voices from abroad

The Women July 4, 2009

Filed under: women — Hanh @ 2:50 pm

My biggest and most exciting accomplishment this week has been meeting with some of the women borrowers of the Thanh Hoa Fund for Poor Women (FPW). Tinh, the Kiva Coordinator, accompanied me on my first visit. Since then, I’ve managed to get by on my own – with a translated questionnaire in hand and my handy pocket dictionary.

How to describe the women… well, first off, they are all very different. Most have strong personalities and others are very shy. One thing they certainly have in common – generosity. Everywhere I go, I am offered tea and treats. I am sure I will gain another 15 lbs (on top of the freshman 15) before the end of this trip!

At the meetings, groups of women gather – and I sit and listen as one by one, they tell me about their businesses, their families, their hopes and dreams. I write notes as quickly as I can, and circle words I have to look up in my Vietnamese-English dictionary. I sometimes feel like I am prying – asking their age, how much money they make, how their lives have changed. But they don’t seem bothered by the questions.

Two borrowers stand out in my mind. Ms. Thuy, in her early twenties, is one of the youngest members of 31 – Nam Ngan Group. She used her loan to purchase clothing for resale at the market. She is able to sell 5 pieces of clothing on a good day, for a profit of 35,000 VND ($1.90 USD) per day. She told me that she hopes to save enough to take accounting classes and to one day have a full-time job as an accountant (not my favorite subject, so I did my best not to cringe at the thought of sitting through another accounting class.) 🙂

Ms. Mai used her loan to expand her Pho shop with the purchase of chairs and tables. Pho is a traditional Vietnamese noodle soup. I LOVE PHO. 🙂 Ms. Mai’s initial startup costs for the Pho restaurant was 2,000,000 VND ($112 USD). Nowadays, she makes a profit of about 1,500,000 VND ($84 USD) every month.

Many of the women I interview tell me that before starting their businesses, they worked in the rice fields. They lacked the capital to do anything else. I am reminded of a quote on a pink post-it note I have above my desk in Brooklyn. It reads, “We have choices in the work that we do, most of the world does not.” Microfinance is not the answer to ending poverty in Vietnam as it is unable to reach the poorest of the poor, but I believe in its power to offer deserving women like Thuy and Mai greater choice in how they make their living.

Happy fourth of July!!


A bowl of bun anyone? July 2, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — Hanh @ 1:58 am

This weekend, I took the train to Hue, 10 hours South of Thanh Hoa, to drop off all that shampoo! A longer entry about my trip will be posted, but in the meanwhile, enjoy footage of how Bun (a traditional noodle dish) is prepared in my parent’s home village.


What a week! June 23, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — Hanh @ 7:05 am

My first Kiva Fellows Blog was posted today.
Please visit http://fellowsblog.kiva.org/2009/06/22/close-to-home/#more-5235 if you want to see video from my journey thus far…and feel free to leave questions/comments if you wish!

And now, as promised – here’s an update about the week!

The train ride
Well my 3.5 hour train ride from Hanoi to Thanh Hoa was quite a journey – with some difficulties brought on by myself. To begin, I brought luggage entirely too large for the train. I blame my mom for sending me off with loads of “American” toothpaste and shampoo for the family. “Don’t they have shampoo in VN?” you ask. “Yup- they sure do.” 😦

And to make matters worse, I ended up on the wrong train and had to lug the heavy luggage to the other end. 😦

After finally settling into my seat, I looked up and suddenly saw rice paddies – in all shades of green (the color change was stunning), and women wearing the traditional cone hat, usually cliche, but in this setting – beautiful. Hundreds of people working in the fields, and yes, water buffalo too!!

The Food Corner
The street where I am living is full of dogs. If you know me, you know I am deathly afraid of critters of all sorts, including dogs. Now, these particular dogs look like they have Rabies. Seriously. Unfortunately, that is the only shot that I failed to get before leaving. 😦

More difficult than avoiding dog bites in this part of town, is avoiding the consumption of dog meat. Yes, it is stereotypical, but this area of Thanh Hoa is well known for its specialty – dog. I believe I have managed to avoid it – but you can never be sure.

In other food news – everything here comes with the head attached. I accidentally ordered bird soup (don’t ask why) and was served an entire bird. UgH – Well, since then I’ve learned to say “Khong Dau” meaning “No head.”

I had my first training session at work and to my surprise, a microphone was passed around and everyone had to sing a song. Karaoke. SO embarrassing!! They refused to begin the meeting until everyone sang. See the video clip below for proof! p.s – if you think it’s me singing, think again!

It is hot and humid!
Since I have yet to succumb to wearing long gloves during the summer time (like the ladies do here to avoid tanning their skin), I am getting quite a nice tan. As a result, people here are now convinced that I am from Laos. They refuse to believe that I am Vietnamese. I’m mistaken for Chinese in America and Laotian in Vietnam. Can’t a girl get a break?!?


