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Schleicher, Ilona: (Member of the Board of SODI)

So far away, so close: Bridges from Germany to the people of Lim in Thua Thien Hue

Quelle: Autorin, veröffentlicht in einer vietnamesischen Publikation zum 15. Gründungstag der Vietnam Union of Friendship Organizations of Thua Thien Hue Privince (HUEFO) April 2014

When I travelled to Lim for the first time in the year 2006 it was still easy to imagine the troublesome past of this beautiful mountainous valley near Hue. Its future however had already begun. To the left of the road a clearance team was still busy to free the hill slopes from unexploded deadly remnants of the war. To the right a handful people had just started to cultivate the land and to build shelters for their families. They could be sure that the soil under their feet was safe.

Later the efforts of these families would be included in the Lim-Settlement project which the German non-governmental organization Solidarity Service International (SODI) had started to prepare together with the Huong Tra District Peoples Committee (DPC) and the Thua Thien Hue Union of Friendship Organisation (HUEFO). The project was to open the door to a better life for 60 families, most of them coming from low land in flooding areas. Either they had no land at all or it wasn’t sufficient enough to guarantee their livelihood. The German Government encouraged the approach of SODI and of their Vietnamese partners to link humanitarian UXO/mine clearance with follow-up development activities and supported the respective integrated program in both fields financially in Quang Tri since 1998 and in Thua Thien Hue since 2006.

But the people who were so eager to improve their lives needed some patience. It took a long and intensive consultation process on local, district and provincial levels before SODI’s first development project in Thua Thien Hue finally started in 2008. The strong interest and active participation of the 60 settler families in the project were vital for its success. The implementation of the envisaged complex settlement and development plan required a close co-operation between all participants based on confidence and mutual understanding. How else would it be possible not only to master the planning and construction of 60 houses, of a village meeting house, a primary school and a kindergarten? How else could the challenge be met to build roads, to supply water and electricity to the people and to overcome many unforeseen obstacles to reach these goals? And let’s not forget: The project did not consist only of construction schemes. Income generating activities like the planting of fruit trees and vegetable crops had to be organized and coordinated as well, accompanied by a micro-credit program. Would we succeed?

I have to say that I felt the necessary optimism already when I met the Chairman of HUEFO Mr. Le Van Anh, and his young team – Han, Vinh and Tuan - for the first time. What a remarkable, productive combination of longstanding experience and expertise of the younger generation! All of them helped me to understand the concerns of the responsible officers of Huong Tra DPC and Huong Ho CPC regarding the socio-economic situation, the life of the people in the area between Huong River and Lim Valley and the need for the settlement project. They managed to provide answers for the many questions of a German outsider from Berlin, touching financial and technical issues as well as the selection process of the 60 families, their active participation in the project and their legal status on the land which they would cultivate and where they would build their new homes. Our partners from HUEFO did not just translate our discussion, they managed to establish a dialogue between equal partners. Together, we drafted a co-financing application directed to the German Ministry of Economic Co-operation and Development (BMZ). As the reasons for the application were convincing, BMZ agreed to support the project with more than 200.000 Euro. Right from the beginning the project also enjoyed the support of the Provincial People’s Committee (PPC).

SODI’s task was now to provide information to people back home in Germany not only about the Lim project and its aims, but particularly about the families who would not only benefit from it but would with their hands and minds actively take part in its implementation – the best way to practice the principle of “help people to help themselves” and crucial for the sustainability of development projects. SODI had to explain the justification of the project to the German public not only because it was necessary to raise the more than 60 000 Euro in private donations set out in the project financing plan. According to SODI’s philosophy as a development organization it has always been and continues to be equally important to encourage people to people relations. We understand this to be our modest contribution to more peace, justice and solidarity in our fragile world. And this is also how HUEFO sees its work. SODI was fortunate to interact with like-minded friends and partners with whom a feeling of mutual understanding was quickly established.

