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Oxfam rice reach typhoon-affected villagers

Our Communications Officer in Vietnam, Ngueyen Thi Hoang Yen, recalls the journey of delivering 150 tons of rice to the first distribution in Kon Tum province, typhoon ketsana’s hardest hit area.


Hue and I sat in the cabin of the truck, trying hard to keep still on the hard seats as the truck full of rice inched along the bumpy road. We were on the way to Dak Ro Ong commune to do the first Oxfam’s distribution of rice for typhoon-affected villagers there.

Dak Ro Ong and other communes of Tu Mo Rong district were amongst the hardest hit areas by typhoon Ketsana that struck the central highlands Kon Tum province and 13 others in Vietnam late September. Oxfam has started it humanitarian response in this district and Dak Glei, the two most affected districts of Kon Tum. 150 tons of rice was amongst the initial distribution, aiming to provide enough food for at least 10,000 women, men and children here in the next 1.5 months.

It was not for easy for the rice to make it this far. The Oxfam team in Ha Noi managed to order 150 tons of rice to be delivered to the district from the Mekong Delta down south. The right proportion would have to be dropped off at each commune but as many roads in the district remained badly damaged, the delivery caused enormous extra amount of work.

For Dak Ro Ong in particular, 8 tons of rice was unloaded from the first delivery truck to an army amphibious. As the typhoon floods washed away the bridge linking the main road – that was the only way for the rice to cross the river. Once crossed, the rice was then uploaded again from the amphibious to the truck we were on. This truck would take the rice on the road also badly damaged by the typhoon to four communes on this side of the river.

Holding on tight, I could not help gasping with the views along the bumpy road. Contrasting with the raw red soil mountain’s wounds as the result of the landslides was the green and yellow patches of rice, still promising a light harvest for farmers whose fields were not affected. Little houses hid under shades of garden fruit trees; here and there a traditional stilt house appeared with tall pointed thatched roof. Children finished morning class walking home on the muddy red soil road smiled, shouted hello and waved to us.

We made it to Dak Ro Ong commune centre aching from the rough ride. While we grasped a hot bowl of noodles soup, which was considered luxury for us all at this time, some male villagers helped to unload the rice to the storage room. Then Hue and Thao, another Oxfam staff in charge of the distribution quickly went to make arrangements with the commune’s partners.

As villagers started to arrive, a table was set up next to the store room now stacked up full with white bags and bags of rice. The distribution finally started. A team of four including commune officials, Hue and Thao swiftly control the ‘operation’. Villagers were called one by one, each showed their residency registration book for the team to double check the number of beneficiaries, then signed on two different forms for us to keep record. Some fingered-print in the form as they could not write.

Each family member was entitled to 15kg of rice. 30kg-bags and bags of rice were carried out of the storage; some got split in halves for families that have odd member number. White bags and bags started to spread away from the commune centre, some on the motorbike, but most of them of the back, mainly women’s. Despite having to carry the heavy bags, smiles seemed to rest constantly on the villagers’ face, women and men.

I tried to make conversation on their way out. Some were too shy to speak pointing to me to talk to others, some only said a few words in their ethnic Se Dang language. Y Phi, a 30 year old, mother of two told me her house was washed away together with 20 bags of rice of 50kg each – all of their savings from the last crop. Her family has been sharing the house with a relative since the typhoon. She was very happy receiving the extra support.

As the team helping the last group of villagers with their share, the truck returned bringing more goods. This time it was dried fish, fish sauce, blankets and mosquito nets resting on top of tons and tons of rice to be transferred to two communes beyond Dak Ro Rong. Hue stayed to made arrangement with the partners to return the next day for further distribution. Thao and I got a lift back to the broken bridge. I felt more relieved. The team’s hard work had been paid off as villagers affected by the typhoon finally received Oxfam support.

  1. One Response to “Oxfam rice reach typhoon-affected villagers”

  2. By Jennifer on Oct 19, 2009

    It is hard to believe that people still think foreign aid is unnecessary. Providing relief to countries in need, especially Vietnam, is our moral obligation. Oxfam does so much great work, it truly inspires the individual to action. As a lowly student, it is hard to imagine putting theory into practice at times. At the end of the day, all the political debate and neo-liberal squabbles about the role of government/market doesn’t exist outside of theory for the majority of those passing legislation. The action taken by Oxfam, Ngueyen Thi Hoang Yen, and others working to end global poverty truly creates the momentum needed for a global movement. Maybe the aid provided by Oxfam did little to stimulate economic growth in Vietnam, maybe it meddled with the West’s version of the free market, but the villagers in Vietnam shouldn’t have to weigh those issues against their own survival and well being. As citizens of the world, neither should we. This story is a striking example of how little market growth has to do with the human condition. If economists all had it their way, compassion would be ruled as the outlier of human behavior. The direct action taken by Oxfam should serve as a reminder to those still stuck in the realm of theory. The reality of poverty, disaster and need is not the ‘reality’ many of us choose to observe, but it exists nonetheless. I wonder what the world would look like if members of congress/attendees of the G20 summit, who insist on cutting off foreign aid, were there that day in Vietnam, handing out those bags of rice?

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