Dien Bien, the day before Christmas,
Enjoy the road trip to commune
 
As I wrap up my fellowship in Vietnam, I guess the best part of being a Kiva fellow that I have experienced so many odd events. Such as, coincidentally celebrated 5-year partnership with Kiva and Fund for Poor Thanh Hoa Women or worked with "latrine experts" at East Meets West. It feels like I relearn everything I knew before, Vietnam under a different perspective. 4 months pass by fast enough to make me realize that I haven’t been able to help much yet received so many great things to learn from Kiva borrowers and MFIs. Different methodologies, but we share the same goal to alleviate poverty. 
Beautiful scenic of Dien Bien

My first happiness when I thought about my trip back to Vietnam for this fellowship was to escape the wintertime in Chicago. Tricky part was, I forgot that the North of Vietnam could be cold also, plus, heater is not a usual thing to have in winter. Let's not talk about the cold but focus on the other half of the world, on the unsung heroes who fight against poverty in a different way. 
Typical Kho-mu house


I had my privilege of being on board with this amazing organization as the last destination of my fellowship. Dedicated is the only word that I think could describe the most about the staffs here. I can feel the diversity within the organization. ACE is one of Kiva new partner that based in Dien Bien, a historical place of Vietnam. Dien Bien is located in a valley where mountains surround the city. Anh Chi Em (Brother and Sister) is part of a French NGO Entrepreneurs du Monde. Established in 2007, the ACE program gives the ethnic and local people access to financial services that are customized to meet their small-scale commercial or agricultural activities. ACE also emphasizes on agricultural training, support, and follow-up services, which are important to the socio-economic success of these micro-entrepreneurs. You can view loans from the MFI here

More than 90% of their clients come from ethnic minorities like Thai, Laos, Kho Mu, H’Mong, etc… ACE targets beneficiaries suffering from higher factors of vulnerability (low income households, minorities and/or excluded groups such as person living with HIV/AIDS). Also, they offer the smallest loan size in Vietnam start from $150 per individual. With the continuous effort from ACE regardless holidays, the staffs ensure that borrowers will get the money on time for their next harvest. With that minority people in Dien Bien have great opportunity to improve their lives.

From left to right - Mr. Tuan ACE Manager, me, and Mr. Chau - Dien Bien branch manager

3 weeks are my time limit with Anh Chi Em, but the whole team was supportive so we managed to have training on Kiva process as well as collect and post the first profiles.

Kiva Training for Commune Credit Officers (CCOs)


most favorite process is the disbursement, due to the distance, villages within the commune gather in one disbursement date. In peak season like in September, the volume can reach up to 450 borrowers per time. To the local, those meetings are like festival to them; they dressed up nicely because it may be the rare chance for them to meet up with each other. With solidarity commune, ACE provides agriculture training with various topics on farming, raising poultry and cattle, advocating for prevention from HIV/AIDS.

Mr. Tuan presented on raising pigs


Then the commune credit officer (CCO) will explain Kiva process in the local language.
 
Ms. Xuyen - CCO of Thanh An commune explained the client waiver

 
 
Mrs. Phuong - ACE accountant in green jacket collect signature before disbursement

 
Grandfather took care of the kid while his mom waited for disbursement

Meet one of ACE feature borrower, Ms. Thanh has been successfully repaid 4-loan cycle to ACE. She has to take care of her family and the in-laws. She proudly showed me her bulls and the new house that just completed last 2 months. She said that with the next loan, Thanh wants to buy more piglets and medicines for her cattle. 

Mrs. Thanh and her bulls.


On our last group of the year 2013, Na Sang is the commune that locates near Laos border, the Laos ethnic women here suffer from drug addicted husband. I talked to these ladies from the Na Sang 2 group, their stories may sound sobbing yet they remain strong. Tam was a stunning beautiful woman by her look. Raising kids without father alone, I was surprised to find out when I asked how many people in her family."Just two." She was smiling a whole time when I asked questions for her profile. She divorced three years ago when her kid was only 2. Tam's husband addicted to opium, which is not a strange thing in region between the border of Laos and Vietnam. Tam works in several jobs such as raising chicken, pigs, working on rice paddies, and weaving to survive and raise the kid by herself. 

Na Sang 2 Group - Tam is the lady in yellow blouse


Tam said that it was hard for her to borrow from bank because she's a single mom and she doesn't have anything to put down for collateral. Even though this is her first loan with ACE, she was so enthuastic that this loan will help her do well for the next crop. Tam hopes that she can save enough so her kid can go to school in the future. 

Ms. Tam currently joins the weaving and sewing association.


To end this blog, the end of my fellowship might be the beginning of something new. Yet one thing I do know, I appreciate every single moment that I spent in the last 4 months with my MFIs as well as the being part of the team. Who knows the journey of $25 can be that long, but so meaningful in many ways. Thank you, Anh Chi Em, as brothers and sisters who have been doing amazing job!!! Thank you lenders for all of your continously support!!! Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and Happy Lunar New Year!

Bonus local food :)

Local snack - it tastes sour and acrid - You wrap the green "nho't" with cabbage and herb, then dip with ginger sauce

Dien Bien is famous for having the best rice in Vietnam. You can check out Ramsey Gordon and his journey to discover a fine rice in Vietnam here. There's only one crop per year due to the kind of weather so the rice has enough time to fully absorb the energy from soil.
Breakfast - Sticky rice and soy milk

Comments

You paint a colorful picture of northern Vietnam (I love seeing the women in their beautiful outfits!) and reading about ACE's focus on vulnerable groups is an inspiring way to end the year!

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Huyen is originally from Vietnam and has been studying broad in the States for more than 6 years. She graduated from University of Houston with her BA in Business Administration with a concentration in Marketing. After that, she spent a year back in her home country to work with Unilever Vietnam as International Marketing Management Trainee. Currently, Huyen is doing her Masters in Project Management. Huyen is excited to start her Kiva Fellowship in Thanh Hoa, Vietnam and looking forward to sharpening her professional skills not only in marketing, but also in project management. She hopes to bring a new energy to the team as well as helping more people start their businesses.
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