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Habitat’s Rainbow Village Project Spells Hope For Vietnam Dump Site Families

New Homes For Up To 100 Families; Habitat Partner Has Built School, Library and Playground For The Children

RACH GIA, 27th December 2007: Habitat for Humanity and its partners are laying the groundwork for a housing project for up to 100 families living on a dump site in southern Vietnam. The aptly named Rainbow Village project will transform the lives of families living on the Vinh Quang dump site in Rach Gia, capital city of Kien Giang province, southwestern Vietnam.

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Ramshackle: People at the Vinh Quang dump site live in shacks typically constructed with materials that they scavenged, such as thatch and plastic sheets.

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Fresh hope: Many children living at Vinh Quang dump site have to scavenge to help support their families; the new school built by Habitat’s partner Catalyst Foundation not only provides education but also new vocational skills for children.

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What’s in store: The arrival of the garbage truck is eagerly anticipated by Vinh Quang residents who hope to find recyclable materials such as tin and plastic.

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Beneficiaries: Thi Ngoc Oanh (left) and her husband Ly Thong (carrying child) with their seven children. They are thankful for the opportunity to send their three daughters to school.

Funding for the three-year project, which includes water and sanitation improvements, comes from Communities for Communities, a Sydney-based charity in Australia; Singapore property developer CapitaLand through HFH Singapore; Australia market research consultancy Colmar Brunton, and HFH Australia.

Communities for Communities is also partnering with Habitat for Humanity Philippines and Catholic organization Bethlehem Communities Australia to build more than 300 homes for families living on a dump site named Smokey Mountain on Cebu island, southeastern Philippines.

Habitat’s partner in the Rainbow Village project is Catalyst Foundation. The non-profit organization, headquartered in Minnesota, the US, works to improve the lives of orphaned, abandoned and homeless children in Vietnam.

The aim of the Rainbow Village project is to transform the lives of families living at the Vinh Quang dump site through secure and decent housing, access to clean drinking water and sanitation facilities, educational opportunities and sustainable livelihood alternatives.

The Habitat homes will be built about 300 meters from a school that has been constructed by Catalyst Foundation. Australia architect firm Dickson Rothschild has completed a draft master plan for the project with inputs on house designs from HFH Vietnam.

A Habitat Resource Center (HRC) will also be set up to provide materials for house construction with home partners being involved in building their own homes. The HRC staff will also conduct vocational training to provide livelihood alternatives for the Vinh Quang families.

Vinh Quang dump site
The narrow pathway that led into Vinh Quang dump site was lined with rows of shanty houses on the left, built out of materials salvaged from the dump site: bamboo, thatch, plastic and pieces of tin sheeting. Old tires were placed on the roofs to prevent the tin sheeting from being blown away by winds and rains.

Scores of children ran about at the dump site, some barefoot while others wore mismatched sandals that were too big for their feet. As they trudged around the garbage, discarded plastic, rotten vegetables and other rubbish became stuck to their feet or footwear.

Garbage trucks rolled into Vinh Quang round the clock, dumping tons of refuse that piled up to form a garbage mountain. Both adults and children searched the garbage for recyclable materials such as tin cans, plastic bags and glass bottles.

Many of the young scavengers carried a metal hook attached to a wooden handle to pick up recyclable materials that they then put into a plastic bag. Their faces would light up when they found larger pieces of hard plastic that fetch higher prices. As an earthmover ploughed through the rubbish, two boys followed in its trail, moving quickly to pick up tin cans, plastic bags, glass bottles and any scrap that could be sold for recycling.

Some of the young scavengers would sell the bottles, plastic and metal that they collected to the small shops along the path that leads to Vinh Quang.

Occasionally, the children got a brief respite from work. When some Habitat and Catalyst Foundation representatives were making their way through the dump site, they were greeted by a group of children crouching next to small melons growing out of the rubbish. The children were tucking into some of the fruit while they stuffed more melons into the pockets of their oversized pants. One boy was so laden with melons that he had to keep pulling up his pants every few steps.

Minh Binh Nguyen, a project manager with Catalyst Foundation, smiled as he watched several children race to the other side of the hill which overlooked the ocean, a welcome sight beyond the mountain of garbage.

“These children have grown up here so this is all they know,” says Minh. “There are over 87 children who live here with their families. Most are illiterate as are their parents. Usually at age five or six they are working here just as their parents do, to help their families.”

In April 2007, Catalyst Foundation started to build a school for the Vinh Quang children, on a plot of land granted by the Kien Giang provincial government. In December 2007, a library and a playground were added with the help of local and international volunteers, including a team from Singapore’s CapitaLand. The Rainbow Village project will also provide vocational training and learning resources and scholarships to disadvantaged children.

The new school, playground and library officially opened in late December 2007. In their excitement to see the new playground, the children from Vinh Quang arrived two hours before the opening ceremony began. Provincial government officials and local media attended the ceremony and as soon as the speeches ended, the children dashed to the new playground where they jumped excitedly on the slides, merry-go-round and swings.

Catalyst’s project manager Minh is heartened by the opening of the new school. “Our school that we recently completed has given the chance for these children to attend school, some for the first time in their lives,” said Minh. “I feel happy for the children, to see them so eager to learn not only in the school but to study at home too.”

“Some of the children work alongside their families well into the late hours of the evening, often as late as 1am. It is a hard life for them so this project will not only give them opportunities of education but the chance to learn new trades with chances of better lives, away from the dump site.”

Among those who benefited from the school project is the family of Ly Thong. Now expecting their eighth child, forty-six-year-old Thong and his wife, Thi Ngoc Oanh, 36, have been living at the dump site for the past 16 years. Five of their children, aged from nine to 18, work at the dump site to support the family.

Their three daughters attend the Catalyst School in the morning until 10.30am. Thong would pick them up from school on his motorcycle and take them home where they would change into old clothes and start work at the dump site. Thong and his children prefer to work in the evenings when more trucks arrive. Often they will work until midnight. The five children earn from 80,000 to 100,000 dong (about US$5-$6.20) a day while the father can earn up to 150,000 dong (US$9.40).

“My husband and I were never able to go to school,” said Oanh. “It makes us happy to see our children going to school and receiving an education. The school has been so helpful to the children here. Before, they never had the chance to learn but now they are so happy when they get ready for school in the mornings.”

“It’s a very hard life, but it is all these families know,” said Minh. “I have talked to some of the mothers about learning a trade to give them an option for a better life. It will take time to change their way of thinking, since most have little or no education…”