Last year we took an initial foray into rural infrastructure development – improving village roads, trails and small bridges. After focusing on the individual and family since our inception, we thought we could make very efficient use of some of our money doing some community based work. Our idea was to identify projects, offer to buy the materials, and get volunteer labor from those directly benefiting from the project. Our first two small test projects were successful, and this year we’ve decided to make this a regular part of our work.
On the current trip we built one concrete road and improved two village trails. The biggest of the three projects was replacing 200 meters of dirt trail with a concrete road 2.5m wide and 10cm thick. Because this project came in well under budget we were able to do an additional 84m of connecting trail and resurface a small connecting bridge.
These road and trail projects are especially appreciated by the communities. At the dedication ceremony for the road the leadership of the town and district showed up, as well as two representatives from the province. There was a short spot on the provincial TV news as well. Our cost for this project was $2,915.
A problem with some existing trails is water. Ben Tre is an island province at the mouth of the Mekong with an average elevation of 5 feet. It is mostly rural and laced with canals, which fill and empty twice a day with the tides. On the new and full moons when the tides are high many trails flood, making them difficult and sometimes dangerous, especially for kids who use them to get to school. Improvement consists of building up banks on the sides of the trails with mud from adjacent canals, and then filling them and raising the height by pumping in silt which is dredged from the annual flooding of the Mekong. This silt self levels and forms a hard durable surface. In one case we spent $530 to bring in enough silt to improve about 300 meters of trail which directly benefited about 30 families, and in another case a town had almost enough to do a trail improvement benefiting about 20 families, and we shared the project with them, adding $132 for silt.