|Off to work: A Cao Bang official says farewell to young graduates who volunteered to work as commune deputy chairpersons in remote and disadvantaged areas. — VNS Photo Nguyen Ha
|Down and dirty: Young graduates from the northern province of Ha Giang prepare land to grow groundnut before joining a training course to become deputy chairpersons of disadvantaged communes. — Photo Nguyen Hang
|On the job: Vi Van Mien, new deputy chairman of Tam Dinh Commune in the central province of Nghe An's Tuong Duong, examines a pigsty.
|House call: New deputy chairman Vu Duc Nham (second from right) takes a meal with local ethnic people in the northern province of Cao Bang. — VNS Photo Nguyen Ha
Six hundred young graduates throughout the nation started work last month as commune deputy chairpersons, including among northern Cao Bang Province's most remote and disadvantaged villages. Ha Nguyen
Ha Thi Mai, a 23-year-old Nung ethnic woman, was recently assigned to Hong Sy Commune of Ha Quang District about 60km from Cao Bang Town.
She reported that almost 254 Tay and Mong households there live in poverty and go hungry at least three months a year.
These families are isolated on high mountain slopes and earn their living mainly by growing maize.
Mai quoted her commune chairman Truong Van Phoong as saying that 60 per cent of all households were listed as poor and in need of funding.
Graduate Mai started work last month as a commune deputy chairperson in northern Cao Bang Province's most disadvantaged villages. She was among 600 graduates nationwide who volunteered for similar roles.
"Since I arrived, I have travelled as far as 12km to each household to understand their living conditions. I have learned their languages to communicate with them.
"After witnessing their poor living conditions – like not having enough clothes to wear during the severe winters and lacking water during the rainy season – I knew that my decision to volunteer was right.
"I want to be with local people and help improve the living standards of these ethnic groups," said Mai.
She registered to join the project after graduating from the Thai Nguyen Teachers Training University.
Born to a Nung family in Cao Bang Town, Mai said she had many sleepless nights before joining the project.
"I was never afraid of hardship or challenges, but I worry about how to improve the people's cultural and spiritual life since I am in charge of education, family planning and health," said Mai.
She said she would start her work on family planning by visiting each household to deliver information pamphlets and talk to husbands and wives about the issue. She would try to convince them to have only two children instead of the current practice of four or five, which has left them very poor with many mouths to feed.
"I will tell them that a family with two children is the most suitable model to escape from hunger and poverty and to become healthy and wealthy," Mai said, adding that to accomplish her goal, she would have to be very patient and sympathetic. "Along with family planning, I would try my best to prevent local children from dropping out of school by talking to their parents about the importance of learning how to read and write.
"Last week I stayed for two days with a poor family with five children who left school last year. I understand that their parents don't have time to take them to school since it is about 4-5km away and they are very busy in the fields.
"I will convince some young people to be in charge of leading children to school, particularly during the flood season."
Mai's fellow deputy Phuong Dinh Duy, 25, was an outstanding graduate from the Thai Nguyen University of Agriculture and was chosen to work at the most remote commune of Pac Mieu in Bao Lam District, about 220km north of Cao Bang Town.
Duy said he volunteered to work as a deputy chairman at the commune because he is from the Tay ethnic minority and wanted to use his agricultural expertise to help poor locals cultivate their land sustainably.
Duy arrived at the commune on March 1 and is preparing to work with local households to start their winter-spring crop.
"Daily life as a deputy chairman is hard. I have to walk as far as 3-5km to the commune centre to check my email.
"Despite this, I try to visit each family to ask them about new high-yield rice varieties and teach them about new growing techniques," said Duy.
|Field trip: Dang Anh Dung, new deputy chairman of Son Lap Commune in the northern province of Cao Bang's Bao Lac District, has rough ground to cover. — VNS Photos Mai Xuan Tung
He wishes he were paid for his efforts through a combination of funding from local people and effective help from provincial authorities and the project's management board.
Unlike these newly appointed deputies, Nguyen Van Doi has been the chairman of A Luoi District in Hong Thuong Commune in the central province of Thua Thien-Hue for many years.
Having graduated from the Thua Thien-Hue Agriculture University in 2003, the Pa Co man was recruited to work as deputy chairman of the commune a year later. Doi said he decided to enrol in the Agriculture University with an aim of returning to his commune to help his fellow villagers change their crops by growing forests, cassava and fruit trees such as orange and mandarin.
"As a man who grew up in the commune, I know very well our villagers' traditional habits and their lifestyle, as well as our commune's climate and land.
"With support from local authorities and people, I started my work by teaching our villagers how to grow a forest and then cassava to sell to a processing plant. I then showed them how to turn their large gardens, which were used to grow many different sorts of trees of low profit, into groves producing orange and mandarin for sale.
"I have no days off because I work, eat and sleep with villagers day after day to find effective ways to improve our living standards. I can communicate with the villagers in the Pa Co language (many households don't know how to speak Vietnamese) about the growing techniques and many other matters of concern.
"My efforts have paid off since many households now earn up to VND40-50 million a year compared with several million before," said Doi.
He added the most difficult task was to convince villagers of the need to change their old cultivation habits.
To urge others to follow his example, Doi said he grows cassava on his own plot of land and applies fertiliser and other techniques.
As a result, his family harvests a bumper crop each season.
"Since then, many people have come to learn from me. Now they know how to tap idle land between crop cycles to grow organic vegetables for sale," said Doi.
Villager Le Thi Luong said that thanks to Doi her commune now has only few households facing hunger and poverty compared with the 40 per cent before.
"He was worthy of being elected the commune chairman for years," Luong said, adding that most of the villagers now follow Doi's instructions.
A Luoi deputy party secretary Le Thanh Nam said the district has approved a policy to give priorities to ethnic university graduates who want to work as deputy chairpersons in their home villages.
The priorities include extra monthly funding, land and a house as well as promotions if they succeed in their positions.
"Our policy aims to train village cadres and create long-term officials for the district in the future. Nguyen Van Doi is a bright example showing how successful the policy can be," said Nam.
He added A Luoi District was chosen as the first locality to bring eight new university graduates intellectuals to act as commune deputy chairmen since 2004.
"Among the eight, four have been promoted to commune chairmen because they have shown their capacity and creativity at work, winning the trust and support of local people," said Nam.
Since early this month 600 young intellectuals have arrived at 552 disadvantaged villages, in Cao Bang, Bac Kan, Yen Bai, Ninh Thuan, Lam Dong, and Quang Nam provinces.
"Hundreds of young intellectuals registered to join the project right after it was initiated last April," director of the project Vu Dang Minh said.
He said the project aimed to bring young and capable personnel to help local authorities fight hunger and poverty in disadvantaged communes.
"It also aims to create a young personnel resource for district leaders and managers to ensure sustainable socio-economic development," said Minh.
Project management boards chose the 552 most outstanding candidates, who received four weeks of training before visiting their communes.
They are very confident as they talk about their own social-economic development schemes and economic restructuring plans before local authorities and people.
"We are pleased with their enthusiasm and interesting ideas of how to help people. They all are excited to conquer challenges to affirm themselves and to achieve long-term economic development and sustainability," said Minh. — VNS