Urban Projects in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Vietnam
Locations: Go Vap District, Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Vietnam.
Date: 12th December 2006 - 13th December 2006
Despite getting in late on a flight from Hanoi on Monday, we were up at 7am to visit the War Remnants Museum in the centre of Ho Chi Minh. The
horrors of war are graphically depicted through stark photography in an unfortunately one-sided, no-holds-barred approach. Afterwards, we made our
way to the ActionAid office in the Go Vap District of the city again in the company of Ms. Van. Here we met other members of the ActionAid staff and
discussed the 5 main themes that are being worked on in this area.
Food Security: Most of the people involved in the city project are migrant workers who have come to the city from remote villages seeking work. The
Go Vap area is a run down and therefore cheap area of the city to rent accommodation. There is also alot of industrial estates in the area where migrants
workers seek employment and live on the sites. ActionAid operate a Micro-Credit scheme here similar to that in the northern areas to allow people to set
up small business selling bread, fruit or other items. They also provide training for the scheme members on how to best invest the money and make
profits. The scheme ideally gives sex workers an alternative employment and has been in operation since 2003.
Education: The education schemes in the city are mainly aimed at migrant children who are often forced to work during the day to provide money for the
family. The children who can be seen selling chewing gum, postcards or lottery tickets on the streets are often migrant children. Some also work as maids
or cleaners in cafes and restaurants. They do not work in garment factories because they do not have the skills required. The working children can attend
free evening classes in the locality. Other work under this theme includes funding improvements in local school infrastructure, scholarships for HIV affected
other disadvantaged children and the running of 4 counselling centres in local schools to advise children on various issues.
HIV/AIDS: ActionAid set up groups for sex workers to educate them on protection from HIV and provide support for medical treatment, especially
mothers - there is now a drug available which reduces the risk of transferring HIV to offspring to 30%. Other work fronts include financial support to
families for funerals resulting from AIDS deaths, provision of a milk alternative to breast-feeding for HIV negative children of HIV positive mothers,
testing for HIV and the creation of peer groups for monthly gatherings. These gatherings are also used to discuss other issues such as domestic violence,
trafficking of women and children, life skills etc.
Gender: ActionAid work with the government labour department and trade unions to protect the rights of workers, mainly women in garment factories.
The law has a 8 hour day working limit and a minimum wage but this is commonly flaunted. They also organise seminars with local business leaders on
labour issues such as Vietnams entry to the World Trade Organisation.
Capacity Building: This area includes the training of ActionAid staff, training for relatives of drug-users or HIV positive people on medical care and
alternative education activities for working children e.g. drama and music.
Later, we went to the home of a woman - Ms Sun - who was a member of the Micro-Credit scheme. One of her sons had died from HIV contracted
through drug use and his wife was in prison for drug-dealing leaving Ms Sun to care for her young grand-daughter. Previously, she worked wrapping
candy. This labourious task earned her 20,000 dong (1.2$) a day. Using a 1.5 million dong loan from ActionAid, she set up a business selling freshly
made bread from a trolley. This work earns her 30-40,000 dong a day for 6 hours and she still wraps candy in the evenings. The loan is being repaid
through a closely monitored account whereby 62,000 dong is repaid every week and 14,000 is invested in the group savings fund. This allows 24 weeks
to repay the loan, after which another can be applied for. The Micro-Credit scheme allowed Ms. Sun to find alternative employment which although is by
no means easy, nets a larger profit for less hours than the candy wrapping.
Afterwards, we visited the rented accommodation of a family which had recently migrated to the area due to lack of opportunity in their home village. Ms.
Dzung and her husband sell fruit and earn 40-50,000 dong a day. One of her two daughters has a scholarship (i.e. ActionAid pay the school fees). She is
also a member of the Micro-Credit scheme and thinks the interest rate is excellent. Because she is a migrant, her citizenship card is not valid in this area
which excludes her getting a bank loan and the black market rate is 20%. Before using the loan to set up the fruit selling business, Ms. Dzung worked as
a maid earning 15-20,000 dong a day for 30 days a month with no holidays. Also at the house was Ms. Phi, a ActionAid employee who directly
approaches sex workers to educate them on HIV prevention and to convince them to come to monthly meetings. She found that HIV awareness was very
low among sex workers in the city but through her work she has educated a large number on prevention of STDs.
In the evening, we attended a group meeting. The participants were female migrant workers and the theme was stress management. Issues identified that
were causes of stress were school fees, rent, low income, unstable careers, high inflation and spousal conflict.
After this meeting we attended a working children’s education class. These children aged from 7 to 13, all worked during the day selling things on the
streets or as maids/cleaners. As this was the last meeting before Christmas, ActionAid pledged to give a small gift to each of the children (Christmas has caught on in Vietnam in a similar vein as in the west). 13 year old Nghia has health problems, including an eye infection and a heart condition but works selling lottery tickets. Uyen has a drug-addicted mother and works as a maid in a small workshop.
The classroom was a purpose made building constructed by ActionAid in 2003 and was used for these classes and as a venue for other group meetings. As part of their exercises, the children had drawn Christmas cards which they very kindly presented to us. Its easy to imagine that working on the streets from the age of 8 or 9 would harden these children and rob them of their childhood but while this is no doubt partly true, they still retained their curiosity and sense of fun and within a few minutes had lost their wary attitude and were clambering over Richard to see his photos.
The next day we visited Le Hon Primary School which employed a counsellor funded by ActionAid. This is one of 4 schools which employs a counsellor and was chosen because many of the children who attend are involved in other ActionAid projects. Many of the children are linked to sponsors through ActionAids Child Sponsorship Scheme. The scheme links a child with a sponsor who pledges 30$ a month. 70% of the money raised is spent on project activities in the area, 10% on administration, 10% on direct child related projects and 10% goes to the general fund. It may seem surprising that only 10% goes to directly child related projects which include improving school infrastructure e.g. furniture, clean water. However, by funding the project activities, the whole community benefits including the child’s family and other children in the area.
The ActionAid project in the Go Vap area of Ho Chi Minh City was our first visit to an urban project and was very informative. It was interesting that even in the city area, the poorest people are those who come from the villages - forced to migrant to seek work and a better life. Often though, the city cannot provide any legitimate work due to the low skills of the migrants and the already over-crowded labour market and it is the poor and underprivledged of the country who are again forced to take the lowest paid and most demeaning jobs. The work that ActionAid is doing in these areas gives these people the opportunity to make a better life for themselves but it is government policies that are at the route cause of many of these problems. However, the influence that NGOs have on government is small in a political system such as Vietnam’s so until such time that more can be achieved through political methods, ActionAid is working with the country’s poorest and most disadvantaged people at a grass-roots level to make important differences to their lives.
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