“Vietnam is in My Heart”

Once every a few days, Bettina Martin leaves Hanoi for Tam Dao National Park where she participates in the Project of Managing Tam Dao National Park and the Buffer Zone. For her, who lived for nearly five years in the remote forests in Tuyen Quang, the 70km ride from Hanoi to Tam Dao National Park is not a long distance to travel.

Bettina Martin, a graduate in biology, left her motherland in Baden Wunttemberg Province in South-western Germany for Vietnam to participate in the Na Hang Nature Reserve Project, Tuyen Quang Province, with the major task of protecting the snub-nosed langur, a precious species in danger of extinction due to the hunting of the locals. According to the data of the Institute for Ecology and Creature Resources under the Vietnam National Institute for Science and Technology, there are now o­nly 60-100 snub-nosed langurs left from 130 individuals found in the first survey.

“The director of the Zoological Park in West Germany introduced me to Vietnam, a poor country with a history of prolonged wars,” said Bettina. Right after setting foot in Vietnam, she came to the forests in Tuyen Quang and worked there as the director of the project. Bettina lived alone in the forest with Tay and Dao ethnic groups and worked with foresters, her colleagues in the project. “It was a great challenge to me. Due to the difference in languages, at first the work was ineffective. It was very difficult for me to tell the foresters and locals about my ideas and opinions. I thought that if I couldn’t speak the locals’ language I wouldn’t be able to get my message across. It also meant I wouldn’t know where the animals live and how they are threatened so as to seek the way to protect them. I realized that to make the work more effective, it was necessary to work with the locals, not the animals,” said Bettina. For that reason, Bettina decided to learn Vietnamese o­n her own.

The appearance of a female foreigner in the remote mountainous area was at first very strange to the locals. However, via meetings, talks and exchanges, Bettina Martin helped the locals understand the fact that the deforestation and hunting are destroying their living environment. “What I have achieved is the change of the locals’ behaviours,’ said Bettina.

The difficult living conditions in the forest together with a small sum of money for the project had never discouraged her. After four years, she agreed to undertake another project o­n preserving the Tam Dao National Park. She entrusted the practical work to the foresters in Na Hang but often travels there to inspect and supervise the work.

Bettina said: “For me, it is very interesting when living in Tuyen Quang or Tam Dao. What pleases me most is that I am working as a botanist in protecting the natural environment”. Having participated in the Tam Dao National Park Project since 2003, Bettina is always busy with her work, writing weekly plans and managing the project. She has never backed down from any work, from patrolling with the foresters or selling products, such as honey and candles made by the Tam Dao Natural Reserve Branch, founded by her, to raise money for the project.

Besides the assistance of her colleagues and the locals, Bettina is also much supported by her husband, painter Tuan Anh, who won the first prize at a fine arts competition in Vietnam in 2003. “Bettina is always engulfed in her work. She is very frank and lovely,” said Tuan Anh proudly.

At present, Bettina speaks Vietnamese very well. “I will live and work in Vietnam with my husband. I see that people here are very close so I don’t feel alone,” said Bettina.

Every a few months, Bettina with her husband travel to Thanh Hoa to visits her in-laws. She likes to cook Vietnamese dishes with her mother-in-law o­n special occasions, particularly Tet Holidays. “Vietnam is in my heart,” Bettina smiled and played a piece of music with nhi (Vietnamese two-chord fiddle). She said that she wanted to understand more about Vietnam via the traditional music instrument.

Story by Vuong Mo