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MCNV Magazine 2016-03

Link to MCNV Magazine 2016 number 3 (magazine in Dutch)

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MCNV Magazine 2016-01

Link to MCNV Magazine 2016 number 1 (magazine in Dutch).

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Climate Change Adaptation for the Poor Coastal Community in Ben Tre

Background

Serious drought in Ben Tre 2016

The serious drought and salinity in Ben Tre other Mekong river delta provinces of Vietnam in the beginning of 2016 was declared as a natural disaster by the government. The shortage of fresh water for human consumption and agricultural production is especially affecting poor people living near the coastal areas.

 

A family lacks fresh water

A family lacks fresh water

 

Global Climate change is increasingly making direct impacts on the living situation of huge numbers of people in developing countries whose livelihoods depend strongly on natural conditions. People who earn their living from agriculture, fisheries and aquaculture are the most vulnerable. Natural events such as typhoons, floods, droughts and saline intrusion are happening more often and more intensely in recent years, eroding people’s assets and investments and pushing many back into poverty. The salinity in the main rivers (4‰ isohaline) had intruded about 45-65km from river mounths and the whole of Ben Tre province was covered by water with a salinity of 1‰. More than 20,000ha of rice in Spring-Summer crop had been lost. About 8,500 ha of fruit trees were partly damaged by the drought and salinity. More than 98,000 households (about 400,000 people) lack fresh water because they do not have enough containers to store rain water.

MCNV’s responses

MCNV quickly responded to the climate change issues in Ben Tre for the poorest people who are suffering most from the drought and salinity. The aim of MCNV is to create a sustainable mechanism which could help the poor maintain and step by step adapt their livelihoods to the more difficult natural conditions.

From May 2016, MCNV provided loans to help families to build big water containers to retain more rain water for human consumption during dry season. Loans from MCNV microfinance project in Binh Dai district allow poor family to build high capacity water container of about 3m3 each. Loans should be paid back monthly over 12 to 24 months so that it is convenient also for the poor. Up to August 2016, 150 households have borrowed from the MCNV project to build 286 big water containers with total capacity of 858m3. The loans for water containers will be available throughout this year and in coming years to create access for the poor to store more fresh water. Many more people can be supported by loans than with one time grant support.

A mushroom production workshop

A mushroom production workshop

With financial support from Jumpstart Foundation, MCNV collaborates with the Ben Tre provincial Women’s Union to establish women cooperatives, which provide stable jobs and income for poor women. These jobs help poor families to adapt to climate change by reducing their dependency on farming. Five women cooperatives will be established in Binh Dai and Ba Tri district for the production of mushrooms and dried fish, that will create jobs for at least 100 poor women. These cooperations will be the first test for more productive models for poor women in the future.

Future plan

MCNV would like to establish a livelihood adaptation knowledge website to share our field experience to help poor communities to improve their livelihoods by adapting to climate change. We believe this could be very helpful for other places and people who are facing the same problems.

At the same time, MCNV also looks for Corporate Social Responsibility programs to supply water containers to kindergartens, commune health centers and friendship houses for extreme poor people in Ben Tre. Creative trainings on adapted livelihoods should be provided widely to raise awareness for everyone to better prepare them for unavoidable climate change.

First members of dried fish women cooperative

First members of dried fish women cooperative

Climate change impacts on livelihoods are very complex and many more poor communities will need comprehensive support to adapt to new situations. MCNV expects to find additional development partners to do practical field research and bring innovative methods that could help poor communities to stablise their lives and overcome the additional challenges from climate change.

This intervention records the first foot print of MCNV into the Climate Change sector. MCNV commits to support poor communities to adapt their livelihoods with best effective and innovative approaches to make this effort sustainable and helpful to poor people.

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Climate change adaptive agriculture & livelihoods

Background

Southeast Asia is one of the regions that will soon be severely affected by climate change. All throughout the region farmers are complaining that the rainy seasons have become more unpredictable and often bring too little rain too late, leading to misharvests.

