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Archive for the ‘Women & Girls’ Category

Meet a Scholarship Recipient, Nguyen Thi My Linh

Monday, August 26th, 2013



Meet Nguyen Thi My Linh, a second year student at the University of Agriculture and Forestry in Saigon majoring in Information Technology. My Linh also happens to be a 4-year recipient of the Nguyen Truong To Scholarship.

My Linh was chosen among hundreds of applicants for her amazing fortitude and optimistic attitude. She grew up in a coastal town, where her father supported the family doing various seafaring jobs. But the nature of his work was unstable, so her family’s economic situation was never very secure. Meanwhile, her mother’s health was poor, and there are still two younger siblings (one now in 10th grade and one now in 2nd grade), to take care of. In a chat with VNHELP, My Linh admitted, “When I received my scholarship, I tried to give that money to my mother so she could use it to take care of our family. But my mother sent the money back to me telling me to use it for my tuition and living expenses.”

Being the smart girl that she is, My Linh realized that the best path towards ensuring a brighter future was through education. She worked hard in high school and made her way to university in the city. She dreams of becoming a university lecturer in IT in the future, improving her life and defying gender stereotypes as a woman in technology at the same time.

With this kind of determination and kindness, it’s hard not to root for a girl like My Linh.

Follow the jump to the Vietnamese translation of this article.


Vietnam Travels: Microfinance in Vinh Phuc Province

Sunday, April 14th, 2013

There’s never been a dull moment since we arrived in Vietnam. Tiring, very. But dull, never.

The day after our trip to Nam Dinh, we headed towards Vinh Phuc province to visit participants of the microfinance program. Microfinance is excellent in theory: give small amounts of capital to female entrepreneurs, equip them with the power to make their own economic decisions, elevate the status of women in society, and watch the local economy grow. But only after visiting the program participants in the flesh can you truly come to understand how meaningful the program is on the borrowers’ lives.

First of all, it’s not just a program that passively gives out money. It helps the women build credit history and provides them with a host of other learning opportunities. On the day that we visited Vinh Phuc, there was actually a legal clinic being held on women’s property rights. Ms. Giang, an attorney who is dedicated to women’s rights, informed the women of changes in the laws and what it meant for their ability to hold and inherit property. The room was filled with women listening assiduously to Ms. Giang speak.


The surprising thing for us was that even after Ms. Giang told them about their rights, some of the women still weren’t convinced of the new laws’ utility. It just goes to show that Vietnam is still very much a patriarchal society, especially in rural and agriculture-based communities. We have a feeling, though, that once the women are able to see the new laws in practice, they will begin to excercise their rights more assertively.


After the morning’s legal session, we began visiting some of the borrowers’ in the microfinance program. Below is Ms. Dieu, who always has a smile in her eyes and giggles after every other sentence. She’s participated in the microfinance program for multiple cycles now, as she is steadily able to borrower larger amounts after building her credit history. She explained to us that participating in the program has improved her living standards and her outlook on life. When she told us that she’d sent her husband to do the day’s cooking so she could greet guests and attend the morning’s legal clinic, we knew right then that major improvements in women’s status had come to this rural commune. Just a few years, a woman to sending her husband into the kitchen would have been unheard of.


Here’s some raw footage of Ms. Dieu speaking to us! It’s unedited, so there are no subtitles for now, but we will get them up soon!

After visiting a few more microfinance participants, we stopped by a roadside restaurant for a family-style lunch. That means no shoes, lots of greens, and sitting on your derriere around a low-rise table. The food was fresh and delicious!


Feeling replenished, we once again began another round of visits to more women in the microfinance program. Ms. Yen below is a radiant 33 year old whose good spirit was infectious.


Ms. Yen explained to us that when she first got married, her husband and her had nothing. Not even a bed to sleep on! But now, she uses her microfinance loans to run a successful small business selling goods at open markets. Asked if she would want to scale up her business, Ms. Yen responded with an enthusiastic YES! Asked what her greatest worries were for her business, Ms. Yen replied that she thought she might not have enough inventory to sell. Hearing that, we immediately wanted to invest in this lovely lady’s enterprise.

There were many women that we visited that day, and these are just snippets of their stories. Eventually, we’ll sit down and share their stories in greater details with you. Please stay tuned!

