After losing her husband in a construction accident, a struggling mother of two in Vietnam receives assistance from Holt in the form of chickens and four months of feed — the basis for a small, but thriving, business. Greatest of all, both of her daughters are now well-nourished and attending pre-school. Jennifer Goette, Holt’s director of programs for South and Southeast Asia, reports.
by Jennifer Goette, Holt Director of Programs for South and Southeast Asia
In the remote community of Phu Duong, a two-hour journey outside of Hanoi, most families rely on subsistence farming for their livelihood. The average monthly income here is 750,000 VND ($30.20 USD). Supporting early education and family preservation programming is one way that Holt is helping to keep vulnerable families together.
To understand how Holt-Vietnam’s programs have impacted the lives of families, you need only to hear the story of 5-year-old Luang and her family. Although their story is similar to the stories of many families in Holt’s family preservation program, this is a female-headed household that was truly in a crisis situation when they came to the attention of Holt-Vietnam social workers. I met this family at their home during a visit to Vietnam in December 2011 – just three months after tragedy changed the family’s life forever.
I am impressed and touched by the strength of the woman seated next to me.
At only 21 years old, she became a widow and the sole caregiver for her two young daughters, Luang and Kim. I consider what it has been like for her to have the entire future turned upside down by a tragic accident – and I know that it takes more than assistance from a child welfare agency to pick up the pieces and create a new life. This woman is strong and determined. She is bold and willing to work hard to survive. And she is the perfect example of how a few hundred dollars can go a long way to changing a life – in fact, three lives.
Until last year, Luang lived with her mother, father and younger sister on the outskirts of town in a tiny, one-room house constructed of bricks. Although the family was not able to save money, Luang’s father earned seventy-five dollars each month at his brick-laying job – which brought in just enough income to provide for the family’s immediate needs of food, shelter and clothing. Luang’s mother alternated her time between tending a small rice field nearby and providing care for her two daughters.
When tragedy struck last year, the situation changed.
In a terrible turn of events, Luang’s father was killed in a freak accident at work. The family was devastated. Not only had they lost their beloved father and husband, but they
also lost their means of earning income. Very soon, there was little to eat and not enough money available to pay the small tuition fee to send the children to pre-school.
In September, Holt-Vietnam learned of the family through the local authorities. During an assessment of the family’s situation, Holt-Vietnam identified that the family was at risk of separation due to their economic difficulties, but that Luang’s mother was hard-working and motivated. At the time, she was trying to find work as a day laborer, but was not able to find stable employment.
In discussion with Luang’s mother, it became clear that her dream was to raise chickens.
Holt-Vietnam staff worked with the family to develop a business plan and provided funds for the start-up costs of a chicken-raising business. Fifty chicks were purchased, along with corn and bran to feed the chickens for four months. When the chicks have matured, they will be sold at the market or their eggs will be harvested for sale – and new chicks will be purchased. It is expected that the family will reinvest a majority of the profits to expand the business. Over time, more and more money can be allocated toward providing for the family’s basic needs.
Now that the first business cycle is almost complete, Luang’s mother is anxious to reinvest her profits. She beams proudly when discussing her business plans. She is strong through her tears when she talks about the trauma she and her daughters have been through recently, as she explains that Holt is the reason her girls have been able to cope. Because of Holt’s tuition support, both girls are now attending pre-school regularly.
I asked Luang if she enjoys going to school.
She smiles shyly as she munches on an ear of corn, which was grown in the family’s own garden. “I have lots of friends,” she says, “the best part is when I get to play with the other children.”
Having an opportunity to socialize with other children her own age has clearly helped her to deal with this difficult time in her life. Holt sees the link between education and other types of support as critical in situations where families are at risk of separation.
Holt-Vietnam’s involvement with pre-school programming started in 2011. Recognizing that local pre-school programs in the area were generally under-utilized and largely underfunded, Holt began to expand the reach of family preservation activities. Holt-Vietnam began working closely with pre-school staff and administrators to provide small tables and child-sized chairs, as well as a variety of educational material, to ensure children have access to interesting activities in a stimulating environment. Holt also started providing milk three times each week for all children attending classes.
By implementing pre-school support in areas with large numbers of vulnerable families, Holt is able to use pre-school programs as an access point to reach out to larger numbers of families in need of assistance. Parents of enrolled children have access to parent education sessions that promote child nutrition, hygiene, health, and child development. Counseling and support are readily available for families that need close monitoring and assistance. The most vulnerable and motivated families, like Luang’s, are supported by Holt-Vietnam social workers to start small businesses that generate income. Holt-Vietnam staff checks in with these families every three months to ensure they have the support they need to be successful.
Our visit today is one of these regularly-scheduled visits. Seeing the impact of Holt’s family preservation work first-hand is a humbling experience. It is clear that Holt’s intervention has been a significant factor in keeping this family together. With slightly more than $200 and ongoing support from Holt, this determined woman is creating a better future for her daughters.
As our group is leaving Luang’s home, a Holt-Vietnam social worker begins translating a conversation Luang’s mother is having with Holt-Vietnam’s country director. Now that the chicken raising business is running successfully, she wants to mend the piggery so she can start raising pigs to sell at the market.
I can’t help but smile at her resolve.