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Woman recounts experience in uplands as Project 600 participant

Update: September, 02/2017 - 10:28
Lê Thị Hương, born 1984, was among the 600 young university-educated intellectuals selected to serve as commune vice chairmen in the 64 poorest districts in the country.— Photo

SƠN LA — Lê Thị Hương, born 1984, was among the 600 young university-educated intellectuals selected to serve as commune vice chairmen in the 64 poorest districts in the country.

The initiative, abbreviated as Project 600, signed into effect by the then Prime Minister in 2011, intends to make use of the strength, ambition, and knowledge of the young generation to ‘revitalise’ the most disadvantaged areas in Việt Nam.

Few can imagine the extraordinary strength contained within the small young woman whose experience and stories during her time in the mountainous land might be dispiriting to anyone.

The ‘strengths’ that propelled Lê Thị Hương can only be her unflagging resilience and love for the job she is doing, and a growing attachment for the mountainous land and people she has come to love.

Five years ago, Hương was spurred by her father to join the project. Her father was once a soldier in a mountainous province. His fragile health no longer allowed him to travel to the old “fighting ground,” and he wished that his youngest daughter would “continue bringing changes to the land and the people of Sơn La.”

Needless to say, she was not without concerns. She had lived her whole life in the flatlands of the Red River Delta. Besides, she already had a stable job in a company. Why forsake everything to come to a remote upland, where no one speaks a language she could understand and she was unfamiliar with the traditions?

“Everyone told me to not listen to my father, but my father was persistent,” Hương told Vietnam News Agency.

“And so I decided to apply for the project and got in. At first, I didn’t know anybody, and a ‘paranoia’ I had was being kidnapped and sold to China,” Hương said.

Hương was assigned the role of vice chairwoman of Năm Ét Commune, Quỳnh Nhai District, Sơn La Province. She only had three months for both theoretical study and practical training in a course held by the Ministry of Home Affairs before officially assuming the position.

Nặm Ét Commune is one of the three poorest communes in Quỳnh Nhai District and also one of the first to hold mass relocations in order to make room for the Sơn La hydropower project.

The commune’s population of 5,000 residents comprises of three ethnic minority groups (Thái, Mông, and La Ha), and that 80 per cent of the commune cannot speak the official Vietnamese language poses a big challenge for authorities.

The economy is largely small-scale agriculture, resulting in a significant poverty rate of 60.5 per cent back in 2012.

In addition, the area is frequently hit with natural disasters, from landslides to floodings, and one of Hương’s most memorable experiences in her five-year term here was the time in 2013 when one such extremity almost claimed her life.

“I was staying at a school’s dorm in the middle of the summer vacation, so I was all by myself, the nearest house was half a kilometre away. The floodwater had already brought down the surrounding walls and washed away my motorbike. Thunder rumbled while the rains pounded on incessantly,” Hương recounted the horrifying moments.

“Witnessing first-hand the devastated landscape, fear for my own safety subsided, giving way to sympathy for the local people here.”

Despite all the difficulties living and working in a remote and unique region, Hương was always touched by the friendliness of people. “They invite me to join their meals all the time,” Hương said cheerfully.

After three years living and working with local people, Hương now could bravely go from village to village all by herself through all forests and streams in the twilight darkness to spread awareness of the law to the people.

Enthusiasm for the job

During her tenure, Hương always looked for new solutions to help local residents with their agricultural production, either by switching to new plants or animals that give better yield, or selecting appropriate production strategy that best suits each locality’s geographical conditions.

Hương learnt the languages and cultural traditions of the people here and adopted a hands-on approach in teaching and guiding locals in production activities. She has managed to persuade local residents, especially those in 12 villages having to relocate due to Sơn La hydropower plant project, to utilise the 650ha surface area of the newly formed reservoir and make use of locally available food to organise ‘clean’ cage fish farming.

The cage fish farming is just one of 36 production projects that Hương has spearheaded in 2013-14 period. Other projects include husbandry of crossbred pigs and chickens and Bách Thảo goats that have better yield compared to what locals have raised before.

In 2015, seeing the potential in cage fish farming, Social Policy Bank of Việt Nam has granted loans for farmers here to expand their production.

At the moment, local people have been aware of the need to apply technology into their production and learnt how to raise fish varieties of high economic values including lăng (an indigenous catfish) and soft-shelled turtle. Two co-operatives have been established, owning some 180 cages, while other households in the commune currently have 120 cages.

Cage fish farming has addressed the employment issue for relocated people, providing them with a stable income.

The poverty rate in Năm Ét has started to decline, staying at 24.2 per cent in 2016 compared to 2012’s 36.3 per cent.

From October 2015, Hương was reassigned to the Quỳnh Nhai District’s Department of Agriculture, specialising in fisheries. From the experience and lessons she obtained during her work at Năm Ét Commune, Hương organised training and provided technical assistance in cage fish farming for people in 44 co-operatives from 11 communes of the Quỳnh Nhai District, to help them climb out of poverty in a sustainable manner.

Lương Hải Anh, the project co-ordinator, praised Hương as an “energetic and responsible person, who doesn’t shy away from challenges or hardship, and always tries to find better solutions for the people.” The praise is echoed by the co-operative and local households in Chiềng Bằng Commune where Hương is teaching farming and disease prevention techniques.

In a conference held earlier this week reviewing Project 600, Hương has suggested the Government organise more training courses in terms of State management, finance, and planning for the chosen 600, so they can better contribute to the development of the country. — VNS

Lê Thị Hương wrote on her eight months serving as the vice chairwoman of the Năm Ét Commune People’s Committee, Quỳnh Nhai District, Sơn La.

“The steep slopes, the burning winds or the tumultuous downpour seem bent on challenging her spirit, the spirit of a girl born and raised on plain land who for the first time set foot on this remote upland. Everyone thought she was brave. But she herself knows that the source of her courage comes from the time she has lived and worked here, the experience she has garnered, and most importantly, the trust and support she has received from people here. The sympathy she felt for the difficulties of the people has fuelled her determination to press on with the path she chose.”



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