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Country profile: Vietnam

A difficult past has not stopped Vietnam from developing into a dynamic modern economy. During the past two decades, the country has experienced significant economic growth as it shifted to a market-style economy

While poverty has fallen in recent years, many ethnic minorities and those living in the rural areas remain poor. Urban poverty is also a challenge as towns and cities swell with the influx of people from rural areas who are drawn by economic opportunities. In densely populated Ho Chi Minh City, for example, it is estimated that , people live in slums. *. (*Source – Habitat for Humanity www.habitat.org)

Michael Evans provides us with some insight on his recent adventures as EWB’s South East Asia Field Officer….

Last month I gave you an update on my visit to existing EWB partners and volunteers in Vietnam, this month I continued my journey by firstly visiting Habitat for Humanity (HFH) in Saigon.

HFH specialises in the implementation of integrated and sustainable community based shelter and water sanitation solutions.  HFH also works in rehabilitating and repairing properties damaged by severe weather that frequently strikes the country’s long coastline*. (*source: habitat for Humanity www.habitat.org)

During my visit I discovered that HFH are really thrilled with the recent students they received as part of the RMIT scholarship and they are looking forward to extending their involvement with the program.  In addition they communicated their eagerness to work with EWB on a Climate Change Adaptation project – addressing the impact of climate change on Vietnam, as the affect on rainfall, storm severity and groundwater salinity is beginning to be recognized.   Luckily we were able to direct an EWB volunteer with the skills and the interest in this area, a very positive outcome!

 I also visited EWB volunteer Gary Field-Mitchell who is currently working at East Meets West.  East Meets West work in the areas of education, medical and health care, clean water, sanitation and infrastructure largely in Vietnam and South East Asia*. (*Source: www.eastmeetswest.org).   Gary had organized a tour of some water supply projects around the Mekong Delta.  During the tour I was able to see first hand the amazing things they are accomplishing together in quality control and community coordination.

As a fairly unqualified observation, I think the Vietnam development scene is remarkably robust and efficient; generally communities have had good experiences with foreign and local aid.  They understand the need for having community ownership of projects and once they do they will probably pull it apart, and jerry-rig it back together with some strange set of contraptions and have it working at like % efficiency – I love these people!

So does Gary and he doesnt want to leave Vietnam anytime soon.  We saw some awesome devices like custom-made surge towers, bore-hoists, water filters and pressure-modulating devices that I wont bore the non-water-engineers with the details of (but I was really excited).

 After the tour I then headed straight to Hanoi and spent some time with our two volunteers there at Medical Technology Transfer (MTTS) – Matt Blyde and John Kis. The office is humming with local and a few foreign staff working to make neo-natal health care units cheaper, faster more user-friendly (and more suited to the level of training in regional hospitals).   According to Matt, MTTS is simply a great place to work in, and John has certainly found his skills tested in new ways to increase the efficiency of their production.  MTTS will be looking for another volunteer to continue to developing the Design of their devices so look out for that one in the next intake round!

 I also aimed to catch up with Catherine Ganley – another volunteer whos also based with the East Meets West Foundation (but in the north unlike Gary). I had to settle for meeting her at the Hanoi office as I managed to miss accompanying her as she went gallivanting around the Northern districts on scooter gathering bottles of honey and rice wine, straw hats (three), and a bunch of fruit and snacks.

 She is helping appraise EMWs education system and providing general quality-management on a number of projects, while explaining to other EMW staff how shes doing it so they can implement similar methods in the future.  She too is looking to stay on with EMW, but in the form of an extended placement, so Im sorry to say that we may not be advertising for a replacement for her role anytime soon!

 So finally my visit to Vietnam was over (for now) and I had sufficient time to reflect as I took in the stunning views from the cliff – hugging tracks of the overnight ‘Reunification Express” train from Vietnam to Cambodia. 

 It’s back to Phnom Penh for me as I coordinate the new positions for volunteers currently in pre-departure mode.

 Stay tuned, thanks for reading and I’ll update you again soon.

 Michael