In response to devastating impact of the typhoon Xangsane which hit central Vietnam on 1st of October 2006, ECHO has been supporting Save the Children UK and Development Workshop France to assist the most vulnerable victims through housing rehabilitation and assistance in the recovery of lost livelihoods.
Ms Hang, the Save the Children UK Programme Coordinator, brought me to the outskirts of Da Nang City in central Vietnam to meet with the Nguyen family. She insisted that I meet this particular family as she considers their story as her personal success. “It was very difficult to convince them to participate in our (Save the Children/ECHO) project” – she says. “I have been here several times and talked to them for hours, but now I am very happy to see their life has changed for the better. If I had not pushed so hard they would never have accepted our help”- she adds.
The family is one of those assisted for the rehabilitation of their houses, destroyed by the powerful typhoon Xangsane which hit the area on 1 October last year. The area is prone to typhoons and people here need to repair their houses almost every year. This takes up a big part of their usually modest income, so they are never able to fully recover before the next typhoon comes. Last year, however, the typhoon was one of the worst they can remember. “The Nguyen family's house collapsed completely and since then they have been sleeping in the corner of the kitchen, all 7 of them”- says Hang and shows me the photograph taken by Save the Children shortly after the disaster.
We are now approaching the house, the door is opened and very tiny woman welcomes us with a big smile. “This is Ms Le Thi Cam Van, our beneficiary” - Hang says. We greet each other and Van clasps my hand strongly. The room is almost empty; a few small plastic chairs in a fancy lilac color, a small wooden table and some sleeping mats perfectly folded on the floor.
Van invites us to sit down. Two of her daughters arrive, a bit shy but curious to see the strangers. She presents them to me – one is called Xuan and is 9 years old, the other is Dai and is 7 years old. Vang tells me that she also has two sons – 6 year old Hien and 3 year old Hoang. We all sit down on the small plastic chairs and smile at each other. Hang is trying to start the conversation by explaining who I am. Van smiles at me again...
Then the father arrives, his name is Thanh; he is a very short man with a sunburned face. He has just been taking a bath, his shirt is still unbuttoned and his hair is wet. He and Van always need to take a good bath after their work – they are rubbish collectors.
The man is more talkative than his wife. He asks Hang to tell me that he and his family are extremely thankful for the help with the rehabilitation of their house. He shows me around and explains all the technical details, very proud of himself as he participated in the works. “The house is very good quality and will for sure resist any storms so we feel safe”, he comments. We sit again and start chatting. “The day is long and the work is hard” he says, starting to explain how it all goes. “We first collect the rubbish – old plastic flippers, plastic bottles, beer cans, metal, wood, glass, and other stuff, depending on what we are able to sell. Then we sort out the haul (he laughs) and deliver it to the recycling centre. Together we can earn from 2,000 to 3,500 dong (equivalent 1 to 1.75 EURO) a day and it is enough to survive”, Van concludes. “What is your diet?” I ask. “Rice and fish seasoning, sometimes even with fish”, she answers.
The boys enter the house, they are not as shy as the girls but are still reserved about coming closer to say hello. ”Are your children at school?” I ask Van. “Yes, the two oldest are and they have got their school uniform from Save the Children." Xuan fetches hers. It is clean and nicely ironed. “I am so glad to see that all that has worked well for them”, says Hang from Save the Children. "It was such a difficult process to get them on board. Their argument was that they needed to go out and work everyday and were not able to assist in the construction work. They were worried they would not have money for food for their children if they stayed at home instead of going on the streets to collect rubbish. But we found the solution, compensating Thanh for his work during the construction, and the neighbours also helped. They know the family very well and respect them. And now here we are – the house is ready". Hang is laughing. “We would never have forgiven ourselves if we had not done it – just for our children and their future!" adds Van.
Rapid Response Coordinator in East and South-East Asia