Vietnam: More than just a bridge

By Davis Wamawungo, Vietnam Portfolio Advisor

The Luc Yen project is located in a mountainous, rural area of northern Vietnam that is home to around 100,000 people, including many from ethnic minorities. Before the project started Luc Yen had a number of challenges, so the project is specifically focusing on issues of health, education, and trying to improve livelihoods of communities in that area.

Let me tell you a bit about how we engage the communities. We first discuss the challenges that they have. There was an incident whereby a small bridge was washed away, and that cut off access from the small village to other villages. The project manager discussed with the communities to see how we could help them rebuild. They agreed that World Vision could provide bags of cement, while the communities would contribute towards labour, stones and sand, and manage the whole project, with the supervision of World Vision.

So it was the whole process that got the community involved, and based on that there were so many outcomes that were unintended but very welcome. Why I say they were ‘unintended’ is because the initial thinking was ‘this is only a bridge’ but there were other unintended outcomes that impacted on our program.

I’ll give you some examples. When the bridge was washed away, children of school age were not able to access the school across the bridge. So when the bridge was completed, kids went to school and attendance levels were up. So directly you may think it’s just a bridge but education outcomes were improved.

Also, pregnant mothers were unable to access health centres and were missing antenatal check-ups. Now there’s the bridge, it means that if a mother wants to give birth it will not be a problem because she can access the health care centre. So a simple bridge like that, that is only two metres wide, now means that mothers’ lives are saved, and unborn children are saved. It’s a huge impact.

When this village was cut off, they didn’t have access to the market, and this impacted on their livelihood. But after the bridge was constructed, communities can take their goods to the market, and also cars can come and buy things from their side. So with improved livelihoods, families can now provide for their children and education. Just because of a small bridge.

But also we can look at it from another side – which is the whole process of planning and building this bridge across these two communities, bringing them together. It promoted both villages working together and taught them project and leadership skills. And working together actually promotes communication between the villages. So because of that I would say peacebuilding is one of the other unintended outcomes, from just a small bridge.

In agriculture, because they live in a hilly area, their mode of farming is using ox and cows. Now because of the bridge they can actually get stronger cows to come and till their rice farms. Another thing is that the youth who worked on the bridge now have the skills to be hired to work on other bridges in other communities, so upskilling the youth was one of the other things that came out of that. But also, most importantly, is that if the bridge has an issue now, the community knows how to fix it.

So it’s sustainable, they won’t have to bring foreign experts to come and fix the bridge. And they have the mobilisation skills to raise funds for the repairs to the bridge. They have the necessary skills and local resources.

So those are some of the things that just a small, two metre wide bridge can bring to a community. As Luc Yen community is supported by child sponsorship, it’s thanks to child sponsors that they were able to build that bridge.