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Business Start-up Program

December 2016/March 2017

Coir Spinning Machines

We only had requests for 49 spinning machines this year, which we filled, along with starter supplies of coconut husk fiber to be spun into rope.  We have now distributed 1,789 spinners to people who use them to earn income from home.

Taking a spinner home
Taking a spinner home
Spinner and 88 pounds of coir
Spinner and 88 pounds of coir

This very popular and successful program, now in its 11th year, is winding down and this will be our last year.  Why?  Technology.  There are automated machines that can spin the coir into rope much faster than the hand fed machines that we've been distributing. More importantly, they make a more uniform rope, and this higher quality rope is in more demand than that from our machines. So, there is less demand for our product and hence lower profit.  The town that asked for 49 this year is farther from the district center than some of the other towns and there is still demand from recipients, even though they know that profit will be less than before.

The price of the automated machines has been falling. They are now less than $2,000 and there are people who can afford that. To see if this had potential for us we visited two places, one family that has one machine, and one that has five. What we found is probably typical. The family that had one machine sometimes rents it out to others, and the one with five has employees. We thought about buying a machine for a town or hamlet and making it available for free to all residents but Phuong's brother pointed out that with many users and no owner the machine would not be maintained well and eventually would fall into disrepair, and be discarded or not used at all. 

So, what about the money we budgeted for spinners but didn’t use?   We’ve used it for additional infrastructure projects and fired up our clean water program again.  See the reports for those programs for details.

December 2015/March 2016

Coir Spinning Machines

Were now in our tenth year of this very successful and popular program, and counting the 228 we distributed this year, we have now given 1,740 spinners, almost all to women, enabling them to earn an income while at home. This is especially important to women with young children, and to older people who cant get out to do more strenuous work. Our cost this year, including 40kg (88lbs) of raw material to get each of them started, was $50.52 per recipient. We get great bang for our buck here. For fifty bucks we give a family a way to earn immediate income and materially improve their lives.


Video | taking the coir home

Video | Taking spinners home by cart and motorbike

taking a spinner home by bicycle
Video | Taking a spinner home by bicycle
carrying the coir
Video | Carrying the coir

hauling a spinner on a bicycle isn't easy!
Video | Hauling a spinner on a bicycle isn't easy!


November 2014/February 2015

44 pound bundles of coir ready to distribute
44 pound bundles of coir ready to distribute

Coir Spinning Machines

We are now in our ninth year of this very successful program that gives poor women an opportunity to earn immediate income while staying at home. This is especially important to women with young children who do not have another family member to care for them, and to old people who find it difficult to get out and do more demanding work.

Coconut trees are ubiquitous in Ben Tre province, where we do most of our work, and all parts of the tree are used for something. Coir, the fibrous husk of the coconut, has two uses. One is to grind it up and use it as a planting medium. The other is to shred it and then spin it into rope, which can be sold. This is where Vietnam Project comes in.

We have spinning machines built by a local business, and give them to poor families recommended to us by local government along with a starter supply of 88 pounds (2 twenty kilogram bundles) of coir. Many of the recipients already know how to spin the coir. Others learn from friends and neighbors. It takes about two weeks to learn how to make product that can be sold.

On this trip we distributed 201 machines, bringing us to a total of 1,512. Our cost, including the spinning machine and starter supply of raw material, was $51.31 per recipient. Just over 50 bucks gives a family a way to earn money to help themselves.

Taking a spinning machine home.
Taking a spinning machine home.
Taking the coir home.
Taking the coir home.


November 2013/February 2014

Coir spinning machines

Taking a spinning machine home.
Taking a spinning machine home.

This very popular and successful program, now in its eighth year, allows poor women to earn immediate income while working at home.  For just over fifty bucks we give a family a way to help themselves.

We distributed 261 machines this year, bringing our total to 1,311.  Twenty of them went to the Ben Tre Provincial Association for the Blind, to use for teaching blind people throughout the province.   A pilot program last year had good results.  Each recipient also received a starter supply of coir – coconut husk fiber – of 88 pounds (two 20 kilogram bundles) to get them started.

