Ms. Quang Thi Kien, a 29-year-old Thai woman, used to be the leader of a Village Savings and Loan Association (VSLA) group of Phang 2, Muong Phang district, Dien Bien province. Talking about the InfoAct project implemented by CARE in Dien Bien, it is impossible not to mention Ms. Kien.
It was noon when the CARE crew arrived at Ms. Kien’s house. In the sweltering heat of June, and all Phang 2’s villagers were occupied with harvesting rice, Ms. Kien was still delighted to welcome us. Perhaps because she was the leader of a VSLA group and had spoken in front of women of the village, Ms. Kien showed no hesitation but confidence when being interviewed. By that, her challenging yet the full-of-hope journey was retold in a truly honest and emotional way.
A journey of change
Ms. Kien, please tell us the reason why you decided to follow the recommendations of the InfoAct project?
The approach of the project was very new to me, but I found what the teachers said during training sessions really reasonable. For example, when it was cold, we had to shield the seedlings to keep them healthy. Although I was not familiar with this method, I found it appropriate to follow.
I thought if I kept doing the old ways, my family’s living standard would never improve. While society was moving forward, I would stay disadvantaged and poor if I did not change. So no matter what, I wanted to follow the project’s advice for a try.
How did everyone react to your choice?
When I said I wanted to follow the project’s method, no one, even my family, believed me. My husband only agreed to let me try in our 600 out of 2,000 square meter piece of land. because he was afraid that we would have nothing to harvest if I failed in the whole farm area. When I went to harrow the field, no one joined me. My husband said it was my choice so I had to do it myself. At that time, I was very upset and worried, but as I had made up my mind, I would pursue it till the end.
Can you elaborate on the “new way” of the project that you followed?
It was reported there would be damaging cold weather that year. Hence, I decided to plant seedlings in my garden. I sewed on a small area so it was easy to take care of them. When it was cold, I also covered them with plastic bags following the project’s advice. When there was no plastic bag then I used cloths or sacks to cover the seedlings. As for other people, they kept sowing directly onto the fields. In such large areas, the people could not cover their seedlings, and they also did not think about doing so. I also kept my garden dry to avoid golden apple snails and to keep the seedling roots from being rotten.
At first, I was very nervous, I visited my garden all the time, even 3 – 4 times a day. I compared my rice plants to the surrounding ones to see whether mine were better, whether there were any pests and diseases, whether there was any need for pesticide. I visited the garden so often that a man from nearby had to ask “Why do you come here every single day?”
After so many days of nervousness following this “new way”, what was the result?
That year, the rice plants of many people died, while mine was still healthy because it was kept healthy since planted. People saw that I was successful, so they came for advice. First, I shared my experience with about more than 30 people in the VSLA group, then she talked to Phuong 2 Women’s Union of about more than 40 people. After that, I talked to 4 other villages. People followed my way. I was very proud.
Speaking of which, Ms. Kien had a big smile: “I took people to my field. After seeing it, a woman said “Yes, so it’s true! This will make our efforts worthy!” I was very proud. If I just say things, it is difficult for people to believe, because they do not know how effective it is, and they are too familiar with the old method. I have to do it, and will follow if they see good results.”
A message to the project
Thank you, Ms. Kien, for sharing your story. To end this interview, do you have anything you want to say to the project?
I am very thankful to the project for coming to our village, our family, you have helped improve our economy. I hope that even when the project ends, the newsletters will continue so that people can learn and improve their situation. I just wish this project would continue forever. That is my dearest wish.
The life ahead of Ms. Kien still has many challenges. Farmers who rely on the fields like her are always cautious because their rice may sometimes die from the cold, sometimes from the heat. It is this context, however, that makes Ms. Kien with a strong will to strive, and the InfoAct project came at the right time to support her. Ms. Kien’s story has become an inspiration not only for the people of Dien Bien but also for CARE to continue the project so that there can be more changes like in Ms. Kien’s case in the future.
The InfoAct project, or Information for adaptation in Vietnam, receives funding from the German Government. CARE implements it in Dien Bien with the Center for Community Development (CCD), and in Lai Chau with the provincial Department of Agriculture and Rural Development. The project aims at strengthening the livelihood and resilience of poor ethnic minority women and men in rural areas to climate change and climate shocks.