The combined effect of less freshwater runoff from the Mekong river, due to upstream dams, and rising sea water levels is already leading to increased salinization. In Ben Tre province where MCNV has been working for many years this has become an acute problem for many as the famous Pomelo trees have started to wither away.

MCNV’s responses

Climate change will eventually affect all, but the poor and marginalized are hit hardest and soonest. Therefore MCNV pays special attention to help pilot and promote more climate change resilient forms of agriculture in the areas where we work. Sustainable approaches that stop and revert the deterioration of soil fertility and conserve the use of fresh water are among the most important directions. As long as these methods do not require heavy investments which would per definition ‘exclude’ the poor people to benefit from. At the same time, to stabilise the lives of the poor who are seriously affected by drought and salinity, MCNV offers technical trainings and credit for poor women to start up on alternative income generation activities such as on husbandry and handy craft work. Establishment of new cooperative models for poor women based on their traditional professional strengths and market experience is a new approach that MCNV pilots in Ben Tre province. The cooperatives promises to create more opportunities for the poor because it reduce production cost and more effective in labour utilisation.

MCNV has responded quickly and effectively with an initiative to support the poor women to build big water container to retain rain water for their cooking needs in dry season right after the drought and salinity happened in early 2016. Up to September 2016, the revolving loans for water container building has been helping 160 household to build 296 containers which could retain total of 829m3 rain water for live needs in drought seasons. The number of poor households which could build containers will increase in coming year as the loans revolves.

The theme of sustainable agriculture is deeply intertwined with the increasing need of producing safe and nutritious food for growing populations. The massively increasing concern about food safety among the more affluent people in urban areas in Vietnam in fact offers new livelihood chances for poor ethnic minority farmers in organic farming. Their land and soils, if kept healthy and unpolluted, may in future become one of their most valuable assets. Luckily there are signs that the agriculture policy makers might turn away from the customary equation of high technology and large scale solutions with ‘development’, where these are still strongly promoted by global agribusiness and agro-chemical corporations.

MCNV is most strongly developing the theme of ‘Nutrition-Sensitive Agriculture’ among some of the most remote and poor ethnic minority farmers in Laos. These areas are too far from urbanized areas and markets and the emphasis must be on sustainable self-subsistence and improving/ restoring the access to nutritious foods, especially for infants and pregnant women, in a context of deteriorating natural resources /forests.

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Nutrition improvement for children

Background

Children who are born underweight or do not receive sufficient nutritious food during their first years of life have a much higher chance to die in childhood. If children are able to survive their malnutrition childhood results in a lifelong disadvantage in health as well as the capacity to develop intellectually. While the malnutrition rates for whole countries such as Vietnam and Lao PDR have steadily improved over the last decades, this masks the fact that it remains unacceptably high among ethnic minorities and other marginalized groups. Due to the developmental disadvantages that malnourished children face, they also encounter difficulties when it comes to progressing financially. These obstacles leave them at a young age to grow up as the next generation’s marginalized youth.

Good nutrition is a Child’s Right

Malnutrition in children is strongly correlated with the poverty of their parents and the education level of their mothers. It is a complex problem comprising not only of the access to safe and nutritious food but also awareness and knowledge, food beliefs and taboos, as well as the deteriorating quality of natural resources and global developments in food systems. For many previously self-subsistent ethnic minorities economic development (growing cash crops instead of their own food) and a more ‘modern way of life’ (money to buy junk foods at the market) have made things worse rather than better.

The government of Vietnam has invested big efforts over many years but among ethnic minorities in remote areas the improvement is very slow, if any at all. Therefore NGO’s like MCNV work side by side with government agencies to try out better approaches that fit better to the local contexts.