Up to now we have concentrated on giving machines to women officially classified as poor (income less than $19 per month per family member) and near poor (income less than $25 per month per family member).  We have now given machines to all the poor and near poor that want them in several towns, and will be giving machines to those “living in difficult circumstances.”  There is still plenty of demand.

Our cost, including spinning machine with electric motor and starter supply of raw material:  $51.72 per recipient.  The cost of the machines has not gone up for several years.  The cost of coir varies, so our cost per recipient changes a bit each year.

Loading the coir and spinners on boat for delivery home.
Loading the coir and spinners on boat for delivery home.
Taking the coir home.
Taking the coir home.


November 2012/February 2013

Coir spinning machines

Spun rope is loaded on truck.
Spun rope is loaded on truck.

We are now in our seventh year of this very popular and successful program which allows poor women to earn immediate income while staying at home.  Although we have had recipients as old as 86, it is especially helpful to women who must be at home to care for young children.

This year we found that the Ben Tre Provincial Association for the Blind, using borrowed spinning machines, was conducting a class to teach 20 blind or severely visually impaired people to use them.  We gave spinning machines to the 18 people who were able to use them, and we promised 20 machines to the association next year so they can conduct training classes in other parts of the province.  We also promised that if we have adequate funding we will give machines to all who can learn to use them.

We distributed 238 machines this year, bringing our total to 1,050.  Each recipient also received a starter supply of coir – coconut husk fiber – of 88 pounds (two 20 kilogram bundles) to get them started.

Our cost, including spinning machine with electric motor and starter supply of raw material:  $50.56 per recipient.

Taking the coir home Coir bundles are delivered Blind people learning
to spin coir
Classroom for blind people
to learn to spin coir

December 2011/February 2012

Noodle shop update

We stopped by to see how Mr. E (yes, E is his full name) and Mrs. Be were doing with their noodle shop, which we funded four years ago.  Business is good, and as it was early morning we had a bowl of banh canh (thick noodles made with rice and tapioca flour).  E refused payment, saying that we had given him and his family a future.

Coir spinning machines

The spinning machines are delivered by truck
The spinning machines are delivered by truck.

We are now six years into this very successful program and the demand continues to increase because it gives poor women a way to earn money immediately without having to go out of the house or having to depend on others to provide occasional work.  Also, each woman can work as much or as little as she wants.

Coconut trees are ubiquitous in Ben Tre province, and all parts of the trees and fruit are used in some way.  The fibrous husk of the coconut – the coir - is spun into rope and used to make floor mats and other products.  There is local and foreign demand for the rope and after it is spun it is easily sold.

Phuong had a great idea before we left on this trip.  Up to now we had been making machines that two people could use simultaneously, as many households have more than one person who can do this work.  There are also many households that only have one person, so we ordered almost half of the machines this time as singles.  This saved us $775. 

We also got a new builder, as our other builder increased his price more than we thought reasonable.  The new machines, like the old ones, are high quality and the builder writes his phone number on each one so the recipient can call him if there is any problem with the machine.

People arrive at the town offices to pick up their machines
People arrive at the town offices to pick up their machines.
Ready to take the coir home
Ready to take the coir home.

We distributed 296 machines, 125 of them singles, and have now given these spinning machines to 812 people.  Ten of the machines went to families of the blind so they could work at home and take care of their blind relative.  Each recipient also got 50 kilograms (110 pounds) of raw material – coir – to get them started.

We have advance requests for 200 machines for the next trip, and we expect to get more. 

Our cost:  $16,227, a little under $55 each to give a family a way to earn an income.


November 2010/February 2011

Coir spinning machines

We are going full speed ahead with this very popular program, which allows recipients to earn an income immediately. In addition, this work supports a local builder and his employees who make the machines for us.

Business 2011
Coir spinning machines ready for distribution
Business 2011
Delivering coir bundles by boat

Business 2011
Taking the spun coir to sell



Each recipient – most referred by the local Peoples Committees, some found by us – gets a coir (coconut husk fiber) spinning machine with an electric motor and 154 pounds of raw material to get them started. Why 154 pounds? Our new coir supplier packs it in 70 kilogram (154 pounds) bundles which makes for easy distribution.

