Tag Archives: Vietnam

NGO’s in Vietnam

P1010001Hanoi From the outset I’ll be clear that we met some fine non-profits or NGOs (non-governmental organizations) in Vietnam during our visit there.  RENEW and the Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial led by Chuch Searcy virtually brought tears to some of the Organizers’ Forum delegation as he told of the challenges of clearing ordinance and the injuries everywhere.  We met dedicated young people with Habitat International in Hanoi and the NGO Resource Center in Hanoi and LIN in Ho Chi Minh City trying to pull big and small pieces together.  We met people with projects among children and in an array of planning and disaster preparation areas.  We met operations set up as NGOs to support workers living in dormitories who had migrated into the Special Economic Zones and the new industries.  When we met with PACCOM, the governmental liaison to NGOs, they could not have been more clear how much they support “the sector.”

Nonetheless, the picture for NGOs is not a pretty one in many respects, and at the least it is crystal clear that there is virtually no such thing as “free and independent” activity in this sector.  Furthermore, it is also clear that much of the government’s enthusiasm for NGOs is its desperate quest for donor dollars and continued need to shed subsidized service segments.

There seem to be a menu of laws and regulations affecting NGOs, many of which change constantly from what we learned  at the NGO Resource Center, but no matter what is happening with the laws, it is clear that for any foreign NGO to operate they have to have a license from the government.  They would also need another license for each project they would undertake.  Yet a thrid license would be required from the government in order to locate a staff or headquarters operation in country.  The government is pretty much a silent or overt partner in much of this as well down to the level of naming a co-manager, though a silent one, at the NGO Resource Center.  The government would select where Habitat worked and provide the land.  Projects would be approved and then canceled for reasons unknown as governmental interests or priorities shifted.

Many of the locally based NGO’s and many of the local staff for all of the NGOs were former government bureaucrats in similar fields.  This was a track from lower to higher pay.  People couldn’t have been more frank about it. For the government it also meant that they were dealing with proven commodities and folks who knew how things were supposed to work and wouldn’t shake the boat.  All the NGOs we met were clear that they were not advocates and could not be advocates.

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Good Morning, Vietnam!

Ho Chi Minh City We were up and at it on a Sunday morning as we shifted around the agenda to get a feel for the city and the country by taking a bus 60 kilometers away to see the Cu Chi Tunnels, a historic national site in Vietnam.  The tunnels were legendary.  Built originally in 1948 as protection and operations in what they call the French War until 1954 and independence and partitioning into North and South Vietnam, the American War revived the tunnels as both defense and guerrilla offense on Saigon until the Paris peace from 1966 to 1975.  Too much history here!

The bus guide had prepared the way in an idiosyncratic recitation of details.  The country was horribly poor with per capita income $1200 USD per year and more like $360 USD per year in rural areas.  There was huge migration into the cities with more than 8 million now in Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi even larger.  After 3 million killed in the war (1 million soldiers, 2 million civilians he claimed) population had surged in the last 35 years from a little more than 30 million to now over 81 million people.

P1010009He complained that there were growing inequities between rich and poor, and when I asked him how you got rich here the answers were interesting.  First, remittances from family abroad, especially in the USA.  No doubt this was a bitter, divisive irony that families fleeing South Vietnam for their support of the Americans, were now fueling relative riches back home from dollars made in the USA and elsewhere.  Second, was whether you owned land, because land had value for housing, crops and asset wealth. Continue reading