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Dinh Thi Thuy Linh: “Passion for my job helps me to overcome difficulties in community development projects”

Ethnic minority groups are central to the community development projects that Australia Awards alumnus Dinh Thi Thuy Linh co-ordinated in her home province Cao Bang. She said the Australia Awards Scholarship gave her solid academic background to help her do her job with confidence.

Dinh Thi Thuy Linh graduated from The Australian National University in 2011 with the Master degree of Applied Anthropology and Participatory Development. She currently works as the District Facilitator of the VIE/036 project “Cao Bang Irrigation – Wise Use of Water and Agriculture,” funded by the Luxembourg Government. Thuy Linh helps Cao Bang Department of Agriculture and Rural Development design and implement the Agriculture Restructuring Program to produce market-orientated and safe agricultural products.

Before that, from 2012 to 2015, she was the Vice Director of Cao Bang Community Development Center (DECEN), a local NGO organisation in Cao Bang. Its establishment was supported by Helvetas Swiss Intercooperation.

Linh with Lo Lo ethnic

Ms. Dinh Thi Thuy Linh (second left), Ms Nguyen Thi Lan (craft production project officer, third left) and 3 members of the Lo Lo craft production group: Chi Thi Dien (first left), Chi Thi Duyen (second right) and Chi Thi Nguyet (first rigt) at Khuoi Khon commune, Bao Lac district, Cao Bang, in 2013. Photo: Dinh Thi Thuy Linh

One of the DECEN projects Thuy Linh was in charge of was the “Live” project, in which H’mong, Dao, San Chi, Lo Lo, Tay and Nung ethnic groups benefited from 52 village water systems and 174 water filter tanks. Thirty-six biogas systems and 548 toilets were also installed.

Also with DECEN, Thuy Linh managed a Luxembourg-funded community tourism project for the Lo Lo ethnic people in Khuon Khon village, Bao Lac district, who were trained to organize tourism services (homestays, tour guides, porters, etc) to welcome tourists.

Linh with Red Dao Ethnic

From left to right: Ms Ban Mui Phay (member of the Red Dao craft production group), Ms Dinh Thi Thuy Linh and Ms Ban Mui Chuong (member of the Red Dao craf production group), in the embroidery and sewing training course for the Red Dao craft production group at Hoa Tham commune, Nguyen Binh district, Cao Bang province, in 2013. Photo: Thanh Tran.

Another project was the establishment of five craft production groups for 50 women of Nung, H’mong, Lo Lo, Red Dao and Dao Tien ethnic groups. These women now have regular income from VND 200,000 – VND 500,000 per month, as their products are sold in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. The 14 members of the Nung group were also able to run the activities themselves without funding from the project.

“When the project started, we had to try to persuade these women’s husbands and their in-laws to allow them to participate in the groups. At first, the husbands and the in-laws were not happy, as they thought that women should stay at home, look after their children and do the farming work. But then, when seeing the women being trained in new embroidery and sewing techniques making income from craft products, other members in these families began to change their view. They even helped the women to look after their children so they could focus on their craft production. As a result, the women improved their status in their families and became more independent financially,” Thuy Linh explained.

According to Thuy Linh, one of the problems she has to deal with in her job is the different working styles between the NGOs and the local government. The authority’s initial lack of confidence in the NGOs is a big challenge. “In many cases, a project seemed to be an impossible mission, as both sides had contrasting views. We spent much time trying to understand our partners and their needs. Successful activities must come from the local needs, based on local circumstances. The NGO would suggest solutions to development issues to obtain the authority’s agreement on the project’s approach.”

Another issue is to train local people to undertake activities in which they have no experience. For example, at the beginning of the craft producing project, the participants, who were never formally trained in sewing and therefore worked for long time to complete an item, had difficulty learning to adapt to the customers’ tastes. They often brought their products, thread and needles with them to the field to work on during the resting time, thus often the craft products were tainted with dirt. They used their hands to measure, resulting in inconsistence in length. Trying to persuade them to learn to use more modern equipment to sew and do embroidery also took much time.

“We had to find some women with outstanding sewing techniques to be role models for the others. We trained the best and discussed with them the production and coloring techniques. Step by step, they produced craft works that suited the market’s needs while still keeping the traditional characteristics. We then showed the other women that if these role models succeeded, so could they succeed,” Thuy Linh said.

Thuy Linh’s job also required her to be away from her family for many consecutive days in the places without electricity and lacking water, let alone phone and Internet access. The project locations were often the most out-of-reach in Cao Bang province and the routes could be steep and dangerous. Sometimes her return was delayed as the roads were destroyed due to landslides. “The passion for my job and the wish to contribute to the ethnic minority communities in the province where I was born and grew up helped me to overcome these difficulties,” she said.

Dinh Thuy Linh grduation

Ms Dinh Thi Thuy Linh on her graduation day at the Australian National University in November, 2011. Photo: Viet Tran.

Thuy Linh believed that her two years studying in Australia helped her to grow. Sometimes the difficulties she experienced, during exams and essays, made her question her own ability. Looking back she was grateful for the pressure she experienced as it taught her to try to overcome her limits.

“I feel lucky to be able to do my job. I have travelled to many places, learned many stories of the living circumstances and cultures of various ethnic minorities; the elements creating and influencing these cultures. I understand better my home province and the communities living here. I understand that we are similar, all wishing to bring good things to our beloved country and strive for this.”