Stepping Up, Stepping Out

By Brandon Ng
30-Hour Famine Advocate 2012

So there I was, at the airport, at 7:30 in the morning, after being dropped off by my parents. There, I met up with complete strangers.

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Brandon, the youngest in the group is seated in the front wearing black. Photo by kimberlylow.com

You see, me, little old me, was chosen, to be one of five Famine Advocates to be – well, advocates of the 30-Hour Famine cause in Malaysia and I was chosen to take part in this media visit, with other people from various media portals. I was going to Vietnam to witness World Vision’s community development work in 3 communes. To witness the poverty that is actually happening right now in Vietnam. To be honest, right down to the very last hour I felt that the whole experience was pretty surreal. I truly did not know what to expect from this trip. I was leaving Malaysia, my home, behind and venturing into a different country, a different culture, to have a hands-on insight into the reality of poverty.

If that wasn’t counted as stepping out of my comfort zone, I don’t know what is.

The timetable on the first day was pretty easy on us. There wasn’t much to do besides being on the road  day. After touching down at about 12pm local time, we headed straightaway to the Mai Chau district, in Hoa Binh province. It is 130km away from Hanoi and 40km from Hoa Binh city. The whole journey took up to 5 hours on the dusty, dreadfully bumpy roads of Vietnam. I was quite shocked by the culture and the driving habits of motorists on the roads of Vietnam. It seems as though they use their blaring horns every other second to notify other motorists of their presence on the road. Then again, it was interesting to be on the right side of the road for a change.

As much as the roads in Vietnam were dreadful, the scenery, on the other hand, was beautiful. The road that we took passed by lots of mountains and hills. The view was the postcard-material kind the whole way. Talk about greenery at its finest.

We checked into the hotel late evening and had our dinner at a nearby restaurant. After that we walked to the very recently set-up World Vision office (that very day in fact) in the Mai Chau district 1km away for the briefing and introduction to the Mai Chau Area Development Programme. There we learnt about the different communes that were in the Mai Chau. There are a total of 23 communes and World Vision Vietnam has pinpointed the 5 poorest communes to partner with – Pu Bin, Noong Lung, Tan Dan, Tan Mai and Phuc San, and have begun to work with them. The two communes that we were planning to visit were Tan Mai and Pu Bin commune, where the poverty rate was estimated to be at 83% and 54% respectively. There, we were going to meet different families to learn about their struggles of living in poverty.

It was made known to us that these five communes were going through A&D, i.e. the Assessment and Design process. It is essential that World Vision build a good relationship and co-ordinate with the children, families and communities. This relationship had to be built over time to enable the workers to determine the source of poverty among the villagers and to decide on the best way  to utilise funds to help the villagers create a self-sustainable environment to live in.

That, in a nutshell, was my first day in Vietnam. We walked back to the hotel after the briefing and had a good rest, as we were all tired from a whole day of travelling. There was a spirit of anticipation in the air as we looked forward to the next few days, where we would truly step into the actual world of poverty.