We gave machines to 178 people, and already have requests for 200 more for our next trip.

Our cost: $9,514, a little over $50 to give a family a way to earn an income.


Business 2011
On the way to a new home

Cows

We bought cows for four families. Our cost per cow was $281, slightly less than we paid last year.

Follow up: Last year we gave a cow to a couple who were both chronically ill. He has died, and she was unable to take care of the cow alone, so she returned it to the Peoples Committee who gave it to another poor family.



November/December 2009

Spinning machines
The start of a new career
Field of coconut husk fiber
Cocunut husk fiber

Coir spinning machines

We bought 101 coir spinning machines and gave them to people in two towns. Why 101? We had pre-ordered 100 machines, planning to give them to 50 people in each town. After distributing the first 50, one woman remained, asking why she wasnt on the list we received from the Peoples Committee. Miss Phung, mid 50s, blind in one eye, cares for her two aging parents. She lived about a block away, so we went to her house to check out her circumstances. We ordered a machine for her immediately, and also repaired her roof for $97.

As usual, we gave each recipient 100 kilograms of coir shredded coconut husk fiber to get them started. We got two price estimates for the coir which we thought were high, so we went to the factory and ordered it directly

Our total cost: $5,867, about $58 to give a family a way to earn income immediately. These machines are very popular and we plan to order another 100 for the next trip if we have adequate funding

Cows

We bought one cow for a husband and wife in their mid 40s, both chronically ill. They cannot work regularly but are able to collect grass for the cow. Their two kids, 19 and 26, work in a factory in Saigon and send money home to help.

Our cost: $295.


January/February 2009


Coir spinning machine factory

Coir spinning machines

The coir spinning machines have been our biggest success in giving people a way to earn money.  The cost of the raw material – coconut husk fiber – was down this time so our cost of getting a family started with a machine and 100 kilos of coir was only $52.47.  We provide additional support to the local economy by having the machines built at a local woodshop that employs several people.


Rope ready to sell

We distributed machines to 100 people.  The local TV showed up and did a news story of us giving machines to 50 people in Hung Khanh Trung.

If we have adequate funding, we plan to order 100 more machines on the next trip as we have had many requests for them.

Cows

We gave cows to three families, one in Thanh Binh and two in Thanh Ngai, all of them poor and happy to have a cow.  Our cost was $344 per cow, slightly less than last September.

August/September 2008


Proud owners of a new spinning machine

Coir spinning machines

These machines have proved extremely popular with our recipients. Because we provide 100 kilos of raw material – coconut husk fiber – with each machine, people can begin earning money immediately.

We pre-ordered 60 machines and all 60 were there when we arrived. We distributed 2 in Nhuan Phu Tan, 7 in Hung Khanh Trung, 13 in Thanh An and 38 in Phuoc My Trung and have many requests for our next trip.

The cost for the coconut husk fiber was a little high when we arrived so we waited for about a month until it went down. Our cost per family including machine and raw material was $57.33, slightly lower than in January as we got a better price on the raw material.

Cows

We gave cows to 5 families, 4 in Phuoc My Trung and 1 in Thanh Ngai.

We originally went to see the Hoang family in Thanh Ngai about building a house for them, but their house looked like it would be okay for a few more years.

The dad, 41 years old, is disabled, having lost one leg in the war with Cambodia. The mom and 18 year old daughter do occasional field work or whatever is available. The 13\ year old son is in middle school. Because this family has very low income, we wanted to help them. They were very happy to receive a cow.

Each cow cost us $362. Although this is up $69 per cow from our last trip, the higher price is good news for the many people we have given cows to in the past when they have offspring to sell.

Noodle soup shop UPDATE

In January we got Nguyen Van E and Nguyen Thi Be started in a noodle soup shop business. This business has been very successful and their standard of living has improved.


