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Vietnam Today: A Time of Healing continued

Four Special Projects of Catholic Relief Services/Vietnam

 1) Inclusive Education

 2) Savings and Credit

 3) Irrigation

 4) Dam Repair

OF THE VARIOUS CRS PROJECTS being carried out in Vietnam, four are especially noteworthy. These examples show how Catholic Relief Services—the overseas relief and development agency of the U.S. Catholic Conference—is working for the social betterment of the poor and playing an important role in the healing process taking place between the two countries.

1) Inclusive Education

In early August, our group visited Yen Hoa kindergarten in Hanoi, one of eight schools included in this CRS project. The dream of those working on this project is that every disabled child go to a regular school. To achieve this goal of including all children in the education system, teachers are given special training and community awareness is being raised. The program is changing the common tendency among families to keep children with disabilities at home.

In visiting the Yen Hoa school, we saw disabled children being successfully integrated into the school environment. We met with parents delighted about the good things happening to their children. "I'm happy with this program," said one mother. "I am a mother of a child with Down syndrome. We want our children to grow up in a normal environment with regular playmates so they are not treated as special children but as normal."

Feature 2 Photo 7

Little two-year-old Tra My (in front), who has Down syndrome, shows delight as she joins her kindergarten classmates at recess.

Photo by Jack Wintz, O.F.M.

2) Savings and Credit

The majority of the poor in Vietnam live in rural areas. The nation itself is one of the world's poorest with some 80 percent of the population living in rural environments. The majority of CRS projects in Vietnam aim to help poor families in the countryside.

The CRS savings and credit program provides low-interest loans to the poor along with advice about how to invest wisely to increase the family's income and standard of living. In a little hamlet about 30 miles outside Hanoi we visited a group of women meeting in a classroom to receive loan money for their children's school fees or for investing in projects like animal-raising or craft-making. One woman, for example, told how she had used a past loan to purchase two small pigs, which she raised and sold after six months for a sizable profit.

Feature 2 Photo 8

Women gather inside a classroom in a rural hamlet outside Hanoi to receive loans and share experiences with their peers and mentors.

Photo by Jack Wintz, O.F.M.

Another woman got smiles of agreement from the others when she observed: "As a woman, I'm gaining in equality through this project. A woman gains in respect when she gets money and responsibility."

3) Irrigation

CRS assisted in the construction of brick and concrete irrigation channels in Phu Loc Commune, province of Thanh Hoa, some 150 miles south of Hanoi. It's a poor area and the land in this coastal area is sandy, sometimes dry, and often suffers typhoon damage. Ninety percent of the population in this region works in agriculture, mainly in rice production. Because of the sandy soil much water used to leak through the previous earthen canals. Since the concrete channels were put in, more water gets to this area faster from the pumping station, bringing a productivity increase of 25-30 percent, saving water and electricity at the same time.

Feature 2 Photo 9

Standing at the new concrete irrigation channel are Jack Wintz (left) and writer David Maloney of The Catholic Accent, Greensburg, Pennsylvania.

CRS Photo by Tom Price

When we visited this project, the local people made it clear that many benefits were coming to them because of the new irrigation channels. They eagerly contributed a lot of free labor to the project, moreover, by way of building roads and the subcanals leading to the rice fields, planting trees for wind and erosion control and repairing canals.

4) Dam Repair

A few years ago, a reservoir dam broke in Yen Lac, also in the province of Thanh Hoa. CRS gave assistance for the rebuilding of the dam and sluice gates, both very important for the irrigation system channeling water to the rice fields and other agricultural efforts.

When our group walked across the top of the newly built dam, a lively crowd of children tagged along with us, both curious and delighted to see foreigners in this remote spot. Seeing the water-filled reservoir and, down below the dam, the irrigated rice fields, one easily saw the benefits of this project.

Feature 2 Photo 10

A cluster of children laugh at the playful antics of the American visitors who came to their remote region to check out the repaired dam.

Photo by Jack Wintz, O.F.M.

In the same Yen Lac region, we also visited the new school built with CRS assistance and that of the American veterans of Albany, New York.

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