New Year, New Project

GOOD NEWS FROM VIETNAM AS OUR LATEST HOUSING PROJECT HAS JUST BEGUN IN VINH LONG!

We first visited the family back in December whilst our team was finishing our last housing project. Mr and Mrs Bảy are already in their 60s and still working unskilled and labouring jobs day to day to support their family. Their son, Phong, is 40 and suffers from Cerebral Palsy and has been unable to work all his life. Hồng, 9, their granddaughter and Phong's niece also lives with them and is currently attending primary school. Her mother is currently working in Saigon and sending money back to the family in Vinh Long.
 

WE'LL BE SUPPORTING THE FAMILY THROUGH 3 ACTIONS. 

HOUSE RENOVATIONS

The current house is liveable but in a state of disrepair. It is in close proximity (about 4m) to the nearest river and not on raised ground. The roof is also in poor condition but there are two standing walls that can be renovated and built around to improve the living space and provide a cleaner, safer house.

DISABILITY SUPPORT

We will providing financial assistance the family to support Phong's medical care. Unfortunately the medication and doctor's fees are a fairly large expense to the family considering they still have a variety of other outgoings that need to be taken into account. At the moment they are unable to pay for hospital visits and have only been able to purchase medication sporadically which can have a difficult impact on Phong as well as the rest of the family. We are supporting for 1 year of medical care for Phong to ease this financial burden on the family and working with them to develop the means to be able to start supporting the fees themselves in the future

MICROFINANCE FOR NEW WORK EQUIPMENT


Currently, Mr and Mrs Bảy work at local rice fields and farms shearing grass and crops as well as clearing the natural waste left behind. We are providing them with a loan to purchase new equipment that will allow them to set up contracts for more consistent work as they can complete jobs more efficiently. Also, this will reduce the physicality of the work, a crucial impact as they are still supporting a family despite both being over 60 years old and should ideally be lessening their workload. 

IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO DONATE YOU CAN DO SO HERE.

THANKS FOR YOUR SUPPORT AND CHECK BACK HERE FOR THE LATEST UPDATES ON THE PROJECT!

Brick By Brick: A Step Forward

In early July of 2014 our team began raising funds in Australia and Japan for what would be our first sustainable housing project for a family living in sub par conditions in rural Vietnam.  At the same time, part of our team was on the ground in Vietnam planning the logistics of the project; sourcing builders, creating blueprints for the house, meeting local authorities and finalising budgets for building, transportation and accommodation. Our founder, Anh Thu, has ties within the local region and she helped connect us with the right people who all contributed to the success of the first project. This was a great advantage to us as we were able to locate the people who were in need the most and ensure the money we raised went directly to the people we set out to support.

In early February our entire team was on the ground in Vietnam to oversee and help with the project, and three local volunteers and two international volunteers joined us bringing our total to ten. Our project was a lot like Vietnam itself, organised chaos. To say that everything ran smoothly would be a blatant lie as it was our first project, but having a lot of experience from previous work in Vietnam and knowledge of the culture allowed us to expect the unexpected and get the job done. We knew what could have gone wrong and were able to prepare for it. Sure enough we hit a minor roadblock before the project began when our original accommodation fell through, but thankfully we were able to acquire homestay accommodation.

Our labour throughout the project consisted of carrying bricks, stones, and sand, mixing cement and bending and cutting wire. We were able to learn some bricklaying skills, but our attempts were below average at best. If our team had had a greater role in the bricklaying, the project would not be completed till 2022. Part of the project budget was allocated to local labourers and we felt satisfied to provide local people with work and avoid any mishaps that might take place when people who know nothing of building, try to build.

During our stay we visited many farms and rice paddies, held a cultural exchange day where we cooked some of our favourite foods for the locals, gave scholarships to thirteen children to continue attending school and held a rather untraditional ‘sports day’.

We slept on mats on the floor for the entire stay, woke up very early thanks to boats, roosters and geese, and cooked our own food everyday. Some of us didn’t shower enough out of laziness or not wanting to use a bucket, and at some stage we blocked a toilet.

It was an experience.

The house took shape remarkably quickly and we are very impressed by the final result. A year of planning had finally become something real, a milestone for us. It was hard work, it had its ups and downs, but we are very content with the finished result.

Thank you to everyone who supported us and donated, and a special thank you to Chris, Paul and Alix for their efforts and contributions that made the project possible.

Stay tuned for information on our next housing project that will take place in December!

Serenity Now!

