A stunning landscape of verdant rice paddies and lush green fields stretches as far as the eye can see, punctuated only by the many rivers and streams that dissect this part of the Mekong Delta.
Nguyen Van Thanh is home to some of the warmest, friendliest and most generous people I’ve ever met. They’re also some of the poorest! Our guest photographer Piers and I spent two days there with Minh and Thuyen from our Capital Projects Team and I can honestly say they were two of the most inspiring and humbling days of my life.
Unfortunately some families are unable to afford either bottled water or chemical water purifiers, so drinking the local stream water is their only option; 14 percent of the community’s under-six year olds have been identified as malnourished and some of the families we spoke to said that one or more family members had contracted water borne diseases in the past, causing serious illness and even fatalities. Young children are especially susceptible to these types of illnesses.
The solution is achingly simple. Individual rainwater tanks to collect rainwater – in abundant supply in the monsoon season - from the roof, sufficient to provide each home with a fresh water supply for up to several months. Installing these tanks has shown to have an immediate effect in reducing sickness and childhood mortality rates. It’s also a really inexpensive way to make a direct impact on children’s lives at around US$60 for each 1.5 cubic meter water tank.
The aim of the project is to provide fresh rainwater tanks and in doing so we are also able to identify those families whose living standards are well beneath any socially acceptable norm. Once these families have been identified CNCF works together with local partners to help these families improve their overall living conditions. Ultimately, this provides a better infrastructure and gives the children of these households a fighting chance for a better future.
The homes here are made of nothing more than wooden frames, flimsy straw roofs and bits of thrown-together plastic sheeting. Some of the homes have tiled floors but most do not. It rained heavily on the first day of our visit and the same mud that coated my trainers in a thick oily slick was the same used to make the floors to live on for most of the families we saw. It was baking hot, over 100 degrees in the shade, and the humidity was intense. Most of the homes we saw were thick with green mould.
For the most part the children sat quietly as Minh diligently worked her way through the assessment criteria. They followed her inquisitively as she walked around the house, assessing if the families actual living circumstances were consistent with the local partners assessment of either destitute or living on the verge of destitution. And they would then sit down to listen as Minh questioned the parents on issues such as family income, any history of illnesses and where and how they currently obtain their drinking water.
Each assessment took well over half an hour and by the time we were finished the children were more at ease in our presence. They were playful and noisy, just as you would expect of children their age. Excited to see the strange westerners and happy to have their photograph taken and see it on the camera screen.
I asked why the children were not in school and I was told it’s because the older ones stay home to look after their younger siblings while their parents are working in the fields.
You could see looking around the homes that the families who live here have next to nothing; a tatami mat to lie on or a raised wooden platform. A few items of clothing hung on hooks adorned the walls. Most of the homes were divided into two rooms to include a separate but rudimentary kitchen area. Some of the luckier ones had one or two household appliances but most did not.
The families here take great pride in the few things they have and most of the homes were spotless, despite the mud or broken tiled floor. They were also willing to share the very little they could, offering us fruit such as the locally grown lotus fruit and even bottled water; a luxury they could ill-afford and that we gracefully declined.
The people seem happy but scratch the surface and you see their desperation. One mother was fighting back the tears as she explained how sick her child had been recently. The little girl’s cough racked her body as she sat playing on the mud floor. Minh assured this mother that whatever happened, now she was on the CNCF radar, life was going to get a little easier for her and her child.
- A measurable improvement of the health of the community, particularly childhood illnesses.
- A significant reduction in medical costs which leads to an increase and stability in income levels.
It’s a simple, effective solution and it really doesn’t cost that much to make a huge impact on a whole community. As Senior Local Partner representative, Thuan Nguyen told me, “What the Christina Noble Children’s Foundation is doing here is truly amazing. It makes so much difference to the lives of the very poorest people in Vietnam.”
Find out more about our programmes in rural Vietnam here. Our simple online donations system makes it easy for you to join with us to help us combat rural poverty and give these children back their childhoods.