MCNV’s response

Over the past ten years, MCNV has paid special attention to child malnutrition among ethnic minorities, specifically in the provinces Khanh Hoa and Phu Yen in Vietnam, as well as Savannakhet in Lao PDR. In Phu Yen the focus was on awareness raising and self-help activities in mother groups at the village level. In Khanh Hoa a nutritious cereal powder was developed that was locally produced and distributed by the health system to all families with malnourished children in the district. In Lao PDR the emphasis is on agricultural changes, such as home gardens, fish ponds and small livestock rearing. Positive effects have been demonstrated in several of these pilots but now it becomes urgent to combine the best approaches to find the most effective way to increase the scale in order to reach vast locations.

Future plan

In the coming years MCNV will focus its work on malnutrition in Lao PDR where the problem is most severe. This will be done by systematic learning, taking the experiences in Vietnam and Lao PDR and seeing how the best interventions can be applied using the local context of Lao PDR. Together with the local population, the health, agriculture and education services will need to work together. MCNV will collaborate with researchers from the Free University of Amsterdam and the important national institutes in Vietnam and Lao PDR to produce evidence about effectiveness and sustainability of interventions. This evidence will then be widely disseminated to convince government authorities and policy makers to increase their efforts to increase the number of children who can start their life with more hope for a healthy future.

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Civil Society Development

Background

Civil Society embraces the general public at large, representing the social domain that is not part of the State or the market. Civil Society is a sphere where people combine their collective interests to engage in activities with public consequence. The increasingly accepted understanding of the term Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) is that of non-state, not for-profit, voluntary organizations formed by people within the social sphere of civil society. These organisations draw from community, neighbourhood, work, social and other connections.

The Disabled People’s Organisation (DPO) encouraged disabled people to share their dreams, to develop personal plans, and to help them to make those dreams and plans come true. As an organisation we grew our capabilities to support the holistic development of individuals, families and groups of people with disabilities (written by a disabled person from a village in Quang Tri Province during a reflection session in 2015).

MCNV’s response

MCNV has increasingly strengthened and cooperated with CSOs over the years. CSOs have become an increasingly common channel through which we assist elderly, women with HIV/AIDS, ethnic minorities, youth and People with a Disability (PWD) to exercise citizenship and contribute to social and economic change. The involvement of Community Based Organisations that are organised by the marginalised people themselves, ensures their full participation in our programs.

Besides working with a myriad of Community Based Organisations in Lao PDR and Vietnam, MCNV also collaborates with civil society organisations at provincial and national level. For example, MCNV has established and cooperates with provincial ‘Village Health Workers Associations’(VWHAs).

In the health system we are so close to villagers that people call us the “long arm” of the health sector. Our Village Health Workers Association was founded in 2006, and now has 1,115 members based in 138 communes in nine districts and towns of the province. On basis of our experiences in Quang Tri, two other Village Health Workers’ Associations have been established in Cao Bang and Phu Yen provinces, in 2010 and 2011. We for example support the Disabled People’s Organisations (DPO) and Old People’s Organisations (OPA) in fundraising activities. We also assist the Community Based Organisations to prepare dramas or to make video clips to lobby and advocate for better health practices and policies (Interview with Board Member of Village health Workers Association, 2015).

Achievements

To date, MCNV has strengthened and collaborated with over a hundred CSOs and CS movements in Lao PDR and Vietnam. In addition to that, MCNV has provided Technical Advice to Civil Society Partners in Sri Lanka, Tajikistan and Georgia, on the strengthening of Civil Society Organisations in their country.

Through CBOs and their clubs, peer-to peer support is channelled and improvements in policy implementation and policy development are lobbied for. For example, Old People’s Organisations in Quang Tri successfully lobbied for an increase of the district budget for health of the elderly.

Due to the flexible characteristics of CSO organisations and due to their profound local knowledge on the culture and values of communities in remote areas of Lao PDR and Vietnam, they are in an excellent position to collaborate with other societal groups in experimenting new approaches in health and sustainable livelihood. For example in Lao PDR, the CBOs at village level named ‘Village Development Committees’ (VDC) have been partners of the district department of agriculture in experimenting new rice varieties, cattle raising and fish ponds.