At the crack of dawn on a cool Friday morning half of our team travelled to Tam Binh, Vinh Long, Vietnam to visit the building site for our first project 'Brick By Brick'. Anh Minh; our program coordinator in Vietnam, met with our director Max, assistant director Tony and secretary Chris for the journey. After a few reasonably pleasant bus and bike rides our team was buzzing to check on the progress of the build which had commenced 3 days earlier.

Vinh Long is a beautiful place and although this is something that can be said for all of Vietnams rural areas, having the multiple canals from the Mekong Delta close by makes this place all that more exciting. The house is located at the very front of one of these canals, so much so that the materials for building the house were transported by boat.

During the afternoon we were able to test the boat transportation that we will be using on a daily basis, and without embellishment, it was quite a scene. Tony and Chris were having their first visit to this area, and the issues of flooding sunk in very quickly. The existing foundations are soft, muddy and very impractical for housing.

DSC00469.JPG

Trung and his team have made significant progress so far. The first task was to knock down Trung’s existing house (the family are staying with his mother in the meantime) and retain any materials that could be recycled and used again in the current build. They were able to salvage a relatively good haul of old wood and bamboo which will be used right away in the foundations of the new house. 

The new house will be built in the area behind where the original house sat. This was just muddy grassland before but the team are making the most of all the space available and have dug up the area. The process involves digging multiple holes in the places where the support pillars will stand. These are then filled with the recycled bamboo for support and then the inner iron for each pillar is fixed to each hole to be bricked around later on. Once each hole is complete, they will fill the entire area of the house with sand and foundation rock. This area will be raised about 50cm above the current level, which will prevent the issue of repetitive flooding in the future. Once this step is complete, brick work can begin.

Stay tuned for more updates and be sure to follow us on Instagram at @stepforwardexchange, twitter at @stepforwardex and on Facebook at STEP Forward Exchange.

If you would like to donate to 'Brick by Brick' you can do so here.

Donate

Brick by Brick Proposed Project

 

StepForward completed its first project “Brick by Brick” in March 2015. The project was a success and we are currently fundraising for our upcoming projects. Thanks for your continued support, without your help our work wouldn't be possible. To learn more about our upcoming projects, hover on the projects tab.

 

Beneficiaries

StepForward visited Anh Trung and his family in September 2014 and immediately saw their need for support. Trung, 34, works as an independent labourer in the local area, while providing some income the work is erratic and inconsistent. He often relies on others to source jobs for him and when he can find work, the jobs may last for 1-2 weeks but the same cycle then repeats and he may have to wait weeks, even months before new work opportunities become available. This is particularly difficult during the rainy season as work is often cut short due to monsoons and local companies prefer to rely on their fixed staff, ironically “drying up” chances for Trung to work. If he is unable to find labour work, he will look for other jobs but without a proper skill-set; these are menial, low paying jobs that don’t provide a concrete platform for his family. 

download (1).jpg

In addition to this, Trung’s wife, Dao, travels away from home to work in a factory in another area of Vinh Long. While this may seem positive with the guarantee of a fixed income, the pay is low and due to the distance, Dao must stay in the area to work for weeks at a time. Once the cost of living at her worksite is discounted from her salary it is nowhere near enough to support the family on a monthly basis. Most of this income is used to support their nine year-old son, Nghia, who is currently attending primary school.

Nghia was recently in a serious motorbike accident and required four operations and a one-month stay in hospital. What funds the family did have were sapped by the unexpected but necessary expense and the family now find themselves in a particularly difficult situation. Despite this setback, Nghia is back at school where he has proven a good student, with the school often praising his achievement. However; with the cost of school tuition and equipment and a lack of sufficient income within the family, he could potentially be forced to give up his studies in the not too distant future to find work in the local area and provide for the family. We believe higher education and understanding to be key tools for economic and social development and Nghia leaving school would be a backward step for a student with promise. This is a regular occurrence and does not only apply to Nghia, as different generations find themselves stuck in the poverty cycle and are often forced to leave to school to find work. StepForward will work to break this cycle and improve the family’s quality of living through improved housing conditions and economic stability.

 

Project Aims

  • Improved housing conditions leading to a better quality of life
  • Microfinance loan to develop a small sustainable business encouraging economic stability and independence
  • Emphasis on the significance of education through the provision of scholarships and study initiatives

Improved Housing Conditions and a Better Quality of Life

StepForward will relocate the family to brand new accommodation built on the site of their current home. As of now, the family are living in a house constructed mainly of bamboo, dried leaves and tree branches, one side of the house is currently protected by a large tarp which in particular does not provide much protection from the elements. The house is built next to a stream and although it is slightly raised, is still at risk of flooding especially owing to the low quality of materials in use. The land is owned by the family, allowing us to make the most of the space available. We plan to comfortably accommodate the family in a large, two-roomed house comprising of a shared bedroom and a living space fit with kitchen area and potential to be utilised as a separate sleeping area if required. The house’ foundations will be raisied to prevent flooding and will be constructed from brick and metal providing proper protection from all weather conditions. There will also be a small bathroom built separately to the house, currently the family are without toilet facilities and are either using their neighbours’ or using the open area around their house which is extremely unsanitary in the long-term.

