The children of  Ha Giang

The generosity of our supporters at our inaugural fundraising dinner, together with some fine gestures by those who could not attend allowed us to launch a second project – supporting 50 youngsters in distant Ha Giang Province in North Vietnam through the school programme.

Ha Giang City

Ha Giang City

On 10 September 2013 we set off from Hanoi by 4WD for Ha Giang city, some 6 hours north-west of Hanoi, in Ha Giang province. This attractive and vibrant city was set up about a century ago by the French. During the wet season it is surrounded by verdant hills, and the Green River wanders through the centre of the city with a proprietorial air, against a backdrop of mountains about 30 minutes to the north.

The rice crops had recently been harvested, so we sometimes drove on good roads paved with rice husks – it was a way of drying husks so they can be recycled in many ways in true Vietnamese fashion. Nothing gets wasted there, and the crop had by all accounts been a good one.

We spent the first evening discussing the project with our partners from the Women’s Union before setting off early next morning for Quang Ba, where we would meet our first 30 students, 10 each from Nghia Thuan, Cao Ma and Lung Tam Secondary schools. We travelled along the main road linking Ha Giang city with Meo Vac, up high in the mountains.

The mountain roads are well-engineered, but they are a challenge nonetheless. The surfaces are generally good but narrow and the switchback nature of the roads tempts drivers of buses and trucks to cut corners to maintain momentum, so defensive driving is a must. Occasional bursts of potholes keep good drivers focussed. The Women’s Union employs superb drivers, reliable men who take few risks, and they handle any terrain or driving conditions. We passed through mountains draped in greenery, a virtual paradise, but by late December the dry conditions will have killed off the luscious green vines and the limestone karsts for which the area is famed will dominate the area. Local farmers will be reduced to competing for arable land with the karsts so that farming is reduced to hard-scrabble techniques.

En route to Quang Ba

En route to Quang Ba

We found our students awaiting our arrival, along with their parents and in some instances their grandparents, for the scholarships generate a great deal of interest in the area. Some folk had travelled considerable distances to attend, and there was an air of enthusiasm and excitement about the place. Platypus helps mostly ethnic minority youngsters, and many were wearing traditional dress. It was a spectacular scene as the mainly Hmong and Dao youngsters gathered for the presentation, along with the odd Nung. One Nung youngster wore a very fine black hat, a young Hmong girl a number of delicate chain ornaments, so we concluded that grandmothers had dug deep into their closets, for such finery is not casually acquired or worn. A few old folk would be anxiously awaiting the return of some of their treasures.

Presentations completed, we enjoyed a brief lunch with our local hosts before heading for Yen Minh in a neighbouring, isolated valley where we would meet our final 20 students. We stopped along the way to hand over the gift of a couple of piglets from a lady in Perth. This fine gesture is described elsewhere under the tab Deidre’s Gift, and helped round off a fine day. Having handed over the little porkers, we continued our journey to Yen Minh.

A few youngsters at our next school looked as if they might do a runner, for they were a little nervous, but that was understandable as few of them have met a westerner before. Everyone bravely endured the ceremony that ended in song before everyone set off on the journey home, keen to arrive before nightfall.

Nguyen Thi Hoai Linh, Member of the VWU Presidium is front, centre

Scholorship ceremony in HaGiang, Nguyen Thi Hoai Linh, Member of the VWU Presidium is front, centre

We made our way back to Ha Giang City where we enjoyed dinner with employees of the VWU as well as a few other officials. It was a fun evening in the company of some very dedicated people who work hard to improve community living standards.

Children of Ha Giang province

Children of Ha Giang province

Children of Ha Giang provence

Children of Ha Giang province

Food consumed, last toast dealt with, it was time to make our farewells before returning to Hanoi the next morning. One of the women leaned forward to exchange a final few words with me.“We are so pleased that Platypus has come to help. What are the plans for Platypus?” she asked.

“That depends on our fundraising success,” I told her.

“Please come and do something in Meo Vac. Living is very hard there and they need some help.” Meo Vac is a little more inaccessible still and thus out of the range of many organisations that might otherwise lend a hand.

“I must talk to our members, and then we must talk to our supporters,” I told her. That process has just commenced.

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