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What a difference a decade can make

Cao Bang is a mountainous province in the northeast of Vietnam – about 300km away from my city, Hanoi. It doesn’t sound far but on this day, it takes us eight hours to drive there, partly due to the muddy mountain pass after such heavy rain.

We arrive in one of the poorest villages in Tra Linh district. ChildFund only recently started working in this area, where many children suffer from malnutrition. There are also significant challenges around safe water, sanitation and healthcare.

We have come to visit Nham and her husband, Ham, who are living with their two little boys and their grandmother in an old wooden house. Sitting in the house, we can see the dark gloomy sky outside through the gaps in the wooden boards, and we can feel the cold winter winds blowing through. From underneath, we can smell the defecation of the family’s buffalo, chicken and piglets that are running around in search of their mother.

We continue on to Bac Kan province, around 120km away, where ChildFund has been working since 1999. Back then, children and families were in a seriously poor state. People didn’t have enough to eat. Farmers could only grow one crop per year due to the shortage of water. Children were often ill due to poor hygiene and didn’t have proper access to education as their parents could not afford to feed them, let alone pay the tuition expenses.

In the decade or so that ChildFund has been working in this area, huge changes have occurred. When we visit, we find well-constructed and properly maintained gravity-fed water systems, which bring clean water to hundreds of households. Now mothers don’t have to go to the stream to collect water for their daily use and can spend that time and effort in taking care of their family and children. Farmers can grow up to four crops in a year, thanks to the water that is fed into their fields through an irrigation canal built with the support of ChildFund.

It is amazing to me to see the difference between Cao Bang, an area where ChildFund has just started working, and Bac Kan, where we have been working for over a decade. To think, in just 10 or 12 years, such dramatic changes can occur, bringing huge improvements in the health, wellbeing and opportunities for children and families who live there.

Certainly things are on the up for the communities we support in Cao Bang. Already for Nham and her family, their two little boys are being taken care of through a malnutrition prevention project supported by ChildFund New Zealand, and the whole family can access the newly built health clinic supported by AusAID through ChildFund Australia.

Having seen what has been achieved in Bac Kan, I feel hopeful that the next 10 years will bring positive life-changing outcomes for the children and families here, too.

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