What made the deepest impression for us throughout the day was the sense of unbounded optimism many of the women in the microfinance program have. All the loan recipients we spoke to today wished to continue with the program and borrow at larger amounts, and they were all fully confident of their ability to pay back larger amounts in a timely manner. We quickly came to realize that these women are all savvy risk takers–the very kind of people who are the backbone of progress. It was humbling getting to speak with them and getting to know the new ideas they are putting into motion. We’re looking forward to expanding the program to reach new borrowers and following-up with the women we met today.

We are so grateful to our local partners, the Center for Women and Community Development and the Center for Sustainable Development Studies, for joining us throughout the day and helping us realize this microfinance project!

Celebrating International Women’s History: Ho Xuan Huong, Queen of Nom Poetry

Thursday, March 21st, 2013

For our second Women of Vietnam feature, we’re taking a closer look at Ho Xuan Huong, one of Vietnam’s most beloved poets often referred to as the “Queen of Nom Poetry.”

Even though her poems are widely known and there are even a number of streets named after her in Vietnam, Ho Xuan Huong has been something of an enigma. She is believed to have been born in 1772 and died in 1822. Her family history is disputed, but the general consensus is that she eventually became the concubine of a man named Tong Cuc, a ranking official of the Le Dynasty.

Despite her  role as a concubine, Ho Xuan Huong showed a rejection of social norms and irreverence uncommon for women of the time. (Remember that she was living in 17th/18th Century Vietnam–an era steeped in Confucian traditions, which brought with them the exaltation of education and family values, but often the subjugation of women as well.) Her convention-defying attitudes were conveyed in her poetry. She had an uncanny ability to write of mundane subjects, but inflect them with sensual undertones (or overtones). She was a master of the double entendre, delighting her audience and providing a rare voice against sociopolitical oppression.

Her poems were later translated into English by John Balaban in a book aptly titled Spring Essence, though it’s almost always better to read the original if you can. You can view some of them here.

Here’s Why We Need International Women’s Day

Friday, March 8th, 2013


Happy International Women’s Day everyone! On this day, we take a moment to celebrate all the wonderful contributions women have made to society. Some people might think, “Why do we even need an International Women’s Day? I hug my mom everyday without anyone reminding me, thank you very much!”

But the truth is, sometimes, if we don’t dedicate a moment to women, many of their contributions will go unappreciated and many of the challenges they face will still go unaddressed. Here’s a prime example of why we need International Women’s Day: according to the International Labour Organization (ILO), “Viet Nam is among a few countries in the world where gender pay gap has been widening while the gap has declined in most nations in the 2008-11 period compared to 1999-2007.”

On average, women in Vietnam make 70% – 80% of what men earn in comparable jobs. To reiterate: women earn up to 30% less than men for the same type of work! In a press release, the ILO stated, “The latest Labour Force Survey Report published in 2012 showed that female workers have lower monthly incomes than their male colleagues in all economic sectors – State, non-State and foreign-invested.”

Even in jobs traditionally dominated by women, such as healthcare and social work, women continue to earn less than their male counterparts. Furthermore, the glass ceiling is very much alive in Vietnam as the majority of management posts are still staffed by men. Vietnam also has a number of structural labor issues that increase the burden of low wages on women. For instance, even though working in healthcare may require more skills, jobs traditionally held by men but require less skills will still pay more.

These reasons alone point to why we need International Women’s Day. We need to bring these issues to the fore and rectify injustices. Really, we should be discussing these issues daily until women are treated truly equally to their male counterparts.


Source: International Labour Organization

Celebrating International Women’s History: The Trung Sisters of Vietnam

Monday, March 4th, 2013


Happy March everyone! March is a month chock full of events and activities. For the mathematicians, 3/14 is Pi Day. For the Irish and others who’ve adopted Ireland’s culture, 3/17 is St. Patrick’s Day. And for the literary enthusiasts out there, 3/15 marks the Ides of March, the date notoriously immortalized in Shakespeare’s play Julius Caesar.

For us at the VNHELP office, we are happy to see March commemorated as International Women’s History Month. Why not take the opportunity to honor some of the celebrated women in Vietnamese culture through a “Women of Vietnam” series?

We’re kicking off the series with the Trung Sisters, better known to many Vietnamese as “Hai Bà Trưng.”

If you grew up in a Vietnamese household, then you are sure to have heard of the names of these two sisters floated before. If not, here’s your chance to be privy about two of the most celebrated figures in Vietnamese history.