How one woman in Vietnam used a small donor-funded investment to grow her business, build her confidence and create a safe and stable home for her grandson.
Lai wraps her tiny frame and arms around her shy, chubby grandson, Binh. She bounces him playfully, jutting her hip out to help support his weight. Her eyes are soft-hearted and sparkling, her face radiant with joy. She has the energy of someone half her age.
Behind Lai, an open garage door leads to the main room of her street-side apartment — a small and sparsely decorated space that empties onto a bustling sidewalk in Danang, Vietnam. Her sidewalk is set up like a small café — with little tables and chairs strategically filling the space. On the curb, Lai’s wheeled kitchen cart is filled with fruit and blenders, juice and straws — ready for customers.
Without knowing Lai, it might be easy to assume that her life is relatively carefree. She is so happy all the time — smiling, laughing and spreading love to everyone she meets.
“That’s how I overcome difficulties,” Lai says of her upbeat attitude. “I just keep smiling and being grateful for everything.”
But Lai’s life is anything but easy. In fact, she spends nearly every day worrying about her family and her teenage daughter.
Lai found herself caring for her infant grandson unexpectedly two years ago. Her daughter became pregnant at 16, and shortly after her grandson was born, the child’s father landed in jail. Lai’s daughter left home, leaving Binh behind. With Lai’s husband in failing health, Lai was left to care for her family alone.
She feared for her daughter’s safety. She feared for Binh, who was already thin and undersized.
Before Holt’s intervention, Lai sold fruit out of her home but didn’t make enough income to support herself and her husband, much less her grandson too. Lai had no idea how she would be able to care for Binh and provide enough food for him to eat.
That’s where Holt stepped in.
Holt’s on-the-ground staff in Danang analyzed the space Lai had available for her business and helped her determine how best to grow her income. Diversifying her product offering and creating a more comfortable space for customers to relax would surely increase her sales, so Holt provided the tools Lai needed to open a small juice and smoothie stand.
With a small, donor-funded investment, Holt gave Lai a food cart, a food processor and some small tables and chairs. Lai also received some business training and counseling to build her confidence.
Empowered with the tools and support she needed to grow her business, Lai thrived. She sold smoothies and blended drinks to neighbors and work crews passing by. In the hot, humid Vietnam summers, her fresh fruit drinks were a hit.
“Now, my income has increased so I have more money to spend on my grandson.”
“Now, my income has increased so I have more money to spend on my grandson,” Lai says, a smile spreading across her face.
Lai’s husband has tuberculosis, which has made him very weak and unable to work. But Lai is happy and confident, and most importantly, she is able to raise her grandson.
Binh used to be small for his age, a sign of undernourishment. But since Holt has helped provide nutrition-rich formula for him to eat, he has gained weight rapidly. Lai says she is happy to see him so big now, with plump little cheeks.
“Our lives have been much, much better after getting help from the Holt program,” Lai says. “I truly hope that more women like me can receive this help.”
There is no tool for development more effective than the empowerment of women. There is no more effective way to reduce poverty than to educate girls and women, and provide the skills training, support and resources they need to grow their income and care for their children. Women and girls maximize everything invested in them and share their knowledge to transform their families, communities and futures.
For women like Lai, this means providing a safe and stable home for her grandson. Rather than grow up alone or in an institution, Lai will ensure Binh has everything he needs to go to school one day. With the skills she’s learned, she is able to care for her husband and herself. And this empowerment is sustainable long-term, without the need for ongoing assistance.
For other girls and women in Vietnam — and many of the countries where Holt works — our programs give them the opportunity to receive a quality education.
When women are educated, their child is twice as likely to live to age 5. Educated girls are more likely to escape child marriage, trafficking and forced child labor. And educated mothers invest 90 percent of their income into their families, versus men, who invest 30-40 percent on average, according to UNICEF. Generally, educated women also have smaller, healthier families.
Around the world, Holt also provides single mothers with safe and supportive environments to have their child and make an informed decision about whether to parent, especially in countries where the stigma of unwed motherhood propels thousands of women to abandon their children each year.
Almost always, the people most impacted when women are empowered are children.
As we at Holt strive to keep children with their families, reduce child abandonment around the world and ensure every child has a loving, secure home, empowering women with the skills to support their children is inherently central to our mission. The most cost-effective way to prevent children from becoming orphans is by investing in women.
Billie Loewen | Former Holt Team Member