Vàng Thị Cầu (right) guides an ethnic minority woman on making handicraft product at the Lanh Trắng (White Flax) Agricultural and Forestry Services Co-operative in northern mountainous Hà Giang Province's Sà Phìn Commune. — Photo dangcongsan.vn
HÀ GIANG — Vàng Thị Cầu, an outstanding Party member in northern mountainous Hà Giang Province, has launched a project that has helped many disadvantaged ethnic minority women in the province escape poverty.
The Lanh Trắng (White Flax) Agricultural and Forestry Services Co-operative was established by Cầu in Đồng Văn District’s Sà Phìn Commune in late 2017 to provide free vocational training and stable jobs and incomes for local women.
Đồng Văn is one of the country’s poorest districts and most locals are from ethnic minority groups and have limited skills, according to Cầu, vice chairwoman of the district’s Women’s Association.
“Many women in the province are illiterate due to poverty and many of them are unemployed,” she said.
Born in a poor family of the H’Mông ethnic minority group in Đồng Văn District’s Phố Cáo Commune, Cầu said she only started the first grade at a local primary school when she was 17 years old.
“That's why I understand how important it is to be educated. But not many ethnic minority women have such opportunities,” she said.
“Barren land and unfavourable climate conditions also make agricultural work difficult, making it hard to escape poverty,” she said.
Illiteracy and poverty also put them at a higher risk of domestic violence, human trafficking and illegal labour export, according to Cầu.
“We decided to set up the co-operative to help improve the living conditions of local women,” she said.
Up to 90 per cent of women in the commune are from the H’Mông ethnic minority group and have a traditional craft of flax weaving but due to a lack of guidance, direction and sources of outputs, the craft has gradually faded away, according to Cầu.
“Many of them are very skilled at flax weaving. So we set up the co-operative to promote the traditional craft and tapping local women’s potential,” she said.
But it was not easy initially, Cầu recalled.
Challenges piled up as Cầu had to figure out everything herself from setting goals, designing products, providing vocational training to finding outputs for the products.
However, Cầu did not give up.
"At first it was not easy to persuade local women to join the co-operative as they could not believe that the model could succeed,” she said.
“I planned that vocational training for local women would be completed in the first two months after the co-operative was established and then they could start producing products for sale. However, the first month passed but everything was still just on paper as no one wanted to join,” she said.
“Most of them were so shy and did not think they were capable of doing the job well and were unsure the co-operative would succeed,” she said.
“Their suffering had also made them become more reserved,” she added.
“I had to spend almost a month at their houses to talk, persuade and provide vocational training for them,” she said.
Gradually, they became more open when they met other women in similar situations, and that gave them the confidence to try, according to Cầu.
Their efforts paid off when the first order came. “It gave all of us motivation to move on,” she said.
Their products, including blankets, pillow covers, handbags, bags and wallets, are not only popular among domestic and foreign tourists visiting Hà Giang, but are also exported to many countries, including Japan, Laos, Thailand, the US and Germany.
The co-operative has so far created jobs for 95 women from poor households in 15 out of the 19 communes in Đồng Văn District. Each of them now has a stable income of VNĐ3-6 million (US$170-260) per month, according to Cầu.
“Last year, we helped nine women escape poverty,” she said.
Sùng Thị Sy, a member of the co-operative, said: “My life has been much improved since I joined the co-operative.”
Sy was a victim of domestic violence due to poverty, but the stable job and income provided by the co-operative has helped her immensely.
“My husband no longer beats me. We are happier now,” Sy said.
“We can also afford more rice, meat and warm clothes for my kids,” she said.
Dinh Chí Thành, vice chairman of Đồng Văn District’s People’s Committee, said the co-operative has helped empower many ethnic minority women to escape poverty sustainably.
Cầu said she planned to expand the model to other communes to help more disadvantaged women change their lives.
“Only when women have stable jobs and incomes can they have more opportunities to master their lives,” she said. — VNS