|Close to the village: Mong women in Pu Dua Village care for their crops. — VNA/VNS Photo Hong Hoa
Mong people who lived on the slopes above Pu Dua Village were once the poorest in the central province of Thanh Hoa. But the efforts of locals and border guards have settled them in new houses in the village, given them land to cultivate and improved road access. Duy Hung
We visited Pu Dua Village in the last days of 2012. Driving from the village to the Muong Lat District centre, we found ourselves speeding down a smooth motorway. It was built, villagers explained, so that people in the remote village would have an easy time getting to the district centre to go shopping.
The roadway was one of many improvements the village has seen in recent years. With help from the officers posted at the nearby Quang Chieu borderguard station, the local people built cozy wooden houses for 55 families.
Some houses were built with help from State programmes 134 and 167, aimed at boosting socio-economic development in remote mountainous and poor communes such as this one.
Both spacious and clean, these houses have modern infrastructure but also follow the traditional architectural style of the Mong.
With houses full of rice and maize, local people no longer worry about hunger and cold. Children can now go to school rather than earning money for their families, so most of the villagers now know how to read and write.
As a result, four young people are currently studying in universities in Ha Noi and Thanh Hoa City. Considered the future leaders of the village, they plan to help their birthplace progress towards modernisation.
These days, the Mong villagers are busily preparing for their traditional New Year's celebrations, held at the end of December.
Visiting the house built by the border guards for the family of Lau Van Po, we were taken aback by the maize and rice piles that they had just harvested - as high as our heads!
"Now our villagers no longer suffer from hunger," Po said proudly. "We all have plenty of rice and maize stored in our houses."
He pointed at the garden behind his house, where three fat pigs were eating.
"For New Year's, I will slaughter a pig and invite border guards to my house to have a drinking party," the villager said.
Lau Van Lu, Party secretary of the village, also expressed elation at how far the place had come.
"In the past we lived on top of Pu Ngo Mountain, 6km away. It took nearly 10 hours to walk from that mountain to the current village," recalled the secretary, who is lovingly called "Papa Lu" by officers at the Quang Chieu border guard station. "At that time, life was very difficult. We had no water or rice fields - we just dug holes to grow maize - so we never had enough food, and we were always hungry and cold. Moreover we had so many outdated traditions. When someone suffered from malaria, we asked a sorcerer to pray for them to wipe out the disease. Funerals typically lasted six days, which was very expensive."
|Off to market: Providing houses and stabilising production are important for the ethnic groups, many of whom are still very poor. — VNS Photo
In 1965, the border guards began to make efforts to get people to settle down in Pu Dua. They climbed over mountains and passed through jungle to reach the Pu Ngo Mountain residents - changing their lives forever.
Settling in the village, however, led to a new set of problems for the Mong.
"We were used to the nomadic lifestyle," Lu said. "We were used to planting crops high in the mountains, clearing bushes to create fields."
But the border guards helped them adjust to the new place, helping the Mong reclaim 8ha to grow wet rice and 70ha for dry rice and showing them how to grow water rice and hybrid maize, resulting in higher yield.
Lu recalled that when the group had just moved to the new village, the trees they planted sprouted little fruit, and they did not have many livestock. The border guard station sent officers to live with them to remedy the situation.
"The soldiers brought us rice from the lowlands and showed us how to sow and transplant it and breed livestock," he said.
Pointing at the front yard where the cows were chewing grass, Lu told us that the village now has about 200 cows, as well as 300 goats and pigs. Local people also have nearly 70 motorcycles and every family has its own TV.
The day the Mong people moved to this village, their nomadic lifestyle disappeared forever. Today, everyone follows the Government's policies and guidance. Villagers have started a movement to protect the border, even enlisting village elders and chiefs, who have great influence in the community. Thanks to them, no one in the village commits crimes. These advances have resulted in the village's inclusion on a provincial list of potential Mong cultural villages - something that would have been unimaginable just a few decades ago. — VNS