Saturday, June 28, 2014

CEF girls from our northern education program have challenges

We face challenges with our girls in our northern program. They live far from any major city and most of their parents have very traditional country thinking. This thinking holds many girls back from moving out of the cycle of poverty of their parents and grandparents. This is an area where most girls marry in their late teens and have several children by the time they are in their early 20's.

Some of the fathers are our biggest challenge. They believe their daughters should be helping the family by going into the work force as soon as possible, even considering it fine for them to work when they are under age in local factories.  They don't consider their vulnerability or their futures; they just think about what they want now; more money.

The mothers are very different. They don't want their daughters to have the life they have, and the daughters don't want to have the life their mothers have. Nearly all the girls express concern for their exhausted mothers, who work tirelessly to produce the rice crops and grow some vegetables for the family, care for the children and look after their husband and often the mother-in-law too.

Some have had or have livestock such as chickens and ducks and others have borrowed heavily to invest in pigs. Most have been left with heavy debts as a few years back all the pigs became diseased and died and not long before that there was avian flu and they lost their ducks and chickens. Most are hesitant to take on further debt to invest in livestock again, but a few do.

A used to have an unrealistic perspective of rice growing; the rich green rice looked so beautiful, and the women in their conical hats so picturesque. But the reality is that behind this scene there are many highly stressed and ill farmers desperately trying to make ends meet, and almost never being able to. Some of the fathers who were 'normal', no longer are due to the stress; they suffer with mental illness now. One lad had so much pressure on him to be a successful university student and change his family's future, that he had a nervous breakdown. Three of the mothers have cancer. Many of the mothers have ulcers from the ongoing stress and most don't go to the doctor due to lack of any free time to do that. There is little reprieve in being a rice farmer and nothing appealing at all.

Some of the families out of desperation try their luck in far away Ho Chi Minh City and rarely with good results. Some parents leave their children and the rice fields with the grandparents for many years, some fathers work hard as laborers hoping to change their luck, but return years later having not succeeded. Some start a HCM family and never return, some of them have returned with severely damaged spines or brain injury from falls as the farmers are given the very hard and risky work, and they take this work out of desperation. Occasionally a  family is successful in their pursuit of  bettering themselves but only short term. They come back and build a nice home, only to be left with huge debt due to bad budgeting and the forever increasing costs of building materials.

It is a bleak picture for most of them and I often wondered how they kept going. After many years of working with them and getting to know this community I believe it is their faith and the support of their religious community that is their lifeline.

Here are some of the gorgeous girls from this northern education program. We hope their fathers will allow them to finish school and let them go onto university; many are very bright and have the potential to be top university students and have bright futures ahead of them. We sometimes have to argue with the fathers to help them see that we have students from their community in university and that we are providing  financial and emotional support for them. Sometimes we fail in getting agreement for the girls to be enrolled in university, but so far they have let them finish school. We are happy if they can finish school, as even that makes a difference.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Keeping girls in school reduces their vulnerability to being trafficked

We believe in keeping girls in school as long as possible and supporting our graduates to receive tertiary education, as this allows them to have many choices after graduation. We also believe if they are in school or college, versus being unemployed and searching for work, that they are less vulnerable to the wiles of traffickers. They are for sure, but they are not exempt from the ongoing efforts of traffickers. Sadly the fact is that traffickers are getting more ruthless and shrewd; traffickers include siblings, other class mates and recent school graduates.

Poor girls and young women worldwide are so vulnerable to traffickers, as they know of their desperation for a better life. As long as poverty exists there will be trafficking. As long as birth control policies exist in societies that value males, then there will be gender inequality, therefore there will always be a high abortion rate, infanticide and trafficking of females, as is the case in Vietnam and China.

Because the trafficking of impoverished girls and young women is a growing issue in Vietnam it is being publicized more, through media and by NGO's; this helps spread awareness of this issue, but it leaves females deprived of  the opportunity of growing up experiencing trust and safety in their homes, schools and communities.

Some of our CEF girls who are at a very vulnerable age...

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Mums with a mission - Guest blog by Brian

Throughout Vietnam it is a frequent sight to see little old ladies bent almost double as a result of a lifetime of toil in the rice fields. Thankfully today’s thirty and forty year old rice farmers have some labor saving machinery, such as harvesting machines for use in large rice fields and threshing machines are in use in most fields. Their bodies have no need to suffer to the same degree as their mothers did.

However, the job remains extremely arduous to achieve a small successful crop yield that will feed the family and hopefully provide a few dollars cash income. It involves toiling for hours each day and days on end, and in high temperatures and humidity for much of the summer farming season.

Little wonder then that these mothers and grandmothers are fierce in their determination to achieve better life outcomes for their children. And, it is no surprise that when the visiting CEF team asks the relevant questions, to assess the level of commitment in a household for the education of their children, we are invariably met with a resounding affirmation of support.

There is no doubt that these women embody the CEF ethos, that is (through education), of 'helping (their) girls grow to be women with choices'.   

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Storms influence decisions - Guest blog by Brian

Many had completed harvesting; while for others the family rice plot was ready to harvest, the humidity was building up alarmingly, the lightning was flickering all around and storms were imminent.

One powerful storm could devastate a rice crop, threatening the family’s ability to feed itself and destroying any chance of the meager cash income that can eventuate from a good yield.

In many village families the woman is left alone to care for the family and tend the crop, while her husband seeks laboring work in the city in an endeavor to gain a cash income.

This was the scenario when the CEF team recently visited Phuc Le to see supported children and discuss their progress with parents. 

Many mothers had this dilemma while we visited this time due to stormy weather: do they get into the rice fields quickly and harvest to save their crop, or stay home to discuss their child’s education and hope for the best. 

Understandably the rice took priority and we managed fine with them gone.  As the children's schooling progresses many of the older children show increasing confidence when dealing with us.  The extraordinary willingness of extended family members and neighbors to assist with the interviews of younger ones demonstrates the strength of family and community spirit in the village.

While doing home visits in the countryside

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Staff and volunteers captured at CEF's Water Safety Day

(Photos by Linh and Linda)

Just photos from our Water Safety Day

It was fun taking photos of the children today as there were many great moments, with some captured here!

CEF's Water Safety Day was great fun!

What a fun day we all had at the beach with some of our Quang Nam children in CEF's education program!

 (Quang Nam children, staff, some parents and volunteers & 
our water safety teachers from SWIM VIETNAM)

(Water Safety theory for one of the groups: we had three groups.)

Our 'Water Safety Day' is an important annual event for the children. The majority of Vietnamese can't swim and unfortunately it results in 10 children drowning every day! *(*Viet Nam Ministry of Health statistics)  UNICEF calls it a silent epidemic!

We played games on the beach, the main one everyone loved was tug of war. 

The sack race was popular too.

When we started doing our Water Safety Day 4 years ago, only a couple of the CEF children knew how to swim. Some of our staff can swim and some can't. By the end of today I could see many of the children had become quite good at swimming and , two more staff had learned to float and could swim a little.  

(Lunch was delicious thanks to all those who prepared it with care.)

And we finished the day by taking them to the local cinema to see a movie. It was a good day for all!

All these wonderful photos are by our local photographer Linh Tran. 
Linh's email: