Where did the time go?

Danielle Carriere joined PanNature for three months (May – July 2011) under the Students Without Borders program of World University Service of Canada. In the below blog post, she shares her experience with other volunteers on the website of Students Without Borders.

Where did the Time Go?
by Danielle Carriere

That is what I keep thinking to myself. I’m in my 6th week in Vietnam, and I can’t believe how fast time is flying by. I mean, people kept telling me it would, and deep down I knew it would – but I still can’t believe it.

Settling into life in Hanoi hasn’t been that difficult for me. I’m fortunate enough to be staying with a host family that is really going above and beyond to make sure that I have everything I need and am comfortable in their home. Also, meeting Gillian in my first week, the former PanNature WUSC volunteer, who also stayed with the same host family as I, was very helpful. She was kind enough to give me tips on which busses to take, that you have get on and off the bus while it’s moving (because why would it stop for you?), where the good bun cha is nearby, etc. which I think definitely took some of the potential stress out of my life.

My first trip outside of Hanoi was June 1st-2nd with PanNature to their field site at Hang Kia – Pa Co Nature Reserve (insert proper accents as necessary). It was great to get out of the city and see the beauty that the country has to offer! I got to meet the field staff and stay with them in their homestay just outside of the village, travel around Pa Co on the back of a motorbike, meet some of the local people of the H’mong ethnic group, and purchase some unique handmaid souvenirs. It was neat to see the projects that PanNature has developed to improve the economic conditions of these people (ie: building tourism infrastructure and diversifying their agricultural products) with my own eyes.

Sunday, June 5th, took me off the beaten path a little bit. I went to Soc Soc, a village approximately 40km outside of Hanoi with a tour company called Bloom Microventures, a microfinancing/tourism initiative where approximately half of the tour fees go directly towards funding a loan for women who would otherwise be unable to borrow from a traditional bank due to a lack of collateral. The countryside was beautiful (of course), and it was a privilege to hear about the lives of the women we met during the day. I would definitely recommend this for anyone coming to Hanoi who would like to spend the day learning about a way of life that is quite different from the Western one we live at home, and even the one we are leading here in Hanoi. There is also the added benefit of knowing that your money is going to a really good cause!

Daniel in Bai Tu Long. Photo: Sam Thanh Phuong.

I was asked a really great question by one of PanNature’s field staff when I was in Pa Co: do I think that the Vietnamese people are impoverished. That was definitely the first question I have been asked where I actually had to really stop and reflect on my experience – it was definitely a tough one to answer. Upon arriving in Hanoi, I was very surprised at how much more people had: fans, A/C, Iphones, televisions, and brand new luxury cars on the streets. I mean, you can definitely see that there is a huge divide separating the rich and the poor in the city, but everyone seems to have some sort of employment and eat relatively well. Also, I have not been approached by a beggar here, while in downtown Winnipeg (or even nicer suburbs like St. Vital) it has happened to me on several occasions (although I acknowledge I may only be visiting the nicer areas of Hanoi). However, when you leave the city for the rural areas, you can see the striking poverty of the people there. From what I’ve seen, people live in very basic or traditional houses with one or two rooms, without running water and very basic electricity. They farm for a living, and every one of them said that a farmer’s life is hard; although the work is hard, they get paid very little and it’s very difficult to raise their socioeconomic status by themselves. So I guess to answer the question: the country is definitely in the stages of development, and when I see how the economy is booming in Hanoi, I can’t help but worry that the poverty in the rural areas will be forgotten and left behind for the sake of development. From what I’ve seen and heard, it appears that the Vietnamese government is only interested in providing funding to rural areas in the context of developing tourism, not necessarily improving the quality of life for its rural citizens. I feel that more relief is needed from the government outside of the development of tourism to ensure that everyone is benefitting from Vietnam’s improving economy. Although tourism can help improve a community’s economy, what happens if/when the tourists don’t come? Although I would never claim to be an expert on this after a month, I don’t think that I’m crazy to question how sustainable this government strategy is.

Aside from my issues understanding their political system, I think my biggest struggle here so far has been trying to get a grasp of the Vietnamese language. Part of the problem is that I am spoiled; there are people in my host family who can speak English, and the girls at work also speak English and therefore either translate for me, or order my meals for me, which allows me to be lazy and not make a concerted effort everyday. Also, when I’m on my own, I can usually get by with basic English combined with miming and pointing at what I want. The other issue is that the words just don’t stick in my head. I generally ask what everything that I’m eating is (especially when it’s delicious and I know I will want to eat it again), and within five minutes of hearing what it is called in Vietnamese, it’s already floated out of my head.

I am really trying to soak up as much as I can in the short time that I’m here. I didn’t think I’d be saying this, but three months just isn’t enough time to do something like this – there’s too much to do, learn, and see! Unfortunately for my mom, her fears came true: I am loving this experience, and already wondering where I’ll be going for my next work placement…

Training course: “How to Tell Your Story in the Age of YouTube”

From 22 – 29 July 2011, Hoang Van Chien, reporter at PanNature’s ThienNhien.Net news website was offered to attend the training course “How to Tell Your Story in the Age of YouTube” organized by the Public Affairs Section of the U.S. Embassy in Hanoi and the video production company Red Bridge.

The workshop aimed to improve capacity and skills of participants in using digital video cameras and visual language to produce short clips. After the course, participants will be able to use learned skills to report on an issue and/or promote their organization.

Participants of the training course.

There were 12 participants in this training course, including 6 journalists from national media agencies and 6 Vietnamese NGO staff.

During 8 days of the course, local and international trainers introduced different practical concepts and skills, including types of documentary films, documentary production process, camera theory and filming techniques.

Participants also learned steps and principles in editing and finalizing short video films.

By end of the course, participants also filmed and produced short video films and published on the Internet through YouTube channel.

PanNature’s Nguyen Thi Hai Van Joins the Capacity Advancement Fellowship at Revenue Watch Institute

The Revenue Watch Institute has introduced its new Capacity Advancement Fellows for 2010-11: Maria del Carmen Pantoja Mendez of Grupo FARO in Ecuador, and Nguyen Thi Hai Van of People and Nature Reconciliation (PanNature) in Vietnam.

The Capacity Advancement (CA) Fellowship, currently in its third year, aims to build the capacity of mid-career civil society activists by deepening their understanding of the extractive industry and broadening their skills to connect local, national and international campaigns. After training and research in New York City, fellows are expected to return to their organizations and coalitions with specific knowledge and skills that will enable them to better meet current challenges and develop broader training, advocacy and research agendas. The program targets key individuals to develop a cadre of future leaders for extractive industry transparency campaigns.

RWI CA Fellows Nguyen Thi Hai Van and Maria del Carmen Pantoja Mendez.

During this year-long program, fellows investigate international best practices for extractive resource management and the current role of local and international civil society organizations in promoting change. During the first half of the program, from August 2010 through January 2011, CA Fellows will work from Revenue Watch’s offices in New York and take part in day-to-day RWI project activities, related classes at leading academic institutions, and donor and civil society networking events. Fellows will also receive hands-on support for original research and personal mentorship from an industry expert. After they return to their home organizations, CA Fellows will implement a project based on their research and learning experience in New York, with the continued support of their program mentor. Revenue Watch will publish a short report from each fellow online at the culmination of the term, highlighting what was learned.

Maria del Carmen Pantoja Mendez is a graduate of the Pontifical Catholic University of Ecuador in Economics and received a Revenue Watch fellowship to participate in the “Specialization in Extractive Industries: Monitoring and Sustainable Development” program at the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru. She has worked on analyzing public policy with a focus on fiscal, economic and social issues in government and private organizations. Since July 2009 she has worked as an investigator in the Public Finance Department of Grupo FARO in Ecuador. During these years she principally collaborated as a researcher, monitoring oil revenues, networking and doing advocacy. Her work includes the analysis of gender policy, local government transparency and social investment with the collaboration of organizations as UNIFEM, UNICEF, GTZ and FUNDAR.

Before Grupo FARO Maria conducted research for the Quito Chamber of Commerce and was a member of the Analytic Research Advisor Group of the Ecuadorian Statistical Institute. She is an activist who seeks to strengthen public policy through better economic planning and greater social equality. She aspires to become a policy maker in the future. Her goal through the CA fellowship training is to learn more about the administration of fiscal instruments such as funds as well as to gain a better understanding of contract issues that can be applied to Ecuadorian extractive sector restructuring.

Nguyen Thi Hai Van received a Bachelor of Environmental Science with honors from Hanoi National University, College of Science in 2008. She currently works as a policy researcher for the nonprofit People and Nature Reconciliation (PanNature) in Vietnam, where she coordinates projects on environmental protection and natural resource management and conducts advocacy and capacity building work on environmental law monitoring.

Van has coauthored a number of policy briefs on environmental impact assessment, prosecution for environmental crimes and biodiversity conservation in Vietnam, among other topics. While at Revenue Watch, Van will be working with the RWI Revenue Transparency Index team to research levels of transparency in Vietnam. In addition her research will focus on the environmental externalities of mining, the economic impact of the extractive sector and contract transparency. After the fellowship, Van seeks to increase awareness of transparency and Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative issues within government and civil society in Vietnam.


In-house News: Farewell and Welcome

In September, PanNature welcomed new faces joining the team. Ms. Dao Thu Hien and Ms. Nguyen Thanh Van are experiencing start-up work in their probation terms. Both Hien and Van graduated from the Department of Environmental Science of Hanoi National University of Natural Sciences.

Read more →
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