The Borrowers
I go on my first borrower visit this week – please check out the blog next week to meet some of the women entrepreneurs who have taken out loans from the Thanh Hoa Fund for Poor Women!

I miss you all loads and hope the summer is going fabulously! P.S. please send me your mailing address when you get a chance. :


greetings from hanoi! June 10, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — Hanh @ 8:31 am

After a 16-hour flight from LA to Taipei and a 3-hour flight from Taipei to Hanoi, I’ve arrived – jet-lagged, but well. 🙂 In fact, an adrenaline rush hit me after I realized that I’ve been transported across the world!

I am spending the next 2 days in Hanoi, a bustling city – full of non-stop traffic, before heading to my Kiva placement in Thanh Hoa. There is very little you can find about Thanh Hoa online or in travel guides. I’ve always been told that it is an “interesting” Kiva placement to get. What that means? I’ve no clue. Here’s what I do know –

Thanh Hoa is the second poorest province in Vietnam with a population of 3 million people. It is located 153 kilometers south of Hanoi, approximately a 3.5 hour train ride. Few foreigners ever visit Thanh Hoa, unless they are crossing over from the Lao border. This means that I will be one of few English speakers in the area this summer.

One historical tidbit I found quite interesting while doing my research on Thanh Hoa – It was the site of the Lam Son uprising in 1418, where Vietnamese forces expelled the Chinese and reclaimed the country’s independence. Visit the blog next week for an update on my first impressions of Thanh Hoa!

Don’t forget to sign up on Skype so we can keep in touch! http://www.skype.com.
My Skype ID is hanh_tran1


Almost there! June 5, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — Hanh @ 7:03 am

Thank you to all who were able to attend the fundraiser! To those I was unable to thank in person visit this link.

Your donations combined with online fundraising efforts have brought me much closer to my goal!

I expected to travel alone to Vietnam, but during the past month, I’ve come to realize that this journey is not an individual one – your support inspires me to do as much as I can during my three months as a Kiva Fellow. All of us coming together and giving back is what will create real change and enable people to better each others’ lives here and across the world.

The following people have contributed a combined $1970 to my fellowship!!

Amy C.
Amy W.
Brian D.
Brian S.
Crystal W.
Damon B.
Dan H.
Danielle L.
Daria H.
David H.
Dennis T.
Diana Y.
Dotto M.
Erin W.
Gordon W.
Grace A.
Hung T.
Jannie B.
Jen C.
Joanne L.
John B.
Julie S.
Keisha L.
Kristy V.
Kulwa and Jerry M.
Lee B.
Lisa N.
Liz L.
Maria S.
Matt B.
Maulin M.
Melkis A
Mfon E.
Michael P.
Mike K.
Mike L.
Missy B.
Nadre G.
Nick A.
Nicole B.
Nikita U.
Parimal P.
Rebecca W.
Rodolfo M.
Ryan W.
Sandra W.
Sarah P.
Stephanie C.
Susan C.
Takisha D.
Tara H.
Tara N.
Uzo E.
Vijay L.
Yvonne G.
Zeb B.

THANK YOU. 🙂 Only $130 to go! If you would like to help me meet my goal, click on the “donate” button to your right. Every bit counts!


kiva fellow benefit May 11, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — Hanh @ 8:07 pm

Hey everyone 🙂
Come mix, mingle, learn about Kiva and support my fellowship at Sidebar on May 27th. Would love to see you and celebrate the start of summer!


City gal turned…Kiva fellow! April 12, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — Hanh @ 6:30 am

I will be leaving behind the skyscrapers and city streets of New York and heading to Vietnam to serve as a Kiva Fellow this summer from June through August! Kiva provides an opportunity for poor entrepreneurs in developing countries to lift themselves out of poverty with the help of small business loans from lenders across the world. As a Kiva Fellow, I will combine my background in journalism, marketing and consulting to support Kiva’s entrepreneurs in Vietnam. Though my plan to escape the sweltering New York summer heat has failed (Vietnam is equally hot and humid :)), I feel so honored to have this amazing opportunity!

But first I have to make it out there. The Kiva Fellowship is a volunteer-based position with no funds or stipend provided for the Fellow’s service – I need your help in order to make it happen.

Read more about Kiva on my blog. The fun video below explains Kiva’s model of poverty reduction. For more info on Kiva, click on the “What is Kiva” link on the upper right hand corner of this page.

What will you be doing?

As a Kiva Fellow, I will be acting as Kiva’s eyes and ears in the field and helping to extend limited resources in the following ways:

– Developing journal entries, business postings and blog entries to keep borrowers and lenders connected.

– Interviewing entrepreneurs to assess loan impact and verify data

– Assisting the host Microfinance Institution (MFI) to regularly collect and post borrower profiles for funding onto the Kiva website

– Observing, learning and documenting the MFI’s operations and making recommendations in regards to training and best practices

Check out this video from the current Kiva fellow in Vietnam.