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Life used to be really hard in Bohang,a remote village in Yunnan,in the southwest of China: no water supply,no electricity and little infrastructure - no health centre and no school.
A woman farmer named Nahai and her family tried to make ends meet on less than 400 Yuan a year,but no matter how hard she worked,the harvest of rice and maize was not enough. "We used to be short of food for two months a year. The rice and maize harvests were disappointing,and the green vegetables we grew didn't do well,either."
Nahai was one of the villagers who chose to join Oxfam Hong Kong's community development programme in 2001. They attended training in farming and in raising livestock; they built a better road; and they prepared the infrastructure for a water and electricity supply.
Nahai learned how to plough and how to use eco-friendly fertilisers and pesticides. With better farming skills and a new irrigation system,she and her family have been able to improve their maize, rice and green vegetables.
Nahai now grows enough vegetables for her family's meals and for the market. She is also happy because the new water supply has made a big difference in her family's hygiene. "In the past,it took a lot of time to collect water from the hills,and we could only bathe once or twice a month. Now,with water at our doorstep,my husband and I,and our two-year-old daughter,all wash every day."
In the poorest rural areas of Vietnam, getting an education can be a luxury. Many people can barely feed themselves, so they cannot afford tuition for their children's schooling.
Yet in Vinh Truong,a remote poverty-stricken area of Quang Tri Province, the school attendance rate is 100% for both pre-school and primary school children.
Here's how it happened. Oxfam Hong Kong started by helping villagers build a new pre-school in 2000. We also supported the costs for textbooks,stationery and blackboards,and provided teacher training. From the beginning,everyone wanted to make sure that children from the poorest families could get an education free-of-charge,but actually,when villagers joined agricultural training sessions and various community projects,even the poorest farmers were able to increase their harvests so much and earn a lot more money that they could send their children to school through their own efforts.
Life before 2000 was very different. Farmers had little land and very few skills,so no matter how hard they tried,their harvests were so small that for 4 to 6 months of the year,they didn't have enough to eat. Some people took on extra jobs,such as selling firewood and metal scrap left over from the war,but still,their income was too low to afford the school tuition. Even buying textbooks was beyond their reach.
The fact is that the pre-2000 reality in Vinh Truong is what many people still face every day across rural Vietnam.
With a little support from Oxfam,people can turn the 'luxury' of education into a reality,just as they did in Vinh Truong.
In Puding,a county tucked away in the rugged mountains of Guizhou in southwest China, more than 90% of the residents suffer from fluorosis,a preventable yet irreversible disease that mottles the teeth brown and eventually,deteriorates bones.
What causes fluorosis?? People throughout Guizhou tend to cook and cure with a certain kind of fluoride-rich coal,and they do this work indoors which means that they breathe in a lot of smoke,which leads to fluorosis.
Most people in Puding have not heard of fluorosis and don't connect the disease with the coal,and to a certain extent,it's this lack of awareness - and the lack of quality rural healthcare in the area - that has kept the disease in the community for generations.
All six members of Peng's family have discoloured teeth from fluorosis. Peng also has deformed fingers, especially his little fingers. He said that his family uses four to five tonnes of coal a year - the only type of coal available in Puding.
Peng's family only earns a little bit of money from growing maize and raising livestock. They hardly have enough money to buy their fuel,so Peng often walks to a coal mine near his village to collect small,leftover pieces of coal.
Oxfam Hong Kong wants to stop the cycle. We started a project that combines health education,better stoves that send the smoke outdoors,and in the long term,methane pits as an alternative to coal. We plan to support similar health projects in other parts of Guizhou.
Florence Mwila and her five children live in Kakolo,in Zambia. For many years,they survived on the meagre salary of her husband,a copper miner. Life became even more miserable when he lost his job,along with many other people in this region of the country known as the Copperbelt.
Many people in the country used to rely on copper mining for a living,but as mining gradually declined and many enterprises closed down, workers lost their major income source,and poverty and hunger increased.
In 2001,Florence's family decided to return to their home village,but they were no longer familiar with farming after living and working for 11 years in the city. The land was not very fertile and needed extra care that they could not manage,so their harvest was very small. The family of seven struggled to make ends meet,ate only one meal a day,and became weaker and weaker. A good meal for them was a bowl of corn porridge.
Oxfam Hong Kong launched a community fish farming project in Kakolo in 2002. Florence,her husband and many villagers attended training sessions,built fishponds,and now sell fish at the market to supplement their limited crop-based income. The extra money brings more security,and a buffer when there is a bad harvest. Florence and her husband also joined training in organic farming.
Florence and her family are now able to earn an adequate income. "Through Oxfam Hong Kong,I've changed," said Florence. "Now I've got knowledge in my mind. My husband and I are happy that we can support the family and send our children to school."