Improved housing provides countless benefits as the family have a comfortable living environment allowing them to focus on securing income. As well as this, the reduced risk of contracting illness and disease is paramount.  Parents can work steadily; able to provide food and other basic essentials whilst arguably most important, the child can focus on their education with less chance of a disrupted attendance and a clean and healthy environment to study at home.

Microfinance loan to develop a small sustainable business encouraging economic stability and independence

StepForward will invest in a small micro-finance loan for the family to set up and run their own sustainable business. We will invest 5 million VND ($236 USD) into a small chicken farming enterprise and vegetable garden for personal and business use. This initial investment will be repaid after one year by which time, the business should be in profit and beneficiaries can move forward independently with consistent, guaranteed income. 3 million VND will be utilised towards the construction of a chicken coop, 8-10 chicks and chicken feed to cover a 6-month period. Each chicken has a three-month cycle of growth before they are taken to market to be sold by the kilogram. This should allow for four cycles before the loan repayment with the family left in a strong position; able to continue buying and selling as well as having funds to clear their debts.

The remaining funds will be used to build a vegetable garden and provide equipment to support maintenance. This will provide a small, but steady income to run alongside the chicken enterprise with produce available to both neighbours and the local market. This will also reduce daily food expenses, as vegetables will be readily available if needed. Providing sustainable financial independence and stability is a key target for StepForward's beneficiaries, giving them freedom to improve their quality of life.

With low-maintenance businesses such as these, Trung can continue his regular work safe in the knowledge that the family has a consistent income to supplement his daily earnings. Slowly, previous issues become less important as food and other essentials are readily available to the family. As well as this, while we of course encourage children to remain in education, Nghia can help in the business, learning a new skill in farming and developing his business sense and understanding. Developing this business nous early can lead to many benefits later in life. 

 

Emphasis on the significance of education through the provision of scholarships and study initiatives

Whilst education is widely accepted and encouraged as a key part of life in Vietnam, the inaccessibility of further education can prove a massive road block to low-income families, let alone those living in and around the poverty line. StepForward believe that education should be available for everyone regardless of fees and costs. While it may not be the right route for everyone, StepForward work to develop this understanding in rural communities that despite knowing the benefits, see further education in particular as more of a financial burden than a positive investment. Through the provision of scholarships and study initiatives we hope to encourage more focus on the positive role of education in personal, as well as wider community development. This also serves to empower children as their continued participation in education leads to more specific areas of interest and study and as a result the desire to commit to further study to fulfill their potential.

StepForward will commit to a full one-year scholarship for Nghia, which will have the option to be renewed on a yearly basis depending on performance and attendance. The scholarship will cover all educational costs including tuition, uniform, text and notebooks and all other school equipment. This will also link in with our long-term microfinance objective as we encourage the family to become self-sufficient and be in a position to retake full financial responsibility for education having seen the benefits through unclouded eyes.

In an effort to encourage higher-reaching targets and ambition, we will also offer study initiatives that may include funding for extra-curricular activities, support in outside language classes and new school equipment amongst other smaller prizes. There will be no applied pressure to meet specific targets but by making education a rewarding experience, we hope to motivate our scholarship recipients into taking their education more seriously after seeing first-hand there can be benefits. 

Proposed Final Outcome

 

StepFoward’s target results are both immediate and long-term. Breaking from the cycle of poverty is a process that requires investment from both StepForward and project beneficiaries. We will see an immediate result upon completion of the house, as the family can relocate from sub-standard, high-risk housing to safe and comfortable accommodation. Adequate housing is a basic human right and its provision dramatically improves social well being. This development should allow beneficiaries to focus on the long-term goal of financial independence and security.

With the successful application of our microfinance loan, the family can achieve a sustainable and self-sufficient lifestyle, improving the quality of life and as result encourage the realisation of other opportunities in business and particularly, education. Education is a key tool for future development and by alleviating beneficiaries from poverty and encouraging further study, higher education can become a reality for those who previously thought it inaccessible. With the completion of ‘Brick by Brick’, beneficiaries will break from the poverty cycle, with the provision of quality housing as well as the confidence and resources to take a ‘Step Forward’ to financial stability and educational opportunity.