December 2007/January 2008

Coir spinning machines

This is our third time around giving coconut husk fiber spinning machines to poor families.  It is a very popular program because our recipients can begin earning money immediately.  It also allows us to help people who do not live on a road that has enough foot/bicycle/motorbike traffic to support a small business.

Spinning machines being delivered by boat

A new business begins
















The 2008 model has been rolled out.  Our first venture, summer 2006, we had machines built of all metal.  In the spring of 2007, because of the rapid increase in the price of metal, we ordered part metal/part wood machines.  These did not prove as sturdy as we would like.  We have now found a new shop to make them in another town and we have them delivered by boat.  The new model is all wood, very sturdy, smooth spinning and getting good reviews from the users.  And, as a bonus, they cost us less than the older ones.

We had 35 built and distributed 6 in Tan Phu Tay and 29 in Phuoc My Trung, along with the usual 100 kilos of raw material to each family to get them started.  Our cost per family: $61.00.

Noodle soup shop


New noodle soup shop
We were introduced to Nguyen Van E and Nguyen The Be, both in their 50’s, by Miss Hong, our bookseller and scout.  They live in a compassion house, similar to the ones we build, which was built by funds solicited in Saigon by a monk at the local pagoda.  Their 28 year old son has cancer.  They formerly were getting by on their own but had to sell all of their assets for medical care for their son.  They are experienced at running a noodle shop but had no money to get one started.

The local dentist offered them space fronting the main street of Phuoc My Trung and we bought them two display cases, two large pots, plastic tables and chairs, bowls, spoons, chopsticks, table accessories and condiments, and gave them money to buy meat, noodles and veggies for their first day of business.  They were open at 4:00am the next day and the business was an immediate success.  They average about $5.00 profit a day.  Our total cost to set them up in business was $243.00

Cows

We gave cows to 10 families, one in Vinh Hoa and three each in Tan Phu Tay, Phu Son and Phuoc My Trung.  Our average cost per cow was $293, down from $344 last spring.


March/April 2007


Women arrive to pick up their coir spinning machines.

The project we started last summer, providing coir (coconut husk fiber) spinning machines to poor women has been a resounding success.  All but one of the women are using the machines and earning money.  One decided against it and her machine was given to another woman.

And, the word has spread.  While we were distributing rice in the town of Hoa Loc, a Women’s Union representative asked if we would give machines to women in her hamlet, Hoa Thuan 1.  We immediately agreed and ordered 20 machines.  Because the price of metal has increased rapidly, we had the frames for these machines made part metal and part wood.  As last time, we gave each woman 100 kilograms of start up material.  Our total cost per person was about $80.

We also bought cows for nine families.  After increasing rapidly with the bird flu scare, the price per cow is now down to $344.


July/August 2006

Our business start-up program has been particularly successful this trip.


A new beginning
Coconut trees are ubiquitous in Ben Tre province, and all parts of the trees and fruit are used in some way.  The fibrous husk is spun into rope and used to make floor mats and other products.  We had a local metal smith custom make 22 spinning machines with electric motors, and gave them to 22 families.  We also gave each family 100 kilograms of coconut husk fiber to get them started.  Our cost to set up a family with a way to earn money:  about $70.  See the letter dated August 25th, 2006 in the Dispatches section for more details about this project.  We plan to expand this program on our next trip.


Picking up the coconut husk fiber








We also bought cows for five families at a cost of $400 per cow – a little less than we paid last time.  The price is down because there is some hoof and mouth disease in the country now so demand has been reduced.






January/February 2006

We purchased cows for twelve families – four in Phuoc My Trung, four in Thanh An, three in Tan Phu Tay and one in Nhuan Phu Tan – all recommended by the Peoples Committee in each town.  Our average cost per cow was $424.


The Thanh family
We were also able to help the Thanh family start a bicycle/motorbike repair business.  They were introduced to us by one of the teachers at the high school who also acts as a social worker.  He noticed that one of the grade 11 girls, Thuy, was in very difficult circumstances and went to investigate. 

