By Kiri Carter, ChildFund New Zealand
Hong Quang - carrying water
I’m in Vietnam because it’s a new partner country for New Zealand. I’m accompanying our programmes manager Michael Vujnovich and ChildFund New Zealand board member Lauren James who is on the committee that makes decisions about which programmes to fund.
Michael and Lauren are meeting with the ChildFund Vietnam team to discuss New Zealand and Vietnam working together, to talk about criteria, the sponsorship programme, proposed projects, measurement and evaluation – all the hard stuff.

My job is to learn and understand more about children’s experience of poverty in Vietnam so that I can help our team talk to potential sponsors and donors. I’m also collecting photos and children’s individual stories.
The office
Early next morning after a very full and intense day of meetings, we cram into a vehicle with our Vietnamese colleagues and set off for the newest ChildFund project area in Cao Bang, the northernmost province.

Out of Hanoi it’s flat but then we see the foothills swathed by clouds in the distance. As we meet the foothills we pass small plantations of tea and rice paddies. It has rained recently so there is water in places and the surrounding jungle is green. But ChildFund Vietnam’s Program Assistant Bui Van Dzung tells us that it has been dry and there is a problem getting water for crops. The small ponds and the greenery deceive us into thinking water is not a problem. But we can see the river that follows the road is very low.

For the first half of our journey the road winds through flat land surrounded by craggy jungle clad foothills. Here on the flat there is arable land that can be irrigated but as we climb higher it begins to disappear. Even if the hills were cleared it would not be possible to grow much of anything. The hills are steep to vertical in some places.

In the provincial city of Bac Kan we stop at a cafeteria for lunch which consists of spring rolls, deep fried taro and pork, steamed vegetables, soup and rice. I ask what people usually eat. Dzung tells me that people usually eat one vegetable, one meat and rice. Ms Ngo Hanh Lien, ChildFund Vietnam’s Grant Officer points out that is what well off people eat.

“In the communities that ChildFund works in there are several months in the year when no food is grown and families must forage in the jungle for food. Sometimes they find fruit but often they will just eat bamboo. They bring it back to cook and portion it out and that’s all they have,” says Hahn Lien.
The village of Hong Quang in Cao Bang
Back on the road we meet the hills and climb up them on narrow winding roads. In all it takes us eight hours to reach the provincial city of Cao Bang. The distance is another challenge for people living here. It means that certain supplies and materials are many miles away and not easily nor cheaply transported here.

Michael says it sounds easy to say ‘let’s fund the building of three schools’ but the cost can be prohibitive just because of the cost of transporting material and skilled labour. Even with the community pitching in with labour there is often still a need for a qualified tradesman in some parts of the building process.

There’s only time to eat dinner before settling down in our budget hotel. Tomorrow is the day we finally go out to the project areas and meet the communities ChildFund and New Zealanders will be supporting.

Stay tuned for the next post…

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