The Gift that Keeps on Giving
Poverty here in Vietnam is hidden away. Tourists flock to the urban centres, to the fancy sights of Ha Long Bay, or up to the remote north to buy handbags sewn together by hill-tribe communities. The injustice of poverty here is not obvious on the surface and, as a visitor, you’d be forgiven for not spotting it immediately.
Now classed as a lower-middle income country, DFID (the UK government’s Department for International Development) will exit Vietnam next year, and other government donors are following. Vietnam is moving fast and traditional aid funding is evaporating, re-directed in bulk towards low-income countries and fragile states (countries undergoing or recovering from conflict).
But the progress in Vietnam (as with many other countries in Asia and Africa which are economically accelerating forwards) risks hiding away many millions of marginalised communities, like the ones I met this week.
I saw subsistence farmers living in squallor, surviving on corn sales and, if fortunate, the $30-a-month livelihood offered up by owning 10 chickens and five pigs...
CARE International works on these injustices, and we focus on women, and their empowerment. Through our Lendwithcare initiative, our supporters have been able to make small loans to 28,000 entrepreneurs in 11 countries, including Vietnam – a loan that can be the first step for poor people to begin working their way out of poverty.
For some borrowers here in Vietnam, this means an affordable loan to buy fertiliser; for others it might mean the next rung up the ladder, and an opportunity to buy livestock; for others, the ability to benefit from new technologies such as bio gas.
Having a bio gas system in your household means you can convert livestock waste into both liquid fertiliser and bio gas, which helps reduce electricity use (and therefore saves money) as well as improving the air quality in your garden, and therefore the health of your family.
It also helps provide women with a sense of standing in a community and can inspire others to do the same.
This week I met 10 borrowers, all benefiting from Lendwithcare loans like these. The last lady on our trip showed us her newly acquired concrete bathroom facility, something of which she was very proud. Yet her house still stood precariously on stilts, surrounded by a reminder of some of the other obstacles she and her family face: open stove fires, no electricity, and her children’s clothes hung out to dry on a thatched roof.
That each lender requested access to further loans was, then, of no surprise. The CARE scheme offers loans via local micro-finance institutions (MFIs), at lower interest rates than other loan options available.
The MFI we partner with, named MACDI, care deeply about their ‘customers’ to the extent that on our visit we stopped several times at previous borrowers’ households, where there had been tragedies – a son killed on a construction site, a wife whose husband had irreversible cancer, and an 80-year-old woman, crippled with arthritis but still caring for her mentally disabled daughter – so that the MACDI staff could pass on gifts and words of solidarity and compassion.
For CARE – as for our partner organisation MACDI – out of sight does not mean out of mind. This year, the world signed up to a new set of Sustainable Development Goals, promoted with the mantra of ‘leaving no-one behind’. Lendwithcare is a great way for anyone to be involved in making sure that happens: that no-one is left behind.
As a lender with Lendwithcare, you get to choose your borrower from an online profile, and watch as the loan made is re-paid back to you in full, ready for you to then, should you wish, re-loan it to someone else.
This Christmas, why not give yourself, or your family and friends, the gift that keeps on giving?
This blog was previously published on Lendwithcare.org, and is reproduced with permission.