Thuy’s parents, Thanh and Ut, are 52 and 49.  There are five kids age 6 to 15, all in school.  The home is small, dirt floor, two beds, with 1000 square meters of land on which they grow some fruits and vegetables.  Their income is from spinning coconut fiber into twine which they then sell.  They have five foot-pedal powered machines and can earn about sixty five cents per week per machine.  They make a little extra money by selling fruit and vegetables at the front of their house.  Their situation was pretty grim –  not enough money for school fees, barely enough to eat. 


Loading the compressor

The good news is that their house is on a main road and Mr. Thanh is an experienced bicycle/motorbike mechanic.

Much of the income of a small repair shop in rural areas comes from fixing flat tires and washing motorbikes.  We bought him a used compressor, water pump and pressure regulator.  They were delivered free of charge by a truck driver as an act of charity.  We also built a cement platform at the front of his house as a work area and had a sign made.  Our best guess is that he will have an income of about $2.00 per day from this business.


Thanh's oldest daughter spinning coconut twine





We also bought the family one electric spinning machine for the coconut husk fiber for about $31.00.  With the electric machine they can produce as much twine in a day as they can in a week on the foot powered machines.  Our total cost to help this family produce more income for themselves was $531.






July/August 2005


Board member Raphiel Benjamin crossing a monkey bridge to visit the home of a cow recipient
This continues to be a challenging area for us.  In rural Mekong Delta the enterprise of choice is raising cows.  The price of a cow went up to about $450, but our cow buyer was able to find cows for $382, about the same as we paid early this year.  He did, however, have to travel further to find good cows at a price we wanted to pay.  The good news is that people for whom we have previously bought cows can sell the offspring at an excellent profit.  We continue to look for alternative income producing ventures.

Phuoc My Trung

Purchased cows for four families recommended by the Peoples Committee.

Thanh An

Purchased cows for three families recommended by the Peoples Committee.


January/February 2005


Board member Phuong selects a cow
This has become the most challenging part of our work.  Our goal is to help poor families start income producing enterprises.  Because most of our work is in rural areas, raising animals is usually the enterprise of choice and for the last couple of trips cows have been the animal of choice.  The price of a cow has risen dramatically in the last year.  In 1993 we were paying under $200 for a cow.  In 1994 this was up to about $230 and the cost of a cow now in the Mekong Delta is about $390.  This means we can’t help as many families and we continue to look for, and occasionally find, other income producing enterprises suitable to our recipients.  On a brighter note, we have solidified a relationship with a new volunteer associate in Hue, Mr. Cu, and with his assistance have purchased and donated a cow at a cost of $203.  We have asked him to recommend other recipients to us.

Le Thi Doi gets a cow!

Phuoc My Trung

Purchased cows for three families recommended by the Peoples Committee.

Thanh An

Purchase cows for three families recommended by the Peoples Committee.

Thuy Bang   (Hue)

We purchased a cow for Ms. Le Thi Doi, at the recommendation of Mr. Cu.  She is 60 years old and lives alone in a rural area outside Hue.  She makes a minimal living, usually but not always enough to buy rice, by going into the forest and gleaning wood splinters with sap which woodcutters leave.  She then sells these at market as firestarter.  She was delighted to receive a cow, and her neighbors built a shelter for the cow and have offered their land for grazing.


June/July 2004

We have assisted 10 families in starting income producing enterprises. As we are working in a rural area, the choice is pretty much limited to raising livestock unless the family lives in town or on a road that has a fair amount of traffic. We offered them the choice of cows or pigs and all 10 families chose cows. Because of the bird flu epidemic at the beginning of the year, beef has become more expensive, and the cows now cost more and are harder to find. The last one was purchased just before we left in July.

Each cow cost $3,600,000 VND, about $230.00. This includes about $3.00 for our cow buyer (Phuong's brother) and $3.00 for transportation to our recipients' homes.

Phuoc My Trung

Eight families, seven recommended by the Peoples Committee and one recommended by Miss Hong, our book supplier. The one recommended by Miss Hong is the one I mentioned with the 14 year old developmentally disabled daughter. As a side benefit, it turns out the the girl has developed a great affection for the cow and spends hours with it every day.

Thanh An

Two families recommended by the Peoples Committee.

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