Each year the Heifer Foundation presents the Golden Talent Award to an individual or family who has taken “a minimum of resources and converted it into a sustaining source of income and other resources, while also helping other families and the community at large.”
Staff from each Country Program determine their country’s winner. A cash award of $1,000 is provided by the Foundation; $800 is for the project community and $200 is designated as a cash gift or in-kind gift to the family or individual.
In August 2010, I got to meet Hoang Anh Tuan, who was selected as Vietnam’s 2011 Golden Talent Award winner. After sitting with Anh Tuan and his family for an evening in at his home in Gia Lam, I’m not surprised at all that he is one of this year’s winners. I wrote briefly about his resourcefulness while I was in country, but the rest of his story is below.
|Hoang Anh Tuan with his three cows
Anh Tuan, now 50, was born in northern Vietnam. He completed seven of 10 grades there before joining the Vietnamese Army in 1980. He served as a soldier for six years. After he left the army, Anh Tuan started a business that bought and sold construction materials like cement bricks. He thrived until the government shut him down in the mid 1980s.
Following the Vietnam War and after reunification, internal repression made businesses like Anh Tuan’s illegal. When he was caught, Anh Tuan was forced to sell nearly everything he owned to pay the government fine.
“My parents were ashamed of me, so they abandoned me,” Anh Tuan said. He and his wife, Thi Phuong, left the north and moved to Gia Lam, where they still live.
Gia Lam is in Vietnam’s central highlands, a mountainous area characterized by its large tracts of forest and agricultural land and diverse vegetation. Despite the grandeur of the landscape, the people here struggle to meet basic needs. Nearly 35 percent of the people live in poverty.
He tried growing coffee and blueberries, but the soil lacked nutrients to produce a decent crop. He made nearly nothing from his blueberry yields. It was another blow for Anh Tuan.
“With very low income, me and my wife had to fight for everything to make income for the family,” Anh Tuan said. “I tried a lot of jobs. I drove a motorbike taxi, worked in a brick factory and did other hard labor.”
Despite his various jobs, Anh Tuan said he became depressed. Nothing he tried brought in enough money for his wife and their son and the two daughters they had had since moving. Desperate, Anh Tuan turned to gambling and a life of crime.
Regardless of how they made their money, Anh Tuan and Thi Phuong had agreed that they would always try to send their children to school. Often they spent all the money they had to pay for school fees and books, he said.
“We knew that the fastest way to get out of poverty was to invest in education,” Anh Tuan said. “Sometimes at home we didn’t have enough food, but I still encouraged my children to go to school,” he said.
Things began to change for the family in August 2007 when Anh Tuan attended a farmers’ union meeting. They were discussing Heifer International, and the farmers said Heifer would provide them with cows—an incredibly valuable property in the region. He learned how to care for his cow, and how the manure could possibly help the quality of the soil on his small farm. But his favorite training, he said was when the group learned how to formulate business plans.
After six months, Anh Tuan received a breeding bull and a heifer and 2 million Dong (about $100) in microcredit funds. He decided to invest his money in fertilizers and green bean seeds. A neighbor agreed to let him grow beans on about an acre of land adjacent to Anh Tuan’s coffee farm. He spent his entire 2 million Dong on the beans, and two and half months later, it was time to harvest.
Anh Tuan made 18 million Dong ($910) for his beans, making his overall profit 16 million Dong or $800. In about a quarter of the time, he had made nearly the same amount he was making in a year.
Anh Tuan said he decided then to cut down the rest of his coffee trees to increase the amount of land devoted to beans. By this time he was also collecting manure from his cows to compost and spread on the soil. Now, Anh Tuan has three cows and rotates his crops to maintain soil quality. He grows peppers and beans.
He has also completed his requirement to pass on a calf to another family in need, and has a cow that will calf soon. In less than three years, Anh Tuan changed his life.
“Before joining Heifer I had no hope for my children. Now I’m confident in my knowledge. I have a stable income to support my family,” he said.
Anh Tuan and his wife now work hard every day, but see the reward for their hard work. Not only are they bringing in more than $2,000 a year from their bean and pepper crops, they also have the cows to supplement their income.
Anh Tuan is now so successful, he is able to send his two daughters to a special school for children who excel in mathematics, physics and chemistry. The two girls Hoang Anh Ly, 15 and Hoang Mai Ly, 13, are also in classes for children proficient in English, he said. He recently bought his daughters a new bicycle so they wouldn’t have to walk the 5 miles to school every day.
“Nobody believed that I could make a successful business,” he said. “Without Heifer, I couldn’t have. I’m a new person,” Anh Tuan said. “Heifer gave me direction and hope.”
He also looks to the future with great expectation. “I’m investing in my children so they can have good jobs. I expect they will serve the country to better the country.”