Brian Doolan, former Country Director

Brian Doolan (third from right, the first row) as Country Director of CARE International in Vietnam. The photo was taken in 1996, when the country office was located at 130A Thuy Khue, Ha Noi.

I arrived in Viet Nam in the middle of 1995 to take up the position of Country Director of CARE International in Viet Nam. I had no idea I would continue in that role until 2002 (with a break in 1999). 

Within a short time I had learnt that some people in the northern mountains were eating tree bark to survive through winter, that HIV/AIDS was viewed by most people as a problem for foreigners and prostitutes but not for Vietnamese people, and that the nation under the policy of “Doi Moi” was seeking to integrate with the global economy while maintaining its strong Socialist foundation – a goal one senior political leader described to me as “Market Socialism”. “What is Market Socialism?” I asked him, to which he replied “We are not sure, but we will work it out!” And through the last years of the 20th Century and into the 21st Century, they did!

My memories of CARE International in Viet Nam are of people – the staff who worked in our offices and on projects across the country, from Phu Quoc and U Minh Thuong in the south to Son La in the northern mountains and Hai Phong on the northern coast, and with fishing communities in Quang Ngai, and veterans in Quang Tri, and in many other provinces. 

I remember the many wonderful people working in our partner organisations, in PACCOM and VUFO, in the Women’s Union, the Youth Union and other mass organisations, in People’s Committees at Province and District levels. And I recall our close collaborations with other international organisations such as Oxfam, Save the Children, ActionAid and others, and our cross border and regional collaborations with CARE in Cambodia, Laos and Thailand.

And of course the people we met in the many projects we implemented. I remember the farmers in Ha Bac (now Bac Giang) who used dye to colour their chickens green, pink and blue (one of the staff tried to convince me they were born that colour!); the people who had lost their homes and businesses as a result of floods and typhoons; the commercial sex workers we reached out to on the streets and in prisons in order to promote safe sex and avoid HIV/AIDS and other diseases; the injecting drug users who trusted our staff and shared their stories so others could learn from their experience; the wonderful women in the many micro-credit groups we supported across Viet Nam.

I remember the water tower we constructed in An Giang province so people sheltering on the levee banks after a flood could have a source of fresh water. And the hospital boat we launched on the Mekong which could access tributaries and provide medical assistance to isolated communities.

I remember our staff and partners at VTV arguing furiously as they developed Vietnam’s first 30 episode television soap opera – ”Wind Blows Through Dark and Light”. Oh what a struggle that was. I remember our first interventions to support factory workers, mostly young women migrating to urban areas and earning a wage for the first time in their life.

Over the years I was Country Director in Viet Nam, we probably implemented over a hundred various projects, all of them seeking to build local capacity to sustain the efforts. Our staff developed initiatives with partners in areas such as agriculture and natural resource management, small enterprise assistance, micro finance, health, HIV/AIDS prevention and education, and of course disaster prevention and response. As an organisation, and as a team, we learned and we grew. 

I remember the support from our friends and partners in CARE Australia, Japan, France, Denmark, Germany, Austria and USA. 

And I remember long road trips, boat trips, and nights when we were honoured to stay in rough little hotels and guest houses in remote communities. 

I married the love of my life while we were in Viet Nam, our daughter spent her first years in Viet Nam, and I will forever be grateful to our colleagues and friends in CARE Viet Nam for the privilege of working as part of that fabulous team. 

Oh, and we laughed a lot!

Kindest regards,

Brian Doolan