December 2019 - February 2020
Phuong Linh came by with her mom to give us an update and to let us know how she is doing, and she is doing very well.
She is now halfway through the third year of a four year program studying food processing. Her overall GPA is 3.28, and last semester it was 3.58. The emphasis in her studies this year is food processing machinery. Next year it will be ingredients and product.
Food processing is a major industry in Vietnam and it will be easy for her to find good paying work.
This is a classic case of education taking a family out of poverty.
Tai stopped by to give us lunar new year greetings and an update on his school progress. He is our other active scholarship recipient and is half way through his third year studying civil engineering. He has grades of B or B+ in all his classes. We are not familiar with job prospects in Vietnam for his field, but he tells us they are good.
Thy has completed her Master’s degree with honors and is working full time at an English language center in Can Tho, the largest city in the Mekong Delta. When she came by for her annual visit she brought a surprise with her - her husband. We’ve had a running conversation since her first year in university. We ask her if she has a boyfriend yet and she answers “no, not yet.” She apologized for the small deception telling us that she was worried we might think she was not paying attention to her studies. No worries there - she has excelled scholastically every step of the way.
We have had a very successful arrangement with VinaCapital Foundation, our partner in arranging heart surgery for children, for ten years. We bring them $1200 and a child and they make all the arrangements for the surgery and followup care. We usually don’t find enough kids in our local area, so we fund as many surgeries as we are able and ask them to make arrangements for the most urgent kids on their waiting list. This year we helped 15 children, bringing our total to 70. Nine of them were operated at University Medical Center in Saigon, and six were at Hoan My Hospital in Da Nang, all with good outcomes.
On this trip we learned two very interesting things. The first was from Dr. Dinh, chief of cardiac surgery at University Medical Center in Saigon. He told us that without surgery, most of these kids wouldn’t live through their teens. We had a sense of this before, but this is the first time we heard it from someone with direct knowledge.
The other interesting item came from Rad Kivette, CEO of VinaCapital Foundation. He told us that most of the families of these children are able to escape poverty after their child has surgery. When the children recover from the surgery and no longer require full time care, the moms are able to go to work.
Here are reports on each of the children and their family situations, written for us by VinaCapital foundation staff.
And here’s something for those of you who would like more detail about each child’s surgery.
The need for shelter that will keep the weather out is not as acute as it used to be. You can see from the “before” photos that it is still out there, but we have to look harder to find it now. So, we’re taking a more passive approach and only doing the urgent ones. We built three houses this trip, two that were in danger of collapse and one that burned. Here’s one of them.
Front view again. Yes, it really is leaning over.
The occupants are a man about 40, and his son, about 15. The boy is in grade 10. The mom abandoned the family about two years ago. The man is a little slow and is unable to work. Neighbors give them rice. When we asked him his age he just looked at us and didn’t answer. A little later his mom wandered over from next door and when we asked her his age she just shrugged.The house is just as bad inside as outside. It’s a good project for us.
This year we received more requests than usual for rice. There are two main reasons, both affecting the local economy.
The second reason is that the “salty water” has come early this year. Ben Tre, where we do most of our work, is an Island province at the northern part of the Mekong Delta. The average elevation of the province is 1.5 m, about 5 feet above sea level. Where there are not rivers and streams, there are canals. Because we are close to the South China Sea, these canals fill and empty twice a day with the tides. During the rainy season, the rain and the heavy flow of the Mekong keep the water in the canals fairly fresh, although not very clean. When the monsoon season ends and the Mekong slows down, salt water slowly moves inland. Coconut trees tolerate this reasonably well, and that’s one of the reasons they are ubiquitous here. Other plants do not do as well. Flowers that have been planted to sell for Tet sometimes do not develop. Many vegetables do not do well.
Fruiting trees, which people depend on for food and for product to sell for income, do not fruit as well, sometimes not at all. Chickens and ducks, commonly raise for food and also to sell, die or do not flourish. Each of these effects results in less money circulating in the local economy.
We bought more than 25 tons of rice and had it delivered from a neighboring province. It comes in 50kg sacks, and we repackage it in 15kg (33lb) portions for distribution. We distributerdf it to 1,530 people, including 130 blind and severely visually impaired. In addition, we arranged for seven families in extremely difficult circumstances to receive 15kg of rice per month for one year. Our cost was 21.6 cents per pound, about the same as we paid last year, and about one third the cost in the U.S.
More of our rice recipients:
The tanks are delivered to our distribution points by truck from the factory in another province. We usually distribute them at the town offices, sometimes at a school, occasionally at a pagoda.
Clean water is an ongoing problem in rural areas of Ben Tre province as it is in many parts of Viet Nam. It has been exacerbated by drought in recent years and by 11 dams built on the upper Mekong from 1991 - 2020. Most of our recipients get their water from the ubiquitous canals, but it is contaminated and they must buy chemicals to treat it. Additionally, the dams on the upper Mekong reduce the river’s flow and this allows salt water from the South China Sea to come further inland.
The best source of clean water is rain, but that only comes in monsoon season, and our recipients cannot afford storage containers. This is our fourth year distributing 1000 liter plastic storage tanks. This year we distributed 526, bringing our total to 1,262. These tanks cost us $64 each, and it’s the best way we’ve found to improve the quality of a family’s life at a very small cost. This is now our number one expenditure, and we plan to continue this on our next trip.
The sign says The Women’s Union of the town of Dinh Thuy and The Viet Nam Project give water tanks to the poor and near poor families of this town.
Poor and near poor are official government classifications based on income. Income of less than $19 per month per family member gets a classification as poor.