Heifer International has helped many extremely needy families escape the crushing weight of poverty. Each family's story is unique and wonderful, but for some the change is just plain amazing.
Mr. Duong Phu Dong (46) lives with his wife, Mrs. Pham Thi Thuy (45), and their two children: their son, Duong Phu Dong (24); and daughter, Duong Thi Bao Ngoc (14), in Tan Binh commune, Tan Hung village, Mang Thit district, Vinh Long province, in southern Vietnam. Their life was full of difficult moments.
"When we got married we were very poor," said Duong Phu Dong. They had no animals of their own and paying even small bills was difficult.
One very unlucky day their home caught fire and burned to the ground. They lost almost everything. "We had to live in our pig sty for 2 years," said Duong Phu Dong. Each of the four family members slept in a different pen. As though to prove that things can always get worse, Pham Thi Thuy fell ill and had to have surgery. The money they had been saving to rebuild the house had to be spent on her medical bills.
"I was determined to work hard and rebuild our house," said Duong Phu Dong. He diligently scrimped and saved, and slowly things began to look better. Duong Phu Dong picked up extra work cleaning cashews and making place mats and runners called tora.
When Heifer International started a project in Tan Binh in 2010, Duong Phu Dong still had no animals, but he was eager to learn. He participated in many of the trainings Heifer offered, including: climate change, gender equity, Cornerstones, HIV, and cow, duck, mushroom and rice production. His favorite Cornerstone is Gender and Family Focus.
"Before this training I had a stereotype that men were more important than women. I made all the decisions for my family and sometimes I failed. I did all the farming and my wife did all the housework," said Duong Phu Dong. "Now I share what I learned about gender equity with my wife and we discuss everything together. When I have free time I also share the housework," he added.
In April 2010, the family received a heifer. She soon produced a female calf, which allowed Duong Phu Dong to complete his Passing on the Gift requirement in May 2012.
In August 2011, he received a special loan from Heifer for $730 (15 million VND) to establish a new rice production model. "I learned how to use chemicals moderately. In the past I used chemicals too much. It affected our health and the environment, but now I use less, so we save money, are healthier and protect the environment," said Duong Phu Dong. "Before the trainings during the rice season I used chemicals 6 times, but now only 2 or 3 times per season." "After each time using the chemicals I was very hot and tired, and I got big headaches," he said. Where he lives, Doung Phu Dong can harvest rice three times per year; this meant he was spraying up to 18 times. "With the trainings I learned to choose non-toxic chemicals. I don't feel hot, tired or have headaches anymore," he said.
Heifer's trainings also taught him how to properly care for ducks. "Through duck production training I learned the importance of vaccinations," said Duong Phu Dong. "Before the training I didn't vaccinate my ducks, so I would lose half of them (to disease)." "He learned many good things from the trainings," said Pham Thi Thuy. Duong Phu Dong agrees, "The biggest benefit I received from Heifer is training and knowledge."
Raising and selling 180 ducks in five months, Duong Phu Dong was able to repay his loan and used the remaining $170 profit (3.5 million VND) from selling ducks to expand his business. He bought 2 additional machines (called may det) in October 2010 for making tora. This allowed him to double his production and hire 4 women (2 from his project group) to do the work.
But perhaps his biggest business decision was to start his cashew cleaning service. "Thanks to the trainings on Action Planning I learned to calculate investment and profit when starting a business," said Duong Phu Dong. "I know to have a good business I need a good action plan and good financial management." Prior to the project he worked for someone else. He was able to clean a maximum of 10 kg per day and earned $267 USD. Once he decided to start his own business, he radically altered his community by hiring 150 people. "Through Heifer's meetings and trainings I have met many new people and I can ask them to come work for me," he said. Now all together they process 6,000 kg of cashews per week, and their work generates more than $53,000 for the community. Duong Phu Dong keeps less than 5% for himself.
Before the project Duong Phu Dong earned roughly $876 USD per year, but now his profits are around $4,398 USD per year; a fivefold increase. "The benefit I received from Heifer is the cow and the profit from the revolving fund loan. With the profit I was able to expand my business and earn more income for my family," he said.
Our children understand the hardships we went through and now they work very hard too Duong, Vietnam
"When he started this project he became more interested in his business," said Pham Thi Thuy. "I'm very happy because now my husband stays very focused on business." Duong Phu Dong and his family have a new, hopeful mindset. "Our children understand the hardships we went through and now they work very hard too," he said. They've been so successful that now they are too busy to take on more projects. "My family is very busy with our current business. If we raised more animals we wouldn't be able to give them the best quality care," he said.
The Duong family is quick to point out that Heifer's timely help was the catalyst for this rapid growth. "My family was very poor. Heifer gave us a good cow and funds so we could make more income," said Pham Thi Thuy. "Heifer projects are very good for farmers. Heifer helps improve farmer's income through animal production, training and environmental protection," said Duong Phu Dong. "Heifer needs to make more projects in Vietnam so they can help more farmers to end hunger and poverty," said Pham Thi Thuy. The Duong family's accomplishments are remarkable. They embraced the opportunity that Heifer provided and have created something very special. With the support of donors like you, Heifer International can give other families the opportunity to succeed.