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When life gives you tangerines…

The tangerine is a signature fruit in Bac Kan province in northeast Vietnam.

Its sweet and slightly tangy taste is loved by many in the region, and during Tet – or the Vietnamese new year – in February, the bright yellow and green fruit adorns altars in homes, along with bananas, grapefruits and oranges, as an offering to ancestors.

For 22-year-old farmer Viet (pictured above with his wife), however, tangerines are so much more. They’re his livelihood, and they represent the pinnacle of the long road he’s taken to get to where he is now.

Growing up in a family of farmers, his parents worked long hours growing rice and fruit trees to put food on the table. There was rarely any money for anything else and it was a struggle to keep Viet and his younger brother in school.

His parents had dropped out of school early to work on the farm, and it seemed likely Viet would do the same.

But in 2006 – two years after ChildFund Australia began working in Don Phong commune in Bac Kan province – Viet was sponsored by James, an Australian in Sydney.

It was a life-changing moment for Viet, and over time the financial pressures of farm life eased for his parents and Viet, aged 11 at the time, was able to continue his studies.

He went from having few resources and clothes, to owning new shirts, a warm winter coat, and new books, uniforms and writing materials for school.

His commune, home to more than 2,000 people, also underwent dramatic changes as a result of ChildFund’s sponsorship program: a health centre and a school were built; sanitation facilities were implemented in homes; child rights and protection activities were introduced; and families were taught financial and modern agricultural techniques to help improve their day-to-day livelihoods.

Former sponsor child Viet (far right) with his wife, daughter and parents on the family’s tangerine farm, which has become part of Viet’s livelihood over the past several years.

By the time Viet finished high school, the way of life in Don Phong had transformed, and in 2013, at the age of 18, Viet left ChildFund’s sponsorship program to step out on his own.

“My sponsor James inspired me,” Viet says. “We regularly exchanged letters, and he became a friend.

“He always encouraged me to study hard and finish high school.”

In 2017, Don Phong commune become self-sufficient and ChildFund wrapped up 12 years of work in the area.

Over the past eight years, Viet has been helping to grow the family’s tangerine plantations, working to improve the yield and quality of 400 trees.

It hasn’t been without its challenges but his passion to stay educated, and passion for farming and learning about the latest agricultural technologies has paid off.

“I used to feel down when I saw better looking and bigger tangerines at the market,” Viet says. “But with better and frequent care, the tangerine trees are now growing well.”

Often Viet’s own family – his wife and baby daughter – join him on the farm.

It brings him much joy to be able to support his family, he says, and his goals for the future are simple: “I want to carry on what my parents started and improve the family’s plantations.”

Lucky for Viet there’s no better place to do so than in Bac Kan, where tangerines are loved by so many.

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