Working toward self-sufficiency is related to many of the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals, and is a baseline criterion of Global Volunteers’ service programs. This post illuminates how volunteers assist two of our community partners in Asia work to elevate local people’s capacity and confidence to become agents of their own progress.
When volunteers teach conversational English, help renovate community buildings, provide professional assistance, mentor children and mothers, and supply other essential services, they do so to catalyze local self-sufficiency. Two examples of this service in one region of the world are Nepal and Vietnam. Read on for reflections from Namaraj Shahi at Papa’s House orphanage in Nepal, and Quyen Trinh at Blind Link in Vietnam:
Enhancing Self-Sufficiency in Nepal
Namaraj says self-sufficiency in Nepal is understood as “having everything that’s needed at the time one needs it.” Becoming self-sufficient is a goal, but it takes different forms between urban and rural areas. “Nepal is a poor country,” Namaraj begins. “People here don’t have even the basics like shelter, food, and clothing. Daily wages for a common man in our country are just $2-$3 per day.”
Nepal is largely an agricultural economy. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) states 66 percent of the population is directly engaged in subsistence farming. But despite the agricultural potential of most regions, population growth has outstripped agricultural output in recent years. With changes in the climate and the impact of the recent food and financial crises, FAO warns that much of the population is food insecure. Chronic malnutrition in children is estimated to be almost 50 per cent – worse in mountain regions – close to the highest in Asia.
These conditions, along with the absence of roads, hospitals, schools and many other basic services in remote villages drives impoverished people into the capital city of Kathmandu – where the general cost of living is much higher than the rural areas they vacate. Even working day and night, displaced families barely meet their basic needs. “It’s hard to survive in a city area on only two or three dollars a day,” Namaraj asserts. Yet, many male wage-earners remain in Kathmandu despite these challenges, he says. Men may work as day laborers, live at the work site all week, and return to their families in the village once or twice a month with provisions. “Very few people enjoy self-sufficiency in Nepal,” says Namaraj.
A minority of people are successful with small enterprises. As people lack capital to start businesses, some will find a way to work abroad. “Many people have done this and have done great,” says Namaraj. As populations shift from rural to urban and from urban to abroad, social and cultural changes also occur. “Families nowadays have started to work together,” he says. “Both husband and wife work, which was not allowed before.”
This is where Global Volunteers steps into the journey towards self-sufficiency and positive social change. Helping expand academic and professional opportunities, volunteers provide conversational English classes for at-risk children and students from elementary school to college. Directly tackling social inequalities, volunteers tutor women ages 14 to 62 who have returned to grades one through eight at Astha Mahila Vidhyalaya Women’s School (ASTHA).
Improving infrastructure is another way volunteers helps local people work toward self-sufficiency. “Global volunteers has helped us paint our orphanage, and thereby giving our children a good surrounding, and encouraging them to contribute in the same way,” Namaraj maintains. “By seeing Global Volunteers help, the children have started to help each other. Volunteers have not only helped them outwardly but inwardly too, as their spirits are risen by seeing volunteers’ acts of love,” Namaraj concludes.
Enhancing Self-Sufficiency in Vietnam
One of Global Volunteers’ partners in Vietnam is Blind Link, a nonprofit social enterprise providing employment, support, and training for the visually impaired in Hanoi. Program Coordinator Quyen Trinh says the massage classes at the Blind Institute and employment opportunities at the Omamori Spa pave the pathway to self-sufficiency for students. The spa’s website states programs are “for students’ personal and professional development and training as well as job creation in the massage industry.”
By mobilizing teams of volunteers to teach conversational English at Blink Link, Global Volunteers supports the students’ volition for self-sufficiency. “In the context of a rising tourist industry, the ability to speak English greatly expands professional opportunities for students,” Quyen states. “Omamori Spa’s (‘lucky charm’ in Japanese) students and staff have learned not only about English communication but also living skills from Global Volunteers.” She credits the volunteers for the advancement of their students toward independence, and the expansion of their course offerings. Furthermore, Quyen reports that volunteers also contributed to a Swedish massage training course in the Ninh Bình province for blind students.
The impact of Blind Link is seen in the lives of its graduates who are now professionals and able to provide not only for themselves but also for their families. “In my opinion,” says Quyen, “self-sufficiency is the capability that most of the blind therapists at Omamori Spa aim to develop themselves. That term shows most clearly through the story of each individual here.”
One out of many success stories is Nguyễn Quốc Toản, who came from the Nghệ An province, 200 miles from Hanoi. Now 26 years old, Nguyễn was born with a vision impairment. Thanks to his training at Blind Link he is now making a living for his family of six. As Quyen proudly shares Nguyễn’s story, he adds, “this is a typical example to prove that the visually impaired students at Omamori Spa can have a good income based on professional massage.”
Together, Blind Link and teams of volunteers work to help visually impaired young adults achieve self-sufficiency – one week and one student at a time.