For Hap, a small 11-year-old Dao girl in Hoang Su Phi District near the Chinese border, winter looms large.

“I wish I could wear nice new clothes to school. I have three shirts, three pairs of trousers and a sweater. I wear them all year round and they don’t keep me warm in the winter time, ” she says.

Hap has never left her village as her parents are always too busy working. Their one-storey, 50 square-metre wooden shack is situated on the edge of a steep hill next to the family’s one hectare sloping terraced paddy field. A field that doesn’t yield enough to feed them all.

Hap and her parents are among 180 families in Hoang Su Phi working with Plan in Vietnam to help improve their quality of life. While the Vietnamese Government attempts to provide access to social services to all citizens, the extreme isolation of remote communities has been a challenge. Therefore it engaged Plan and other international non-governmental organisations to help.

Plan has worked with Hap’s father Thanh for one year, during which time he has received two goats and two pigs and has learned about cattle breeding and the importance of vaccinations and animal health.

“We learned that vaccination makes cattle more resilient to diseases. We were also taught that human labour is important to our farming, so we have to take good care of every member of our family,” said Thanh.

Thanh, who has three more years of this collaboration, said he needs more tools and more land to produce more rice, to improve his family’s life and to save for Hap’s education.

Hap wants to be a teacher to earn a good income to help ease the economic burden on her family Becoming a teacher would mean having to study at a boarding school far from her family.

In the meantime their biggest worry continues to be putting food on their plates and in their stomachs.

Despite their animals, meat is not an option for the family. The animals are for sale to earn money to buy rice to and to pay for Hap's education. That leaves Hap and her parents with only two meals a day – mostly steamed rice with beans or vegetables.

Hap explains: “I can only have breakfast before going to school if there is rice left from the previous night. I wish I could have instant noodles for breakfast.”

Plan Vietnam, supported by Plan Canada, continues to work closely with Hap’s family and others in their community to understand what they need and want for now and in the future.

Through this partnership, villagers have learned to improve their farming skills to boost yields of cereal and livestock, and build water and sanitation facilities. Family leaders have learned to assess their needs and write household budgets on their annual allowances to improve their productivity and their living quality.

In the meantime Hap tries to keep smiling.

“A good teacher should always smile and take good care of her pupils,” she says.

VietNamNet Bridge - September 23, 2012