Trust relationships between villagers and district partners has improved. The VDCs are able to articulate the needs of the ethnic minority groups in the villages and this has led to more communication and achievements of program interventions in the villages. (Interview with consultant evaluating the program in Lao PDR, 2014).

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Support to people with disability

Background

Approximately 7.8% of Vietnamese people are living with a disability (PWD) and about 75% of them are living in rural areas. Vietnam has ratified the UN Convention on the Right of People with Disabilities (CRPD). Accordingly, the Government commits to protect the rights of PWD based on the principles of equal opportunity and inclusive development in a barrier – free society. To realize these rights, the Vietnam National Assembly has approved the Law on Disability. Based on this, the Government has in the last 10 years developed and brought into operation many policies to support the PWD, focusing on health care, education, social security and vocational training.

Problem

However, many PWD are still excluded from different aspects of complete life. About 35 % of disabled children at primary schooling age have never gone to school while this applies to only 3 % among those without disability. Still about 42% of the PWD who can and want to work could not find a job; in comparison to 4% among those without disability. PWD are faced with many challenges in socio-economic development and in their daily life when they could not access transportation vehicles or public buildings; could not participate fully in social activities due to limited access to information and communication; could not benefit from developments as they were not heard and not counted sometime and somewhere. This situation is caused by the limited capacity of public service providers in policy implementation and the weak capacity of PWD in demanding and raising their voices while stigma and discrimination against disability still exists.

MCNV’s response to the problem

MCNV has invested a lot of resources over a long time to implement activities that support the inclusion of PWD in Vietnam. The Disablity program started with Community Based Rehabilitation (CBR) as a part of Community Managed Health Development (CMHD) program in Quang Tri in the 1990s. Then it was expanded to Dak Lak (1998), Cao Bang (2001), Phu Yen (2002), Khanh Hoa (2005), and Dien Bien (2014). Today MCNV’s Disability Program consists of 4 main components:

  • Medical Rehabilitation
  • Inclusive Education
  • Income Generating Activities
  • Empowerment for PWD and Disabled People Organizations

In the implementation of the Disability Program MCNV collaborates with Governmental partners from the national to the commune level based on the existing structure of the public service system. MCNV also always involves the PWD and their families in the process. The program focuses on creating new services that are suitable to the local context of culture and resources to ensure sustainable changes in the quality of life of PWD. Much attention is given to the building of capacity for all stakeholders, including the PWD themselves, from the individual to institutional level. All support for PWD are based on their real needs and distributed with their full participation.

Achievements so far

More than 20,000 adults and children with disabilities and their families have benefited from different types of medical, educational and economical rehabilitation and social support. About 60% of PWD improved their independent functioning in daily life as a result of home based rehabilitation and referral services. 70% of poor PWD have escaped from poverty thanks to MCNV’s financial and technical support to their Income Generating Activities. 88% of CWD at school age now have access to appropriate education in the project areas. In total 47 Disabled People’s Organizations (DPO) were supported to amplify the voices of PWD in communication and dialogue on policies and services in their communities. These DPO play a fundamental role to facilitate the participation of 55% members of DPO in social and sport activities on the local and national level. The CBR model initiated by MCNV was successfully documented and integrated into the rehabilitation policy by the Ministry of Health and replicated in other provinces.

Future plan

MCNV will apply the lessons learned in supporting PWD in new areas including the Northeast and the Mekong Delta. The program will focus on facilitating cooperation among stakeholders to ensure disability issues are integrated in the mainstream of society’s development. Specific projects will be designed for PWD and their organisations to improve their capacity in lobby and advocacy for the rights of PWD. MCNV also will strengthen its cooperation with Ministries and Institutions in development of disability – related human resources as well as in seeking evidence of cost – effectiveness that can be used for policies and decision making.

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