Vang Thi Cau has launched a project that has helped many disadvantaged ethnic minority women in Vietnam’s Ha Giang province escape poverty.
The Lanh Trang (White Flax) Agricultural and Forestry Services Cooperative was established by Cau in Dong Van district’s Sa Phin commune in late 2017 to provide free vocational training and stable jobs and incomes for local women.
Dong Van is one of the country’s poorest districts and most locals are from ethnic minority groups and have limited skills, according to Cau, 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 Hmong ethnic minority group in Dong Van district’s Pho Cao Commune, Cau 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.
“Barren land and unfavourable climate conditions also make agricultural work difficult, making it hard to escape poverty,” Cau said.
She said illiteracy and poverty also put them at a higher risk of domestic violence, human trafficking and illegal labour export.
“We decided to set up the cooperative to help improve the living conditions of local women,” she said.
Up to 90 per cent of women in the commune are from the Hmong 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, she added.
“Many of them are very skilled at flax weaving. So we set up the cooperative to promote the traditional craft and tapping local women’s potential.”
But it was not easy initially, Cau recalled.
Challenges piled up as Cau had to figure out everything herself from setting goals, designing products, providing vocational training to finding outputs for the products.
However, Cau did not give up.
“At first it was not easy to persuade local women to join the cooperative as they could not believe that the model could succeed.
“I planned that vocational training for local women would be completed in the first two months after the cooperative 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.
“Most of them were so shy and did not think they were capable of doing the job well and were unsure the cooperative would succeed.
“Their suffering had also made them more reserved.
“I had to spend almost a month at their houses to talk, persuade and provide vocational training for them,” Cau said.
Gradually, she said, they became more open when they met other women in similar situations, and that gave them the confidence to try.
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 Ha Giang, but are also exported to many countries, including Japan, Laos, Thailand, the US and Germany.
The cooperative has so far created jobs for 95 women from poor households in 15 out of the 19 communes in Dong Van district, Cau said. Each of them now has a stable income of three to six million dong ($130-260) per month.
“Last year, we helped nine women escape poverty,” she said.
Sung Thi Sy, a member of the cooperative, said: “My life has been much improved since I joined the cooperative.”
Sy was a victim of domestic violence due to poverty, but the stable job and income provided by the cooperative 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.
Dong Van district’s People’s Committee vice-chairman Dinh Chi Thanh said the cooperative has helped empower many ethnic minority women to escape poverty sustainably.
Cau 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.
VIET NAM NEWS/ASIA NEWS NETWORK