instruction of nutritionists and healthcare advisors has enabled Su to diversify the ingredients for the daily meals, and turn them into child-friendly dishes (pleasant to taste and easy to digest). The dishes Su cooks now looks more catchy, as they are added the colors of a variety of healthy ingredients. Some of them are very easy to find in her home garden, such as tomatoes, carrots, eggs, etc.
Nowadays, in Su’s family’s every meal, the pleasure has replaced the worry, and the excitement has filled the eyes of the children. Her home is now full of smile and laugher, instead of the sound of scolding and crying. “He (Su’s son) loves colorful dishes very much. He can eat one bowl or even one and a half bowl of rice with food. I am overwhelmed with joy, especially when he finishes eating, sits on a scale and asks me “Mom, how much do I weigh now?” In the young mom’s eyes, happiness sparkles.
The change in one individual step by step leads to the change of a group and later on spread to several groups. Every month or every week, members of each group gather for a meeting, at which they share about the health and nutrition situation of their children. They often exchange opinions and learn from healthy child-rearing examples and update cases that need to be monitored, practicing how to prepare nutritious and affordable dishes.
Joining hands to solve the malnutrition problem
Improving the community’s awareness about nutrition in childcare is one of the many activities conducted in the NSA project. A holistic approach has been implemented with the close coordination of four sectors: health, agriculture, education and private businesses.
Under the coordination of local health staff, district, commune and village workshops and trainings were implemented. Health workers, leaders of mother groups and pre-school teachers are trained in nutrition and environmental sanitation. Children get regular health checkups, and severely malnourished children receive treatment.
In addition, households are trained to increase production, improve nutrition from their own gardens, fields and yard, for example raising chicken to lay eggs, or intercropping with vegetables and fruits.
To increase the quality of children’s meals, the NSA project also gives funding to preschools to provide in-school lunches and breakfasts, as well as orienting the private sector (food and grocery stores) to sell nutritious products such as porridge, cakes, and cereal flour, and facilitating the household to access nutritional products.
The NSA project is implemented by MCNV in Dong Xuan district in the period of 2017-2020, in cooperation with different partners, including WOTRO, the Vrije University Amsterdam (Netherlands), Hue University of Agriculture and Forestry, and Hue University of Medicine and Pharmacy.
Not only does it solve the problem of malnutrition among Vietnamese children, the NSA project also supports Lao children in 10 villages of Nong district, Savannakhet province. Currently, the Lao side has completed the initial survey, knowledge sharing and quantitative research survey toolkit, trained on research methods, data analysis, development of intervention plans and organized some initial intervention activities.
MCNV’s nutrition project is an effort towards the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal No. 2 on hunger eradication, food security, nutritional improvement and agricultural development.
By Phi Yến (Vietnam Times)
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.
On December 21st 2018, an evaluation workshop on the School-based Mental Health Care Project took place at Huu Nghi Hotel in Dong Ha City, Quang Tri Province. Representatives of MCNV, Provincial Department of Education and Training, Provincial Health Service, Preventive Health Center and nearly 30 high schools in the province attended the workshop. At the workshop, MCNV and the stakeholders reviewed the current situation of mental health (MH) among high school students, the interventions that MCNV and local partners have implemented in the project, remarkable results and proposed directions in the coming time.
The School-based Mental Health Care project has been piloted at Vinh Linh High School since May 5th 2017 with the aim of reducing the rate of students having, and being at risk of having, MH problems, building capacity in MH care for teachers, and improving knowledge, attitudes and behaviors of students and parents in MH care. Before the project started, MCNV conducted a survey on the MH situation of high school students in Quang Tri province. The survey results showed that up to 11.8% of high school students had MH problems and 20.86% were at risk of having MH problems.
For 18 months of implementing the project, MCNV has collaborated with the Department of Education and Training of Quang Tri Province and Vinh Linh High School to implement various activities, including establishing a MH care counseling team at the school, training to improve knowledge and skills in MH for the counseling team, sharing these knowledge and skills with other teachers in the school, using the SDQ25 tool (of the World Health Organization) to survey and monitor the students’ MH status, counseling for students having MH problems, organizing MH communication activities, and promoting information sharing and interactions about students’ MH issues via Facebook. In the implementation process, some activities were technically assisted by Da Nang Psychiatric Hospital.
The activities mentioned above have contributed to helping the teachers of Vinh Linh High School and the counseling team have basic knowledge and skills in detecting and intervening with students having MH problems, and at the same time changing the perception, attitudes and behaviors of teachers, students and parents about MH care. The comparison of the survey results at the beginning and at the end of the project has showed that the percentage of students with MH problems has decreased to 4.97% (compared to 9.32% before intervention) and the percentage of students at risk of having MH problems has decreased to 12.88% (compared with 17.74% before intervention).
With the positive results of this pilot project, the Department of Education and Training of Quang Tri Province and the high schools have proposed MCNV to replicate the project model to other high schools in the province. MCNV will try to mobilize funding in the coming time to meet this expectation.
To understand more about the School-based MH Care Project, you can refer to the materials for teachers and students at the Publications of this website and watch the following video on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cDek9rLsw4c&t=53s
Due to the Christmas holiday the MCNV office in Amsterdam is closed from Tuesday December 25th 2018 until Sunday January 6th 2019. Wishing you a wonderful Christmas and wish you a year of health, happiness and prosperity!
For urgent matters, please call:
Marijke Postma-Rustenhoven at 0031 610 592 693.