voices from abroad

A glimpse of the borrowers July 14, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — Hanh @ 3:53 pm

Visiting FPW borrowers during the past three weeks has taught me that interviews can take place just about anywhere– standing in the middle of a noisy market, sitting on very short stools near a street stall or squatting on someone’s kitchen floor.

If I could, I would spend hours talking to each borrower. I realize the questions that I am able to ask during the short amount of time I have with the women only offers a glimpse into their lives – a small chapter of the full story. Yet, in these few moments, there is a connection The hours pass by quickly and at the end of the day, I have footage, pictures and pages of notes about each person. Here are a few of their stories.

Meet Ms. Lien
When Ms. Lien told me that she makes “than” I had to dig in my bag for my handy pocket dictionary. In the time it took me to find the translation, Ms. Lien had brought a bucket of coal blocks to show me what “than” was.

Ms. Lien and her husband can make 1,000 blocks of coal in one day. The recent loan money was used to make repairs to the machine that they use. On rainy days, the business comes to a halt since the coal needs to dry in the sun. Each coal block sells for 200 VND. Ms. Lien tells me that on a good day, she can sell 300 blocks for a profit of 60,000 VND ($3 USD). A woman of few words, Ms. Lien then takes my hand and pulls me outside to demonstrate how the coal blocks are actually made (see the video below).

As Ms. Ha and I watched Ms. Lien work with the sun beaming down on her hat, I hoped to myself that the profits from Ms. Lien’s business would help provide more opportunities for her two young children in the future. We said our goodbyes and Ms. Lien continued her work– you never know when the rain will come.

Meet Ms. Phuong

Ms. Phuong at her vegetable stand

Ms. Phuong at her vegetable stand

I would describe Ms. Phuong as kind, elegant and talkative. She has two children who are both in secondary school. Although our interview began at her house, she did not hesitate to take me to her street stall at the market down the road.

On the way to the market, we passed a large lake full of fishing boats. She points to one of the fishing boats and tells me, “I used to live there.” People in this community only started building houses 10 years ago. She laughs and tells me that she’s lived on a boat longer than she’s lived in a house.

It is clear that Ms. Phuong is well liked at the market. We must have stopped at least five times on our way in to talk to some of her friends. This is where she has been selling vegetables and rice for the past 6 years. She makes a profit of 1,400,000 VND ($78 USD) to 1,600,000 VND ($89 USD) each month. When I asked about her dreams, she thought for a second and then said, “I want my children to have everything.”

Meet Ms. Trinh
We found Ms. Trinh sitting in between a stall lined with assorted spices and a stand selling sets of baby clothing. Interviews at the market are some of the most interesting that I have had. It’s amazing to watch the women in action as they answer questions and make change for customers at the same time. Talk about multi-tasking!

With her youthful energy, Ms. Trinh tells me that she “sells many many things!” At 60 years old, she recently expanded her stall with an impressive variety of kitchenware – pots and pans, fish sauce (nuoc mam), teapots, spices, mops, rice cookers, scissors, chopsticks, dishwashing liquid…the list goes on…take a look for yourself!

Ms. Trinh has been operating her business for more than 10 years. She says that the market is like her second home. She has no intentions of retiring any time soon because her profits are needed to pay for her daughter’s tuition and lodging fees at Hanoi University. This is her second loan from FPW and Ms. Trinh estimates that her monthly profit has grown from 1,500,000 VND ($84 USD) to 1,800,000 VND ($101 USD) since taking out her first loan. Full of energy, she told me that she wants to travel. I’ve heard this answer before, but then she adds, “I want to visit the places where people have given loans live – I would go there to say thank you.”

These are just 3 of the 30 borrowers I interviewed this week. To make a loan to ladies like these, visit www.kiva.org and search “Thanh Hoa”. Don’t worry – if you don’t see any borrower profiles, check out the link later this week, more will be posted!


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