Together with Mr. Le Van Anh, Tuan, Han and officers from the Huong Ho commune we traveled to the site of the future Lim settlement. HUEFO introduced me to Mr. Sam. His family belonged to those people who had moved to the valley before the Lim settlement project was even in sight. Guava trees and vegetable grew around their provisional home, a small well dug by themselves provided water. Mr. Sam’s wife Lien joined us with their 15-year old son Man on her arm. Man belongs to the second generation of people with disabilities in Vietnam who suffer from the dioxin containing defoliant Agent Orange which had been deployed by the US during the war. The courage of the family not to wait for help but to take their life in their own hands with dignity despite the hard circumstances impressed me very much. I was deeply moved by the loving care they gave to their son Man.

Later I met Mr. Be, who was experienced in agricultural activities and especially in breeding and raising husbandry. He was highly motivated to share his knowledge with the other families in Lim. People like Mr. Sam and Mr. Be certainly played an important role when the settlement project progressed and many different families had to be brought together. Through SODI’s public relation activities many people in Germany learned more about their life, their dreams and their efforts to improve their own living conditions and those of their community, supported by solidarity efforts from Germany.

This message was spread also by others. Thanks to the co-operation between SODI and HUEFO Marco Warmuth a photography student at the College of Art Giebichenstein in Halle (Saale) had the opportunity to meet Mr. Sam and the other first settlers in Lim. He was able to gain a real insight into their lives, their problems and their dreams. His photos have not only been used for SODI publications. Some of them were included also in a photo exhibition about impressions of a group of students from Halle in Vietnam. Professor Hattop and some students from the Film and Television University “Konrad Wolf” in Potsdam-Babelsberg visited Lim together with Vietnamese students at the beginning of the project in 2008. Here the future camera operators, audio engineers and documentary filmmakers from Germany got a first impression of rural life in Vietnam and how hard it was to overcome the legacy of a war which had ended long before they were born. Some of the students later took active part in SODI’s campaign to support Agent Orange victims.

One of the highlights in the joint efforts to build a bridge between German people and the families in Lim was undoubtedly the visit of a delegation of the PPC of Thua Thien Hue at the invitation of SODI in Berlin in 2009. The Vietnamese delegation was headed by Mr. Nguyen Van Cao Deputy of the PPC at the time, who later became Chairman of the provincial government. Naturally Mr. Le Van Anh, Chairman of HUEFO was a member of the delegation. And of course SODI was eager to make them feel at home. After all, Mr. Nguyen Van Cao is a graduate of the College of Technology in Magdeburg which later was transformed into the Technical University “Otto von Guericke”. As expected, the meetings of the delegation with staff members, supporters of SODI and friends of Vietnam as well as a vivid discussion with other NGOs hosted by of the Foundation North-South-Bridges were vital in the further development of people-to-people relations between the families in Lim in Vietnam and ordinary people in Germany. I still remember the emotion and sympathy in the audience when Mr. Le Van Anh described the creativity and engagement in Lim at a time where the supply of water and the road construction were delayed for unforeseen reasons while water was so urgently needed for the ongoing construction of the buildings in the settlement. A hole in the ground covered by plastic sheets had to serve as a cistern. He also explained the great support from the local and provincial authorities for the project. No matter which obstacles might still lie ahead, 60 families will soon start a new life in Lim – through their own efforts and thanks to the solidarity shown by German friends. This optimistic message further encouraged the German friends to stand by the people of Lim.

My last visit in Lim took place during a private journey through Vietnam early 2012. Two years earlier I had finished my work with SODI as Project Manager. From SODI I had frequently received information about the implementation of the project, its successes and its difficulties. I am grateful that HUEFO made a joint visit in Lim possible. Now I could see the new Lim village with my own eyes– the kindergarten and the school, the village hall and the living houses. But the most important was to meet Mr. Sam and his wife again, as well as Mr. Be and the other villagers. Mr. Sam took me to the place where we had we once planted a Lim tree together at a ceremony to mark the beginning of the project. Until then there was no single exemplar of this beautiful and precious tree left in the valley which carried its name – a consequence of war, economic pressure, disregard of nature and poverty. With the settlement project the Lim tree returned to the valley as a symbol of hope for a better future, as an expression of friendship and solidarity between the people in Vietnam and Germany.

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