Being members of the VSLA group in Na Kham village, Mr. Ly Hong Hai and his wife, Mrs. Ha Thi Quy, are happy to have a sum of money for every lunar new year, known as Tet in Vietnam, and for their oldest daughter to pay for the college.

Located in Na Kham village, Thanh Van commune, Cho Moi district, Bac Kan province (Vietnam), the wooden stilt house of Mr. Hai, 62 years old, and Mrs. Quy, 53 years old, is empty, showing no sign of any valuable furniture. Their second daughter suffers from cerebral palsy and must rely on them for every daily activity. Their other two daughters are still in their school and college years. It has been a long time since Mr. Hai himself graduated from the University of Commerce and worked at the Provincial Procuratorate. An accident ruined one of his eyes, forcing him to retire early in 1996. Since then, he has earned a living by farming.

Doing housework and making decisions together, the couple feels much happier. Photo: Do Truong Son/CARE

Small changes

The poverty in Na Kham village is visible. The village road has not been concretised as in most others. The majority of villagers has few opportunities to earn a better living.

Mr. Hai and his wife started to plant bananas in 2004. Six years later, in a CARE’s project jointly implemented by ADC, Mr. Hai became the leader of a group working on moving cattle and plantation into more sustainable livelihoods. The family’s income improved from about 1 million dong per month in 2010, or 45 USD, to 2-3 million dong, or 85-130 USD, in recent years.

Yet, the biggest change happened when WEAVE, the short name of the Australia-funded Women’s Economic Empowerment through Agricultural Value Chain Enhancement project, started in their village. In this project, CARE works with ADC and the local authorities to help farmers, in particular ethnic minority women, improve the banana quality, process it into different products such as banana chips, and connect them to wider markets beyond the commune.

Under the project, Ms. Quy joined Na Kham Village Savings and Loan Association (VSLA) in 2017. This was the first time she had got the opportunity to learn how to save money, how to plan daily business, and how to share domestic work with her husbands and children. Moreover, the group saving activities helped her put aside an amount of money by the end of each year, which proved to be practical and useful. In their meetings twice a month, the group members save money and share experiences about any topics of their interest, mostly about farming or gender equality. The share is valued only at 20,000 dong, or less than one US dollar. Though modest, the mutual fund and saved money really help its members out at difficult times.

“I felt very happy after joining the group. I was able to connect with other women in the village. All our savings are distributed at the end of the year, so everyone was excited. If I leave my little saving at home, I can take it out at any time. In VSLA, our money is put in a locked safe, so we are very confident.”

Mrs. Ha Thi Quy.

According to Mrs. Quy, most of the 23 members used group’s loans to buy breeds and fertilisers or to hire people for clearing the soil for plantation. She and her husband also borrowed from the VSLA mutual fund four times to support their daughter who is in college.

“That is the money we all put in, everyone can borrow from it; it’s easy to borrow and pay back. We make it simple so I feel very comfortable. At times when we need some money urgently, it’s inconvenient to borrow from neighbours as they also don’t have much”.

Mrs. Ha Thi Quy.

When husband and wife join minds and hands

A year later than his wife, in 2018, Mr. Hai also joined the village VSLA group. Since then, he has taken her to meetings by motorbike. Through the common activities, the couple got to know each other much more after years of living together. For Mrs. Quy’s part, she is more involved in making decisions in the family.

“What kind of rice seeds to buy, how many pigs and chicken to raise – that is my decision. When we need to buy something valuable for the family, my husband also consulted me, then we discussed and listened to each other,” said Mrs. Quy while Mr. Hai helped her prepare lunch and talked to the daughter who was sitting still by the window.

“We the men here are ethnic [minority] people but we are very supportive of our wives to take part in CARE activities so that they can improve their capacity, know how to plan and support their husbands in family work, and have more autonomy.”

Mr. Ly Hong Hai.

During the first year joining the project in 2017,  Mrs. Quy saved about 1.5 million dong of shares. It became bigger when both she and her husband became VSLA members. She thought the practical benefits of the VSLA group made her feel motivated, saying she’d raise more chickens and sell more meat and eggs to buy more shares.

“I will try to earn more for my children to go to school and become successful,” said Mrs. Quy.

Mr. Hai and Mrs. Quy at their house. Photo: Do Truong Son/CARE