Women’s Union brings hope to poor families

Lives of women such as Ngo Thi Hung and Nguyen Thi Du from Cat Thuong Commune, a suburban district of Ha Noi, have remarkably changed since getting support from the Ha Noi Women’s Union.

Ngo Thi Hung recalled her hard time: when she first got married she was homeless and barely had enough food to survive. Her husband, a wounded soldier without a disability allowance due to lack of documentation, sometimes went mad and woke the family in the middle of the night. The couple earned a living by mowing lawns and selling the clippings to horse owners. Often, they would give up their meals for their children and go to bed hungry.

Fortunately, the commune’s Women’s Union guaranteed Hung a bank loan of VND5 million (US$312) and a productive cow from the commune people’s committee. Thanks to their support, she was able to raise chickens and buy food for her cow. The income from her livestock eased her financial burdens to the point where her family paid off their debt, and confidently took out another bank loan. "We have set aside VND13 million ($812) to repair our kitchen, bathroom and toilet. My daughters are now married; o­ne of them supplies vegetables for me to sell from home so I can earn VND20,000 and 30,000 ($1.25-$1.85) a day," said Hung.

Nguyen Thi Du from Dong Ba Hamlet, Cat Thuong Commune suffered in poverty as well. Her husband was a gambler and lost their house and land to pay off gambling debt. She left home with her three young children and was faced with the immense challenge of supporting a family of four o­n her own. She settled down in a tent near the river bank. "We could not sleep many times because of anxiety that high waves and strong wind would collapse the tent," Du said. She had to ask for accommodation in a pre-school.

The local Women’s Union o­nce again came to the rescue. They asked the commune’s Party Committee, People’s Committee and Dong Ba co-operative to lend Du three sao (about 1,000 sq.m) of cultivated land o­n the river bank. The union also found jobs for her two sons in a woodworking establishment with salaries of VND400,000 and 500,000 (US$25 - US$31) per month.

Du’s family was able to improve their living conditions. "Seeing that there was a lot of fallow grass o­n the river edge, suitable for raising cows, we asked the Hunger Eradication and Poverty Reduction board to lend her a productive milk cow worth VND3.2 million ($200) and guarantee her a loan of VND5 million ($312) from the Social Policy Bank," said a member of the Women Union. Du was also enrolled in training courses o­n raising productive cows. "After five years, the cow had calves, now we have six," Du said happily. She was able to afford 80 square meters of land o­n which she and her sons established a carpentry shop.

In 2006, sixteen local Women’s Union branches in Tu Liem District were able to rescue 72 households from poverty. The district Women’s Union’s goal is that each inferior union will assist six families.

The vice chairwoman of the Women’s Union of Tay Tuu Commune, famed for a flower supply source for Ha Noi and other provinces, said: "ninety per cent of Tay Tuu land is used to plant flowers. Thus, our union has helped six families to earn living from floriculture."

"Planting flowers is a very strenuous job," said Chu Thi Thuy from Tay Tuu commune. "We spend all morning watering flowers, and all afternoon harvesting them. In the evening we have to sort them and at 10pm bring them to the flower markets as far away as Quang Ba, Tay Ho district to sell them to traders from Hai Phong."

Planting trees implies risks. In 2006, she lost her entire crop in a disastrous hail storm. The 4,600-square-metre field was destroyed; her life savings were gone with the wind. Fortunately, the local authority compensated her and other flower growers in the neighbourhood affected by the storm. Planting flowers, despite its many hardships such as insects and drought, has made her family more comfortable.

In the last five years, 90 per cent of households in Ha Noi have been rescued from poverty thanks to bank loans. This represents a huge reduction in the number of poor family in Ha Noi. The city Women’s Union has also organised many science-technology transfer courses to help disadvantaged women use their loans effectively.