Tuesday, February 06, 2007

[Press Release] A Way Out of Poverty

from The World Bank

February 5, 2007—Hoang Van Lich once dreaded teaching when the sun wasn’t shining.

The fifth grade teacher’s primary school in Vietnam’s northern mountains region used to have no lights, no fans and a leaky tiled roof.

“When I came to teach at this school, most of the classrooms were in a temporary condition,” he says. “When it rained or got dark, there was nothing we could do but stand there watching.”

However Hoang Van Lich now never has to worry about the weather. His classroom with 23 children now has lights, ceiling fans and a secure roof.

The primary school of Tien Thang commune has 331 children in 16 classes from grades one to five. The school now boasts new classrooms built under funding from Northern Mountains Poverty Reduction Project.

Nearby 80 children at the La Thanh Kindergarten now also have a permanent home.

Surrounded by children from 24 months to five years old, head teacher Ma Thi Thu explains how the building of the kindergarten has brought the children together. “Before the kindergarten was built, we had to rent the houses in the communes and teach there,” she says. “There were seven classes, so we had to rent from the local families.”

In what is one of the poorest areas of Vietnam, some 75 village and primary school classrooms have been built under the project, bringing education to within one kilometer of almost 8000 families in this region.

Empowering Local Communities

The Northern Mountains project goes beyond just providing infrastructure. It’s also aimed at empowering the local communities in the region, one of the poorest in Vietnam. Fifteen percent of the total project cost of US$132 million goes direct to the communes – the lowest level of authority in Vietnam.

In a meeting room simply decorated with the national flag of Vietnam, commune leader, Li Minh Tan, describes how the project has impacted on the 4, 500 people in his commune.

“Before the Northern Mountains Poverty Reduction Project, the infrastructure in this area was rather different and so was the living condition of the people,” he says. “The poverty rate in the year 2002 was around 45%. Now it has reduced to 19.6%.

“We have to say that every year the project has helped reduce poverty in this commune by four or five percent.”

Li Minh Tan cites education as just one of the tangible benefits from the project, delivered to the children in nine villages in his commune.

“Before the school and the kindergarten were built, there was no class in the village near the centre of the commune,” he says. “The children had to learn in three shifts a day. Now the kids have much better conditions and can learn in their classes close to the village.”

Rain used to stop Dao Thi Ngat’s four children from making it to the classroom.
She lives in one of the poorest villages in the commune and makes a living growing rice and sweet potato.

Nowadays, her children can go to school all year round as a new road was built right near her home.

“In the past during the rainy season we had very difficult conditions so that the children cannot go to school and the women had to suffer a lot because we had to actually walk in the waters – go through the waters to get to the centre of the commune, “ she says.

Generating Income

But the road works has also generated money for local villagers in the commune. While an outside contractor was appointed for the road construction near Dao Thi Ngat’s home, part of the deal was local people should be hired.

The head of Rung Cheng village, Nguyen Quoc Huong, now has a job as supervisor and is responsible for checking materials. Fellow villagers work around him, earning about US$2 a day.

For him, the advantages of the project are simple: if the village men weren’t employed building this stretch of roadway he says, they would have to go away to other provinces or communes to earn money.

Since 2002, over 250 kilometers of rural roads have been built in the northern mountains region and are being used by more than 80,000 people.

Products to Market

In Tien Thang commune, the road construction now means local farmers have a way to get their products to market.

“Before the roads were built, there was no access for cars or trucks to come from the district to buy people’s agricultural products and so was very difficult for people to get access to the market and sell,” says Mi Minh Tan. “And that’s why the farmers had to suffer and sell their products at very low cheap products and took a lot of time and effort to take their goods to the market”

Farmers’ incomes have also been boosted by more than 80 small scale irrigation schemes bringing water to more than 1,300 hectares of land.

“In the past, the farmers could only really grow one crop a year,” says Luu Xuan Vuong, vice chair of the People’s Committee of the Yen The District, standing near a rice field and pointing to a reservoir in the distance.

“But with this new irrigation system, it helps bring enough water for them to grow three crops a year. In the past, there was not enough water so they couldn’t grow more than one and a half crops a year.”

The fact the canal system was requested by local farmers highlights a key element of the Northern Mountains Poverty Reduction Project – giving voice and power to people.

“I think the most successful achievement of this project is the capacity building for the local authorities and also raising the awareness and knowledge of the local people, says Luu Xuan Vuong, who’s also the vice director of the Northern Mountains Poverty Reduction Project in Yen The District.

Funding Direct to Communes

With the communes receiving about US$17 million out of the total project cost, it’s the local people who not only decide but manage the small scale projects, like roads, building small reservoirs, lining canal systems and even investing in village classrooms.

For these communes, it’s the first time they’ve had the opportunity to manage an investment budget. So far 368 communes in the northern mountains region have decided on 22 thousand projects.

Project director Madam Le Thi Thong, from Vietnam’s Ministry of Planning and Investment says the move in line with the government’s plans for decentralization.

Involved in the project since its inception, Madam Thong is clear about its benefits:
“The main values of this project are that it greatly benefits grassroots people and also facilitates the behavioral changes at a level never seen before.”

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