Tran Thi Thu Thuy, 42, is a member of Heifer Vietnam’s project, “Improving Livelihoods in the Poorest District in Tra Vinh Province” through Values-based Holistic Community Development (VBHCD). She lives with her husband Nguyen Van Thuong, 44, her son Nguyen Trong Hoang Nguyen, 22, and her daughter Nguyen Ngoc Kim Nguyen, 7, who has Down syndrome.
Thuy was born in Vung Liem District, Vinh Long Province. After her father died, her mother and she moved to Cang Long District, Tra Vinh Province, where she went to school until she fell ill in grade 9 while her mother ran a fruit business.
After leaving school, she learned to sew from her cousin in Cang Long. One day, they went to visit her cousin’s close friend, who happened to be the sister of Thuy’s future husband. After they met and married, they were given 0.2 acres of land by her mother for a home.
Her family burden grew when she gave birth to little Kim Nguyen with Down syndrome. She spent most of her time taking care of her, doing housework and making trips to the hospital for treatment, so she had little time for sewing. Her husband's labor income was not sufficient for her family’s daily expenses. They often had two meals a day with egg and a rare taste of fish or meat, which caused her to have low blood pressure.
In 2011, she registered to join Heifer project because she believed it would better her family’s life. As a member of the project, she received one heifer, grass for planting, $50 to building an animal shed, non-technical and technical skills trainings.
In addition, as she is a skillful seamstress, Thuy asked the project to give her group members a loan to buy 11 sewing machines and one overcasting machine so that she could teach them free of charge how to sew for further daily income generation. After a year, many of them could sew clothes by independently, and all but three of the SHG members have fully repaid the project for the loaned money. Now, the SHG seamstresses earn $2.50 per day sewing clothes. Furthermore, Thuy taught 40 other local women free of charge to sew clothes so they could work at garment companies or as seamstresses from home.
Thuy has borrowed three $100 loans from her group's savings. The first loan was invested in tilling the land so that she could plant orange trees and raising 30 hens, which bring her a profit of $110 a year. The second loan was used to reinvest in raising 200 chickens, which later all died due to a bird flu outbreak. She invested the third loan in buying fabric, creating a profit of $150. She hopes to have the fourth loan to reinvest in more fabric for more income.
At present, her family’s lives are much better. Thuy’s son, who is all grown-up, works as a waiter at coffee shop and sends the family $90 each month. Her husband earns $120 every month as a mason and she can earn $75 per month since her daughter has gained some independence. Thuy has replaced their thatched roof with an iron one, bought furniture for her house, accessed tap-water instead of using river and rain water and has one pregnant cow to care for after Passing on the Gift® to another family. Her orange trees, which are fertilized with cow manure, will bear fruits in a year. Her family takes three meals per day with more nutritious foods like fish, meat, tiny shrimp and vegetables.
“Thanks to Heifer, I was able to improve myself and my husband spends more time doing housework, taking good care of the cow and takes more interest in me,” Thuy said. “The monthly group meeting is held at my house where I welcome all of the group members and share my sewing skills, experience and animal husbandry with them. I like all of Heifer’s 12 Cornerstones, especially ‘Sharing and Caring.’ I am happy to see those whom I teach to sew can earn income by themselves.”
Thinking of the future, Thuy hopes to build a new house, see her son get married and expand her cow herd.
Story and photos by Tran Huu Ly