Viet Nam News
By Thiên Hương
People throughout the country are familiar with various charity and educational activities organised by the Hội Quán Các Bà Mẹ (Club of Mothers).
Based in HCM City, the club’s events, which range from buying agricultural products to helping needy farmers, to seminars on gender, sex and parenting, they are spread all over the country mainly in major cities of Hồ Chí Minh City, Hà Nội and Cần Thơ.
Since its establishment nine years ago, the club has provided parenting skills to thousands of people and held hundreds of seminars on soft skills and living.
Yet few people know that the founder of the club is a fairly small woman, with a gentle voice and warm eyes. She is Nguyễn Thị Thanh Thúy, who resides in District 2, HCM City.
Possessing a university degree in social sciences, Thúy worked in various jobs and was earning a fairly high income when she suddenly wanted to quit her stable job and take up community work.
She came to this decision after her trip to Gia Lai.
On the bus to the central province, she met three children with congenital heart defects, who were returning home from HCM City.
When talking with their mothers, Thúy figured out that the defect was caused by the mothers’ ignorance during pregnancy.
She wondered, “Would those children have had the problem if their mothers had been equipped with proper knowledge on pregnancy?”
At that time she just tried to help out the children in some small way.
“I called many companies for financial support for the children,” she recalled. “Many people sympathised with me and donated money, but many others ignored me and called me a ‘liar’, and said that I would make use of the money for myself.”
The first amount she collected was given to the children on that bus. But she began thinking of a more effective way to prevent the disease.
Promise after trips
When Thúy had the idea of running a club for women, she thought everything would suit her capabilities. But things turned out quite differently.
“My husband’s encouragement gave me the power to overcome the very first obstacles,” she said.
She has connected with physicians, psychological consultants and community staff.
She was also bogged down with various financial problems while running the activities and at various times used her own finances to cover the expenses.
The club’s first event in Gia Lai was hosted by her alone.
She gathered local women wherever she could, whether it was in classrooms or homes, to share the necessary knowledge on pregnancy and parenting.
“Local women are honest, gentle, and hard-working, but their knowledge is rather limited,” she said. “To them, vaccination for children is something ‘luxurious’.”
The more she talked to local women, the more knowledge she wanted to impart.
Trips to Gia Lai have become more frequent. She has influenced other members of the club including Minh Huệ and Cẩm Vân.
When villages such as Atuk, Đak Đoa and Chư Prông were familiarised with the knowledge imparted, the club members reached out to other places such as Plâyku, Lâm Đồng, Bình Thuận and Khánh Hòa.
Gender knowledge support
When she talks to young girls or young workers, Thúy is always worried about their poor knowledge of sex.
Most of female workers at industrial zones come from the countryside and always make mistakes during their love affairs.
In workshops for them on genders and sex, she tried to bring along newspapers and books as small gifts for young workers.
She felt sad while answering many of their questions such as, “Can I have a baby during my first sexual intercourse?” or “Is it safe to have sex often?”
Even young working mothers with meagre salaries try to feed their babies milk powder instead of breastfeeding them after seeing advertisements which boasted that babies using powdered milk would grow up to be smarter than those who were breastfed.
On seeing a teenage couple kissing at a high school gate, she thought of equipping teenagers with knowledge of sex.
“In our educational trips to the southern provinces of Bình Dương or Bến Tre, we were so helpful to the teenagers when they asked us questions,” she said.
“Can kissing make babies?”, or “How do we stop arguments between parents and children?”, or “How do I make my parents care more of me?” were their common concerns.
The club’s activities also include helping farmers sell their excess produce.
Last year, the club gathered onions raised in the Central Highlands province of Lâm Đồng to sell to support farmers in HCM City.
According to the Lâm Đồng Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, there are 1,000ha of land under onions in Đà Lạt City and the suburban districts of Đơn Dương and Lạc Dương. Last year, the onion wholesale price dropped to VNĐ1,500 per kg, which is not enough for farmers to cover their expenses.
“My home is in Lâm Đồng, I was born into a farmer’s family so I understood their hardship,” Thúy said, “We should join hands to help farmers not only in Lâm Đồng but also throughout the country. Farmers are among the most vulnerable labourers.”
Two shops offering onions and other farm produce were set up in District 1, HCM City. The club also sold vegetables to restaurants and kitchens throughout the city. On an average, the club helped sell over a tonne of farm products from Lâm Đồng every day in two weeks.
“I heard about the shops offering agricultural products to support farmers run by the club,” Nguyễn Thị Nguyệt, an office staff in District 1 said. “They sell at the same price as that in the market. I absolutely support such a move to help farmers and consume Vietnamese products.”
The club has received support from agencies and enterprises such as Sanofi Pasteur, Lavie, and Thái Hà Books, and its consultants are Dr Đỗ Hồng Ngọc and writer Thụy Ái, and included the late musicologist Trần Văn Khê.
Yet the club has been bogged down by many difficulties, especially in finance.
Every month, the club still offers free consulative workshops for expectant mothers in HCM City while mobile bookshelves are very popular among children in Lâm Đồng. A tree planting project has also been run for the past 10 years encouraging local people in the central province to plant trees.
Phan Diệu Linh, who manages mobile bookshelves and tree planting projects said she enjoyed her volunteer work at the club.
“I like small, simple but very effective projects the club has run,” Linh said, adding, “Our club has been a big influence, more than it was a few years ago.”
“Everything big starts from something small, much like what we do every day,” she said. VNS