Tag Archives: Vietnam

HERhealth project: Supporting factory workers in Vietnam.

With capacity building about health, hopefully women can take more control over their own bodies.

With capacity building about health, hopefully women can take more control over their own bodies.

This is a link to a piece I wrote describing HERhealth for Innovate Development – it’s a program that helps educate women factory workers about their health….

The Strip: A Cool Nightlife Spot in My Hanoi ‘Hood

Word magazine, Vietnam, October 2014

Word magazine, Vietnam, October 2014


I wrote this story for The Word a month ago. The photos are fab. It’s all about the buzzing new strip on Quang An Road in West Lake, just up the road from where I live. Very cool to see all this investment and activity in a city that pretty much shuts up by 9 pm.

Markets in Hanoi

Clothes, clothes and more clothes.

Clothes, clothes and more clothes.

A recent story I wrote for the expatsandaliens website. Just browsing right now!

Climbing to the Clouds: Hanoi to Ha Giang

The view from the top of an old French fort in Dong Van.

The view from the top of an old French fort in Dong Van.

On Labour Day weekend (same in Vietnam as in Canada), myself and four friends hired a car and headed north: destination Ha Giang Province. Ha Giang contains Vietnam’s northernmost point along the Chinese border. Two of the gals I was traveling with, Ashley and Camilla were training for a half-marathon, so we took every opportunity to exercise…more about that to come!
After driving for around six hours (plus a 1-hour lunch stop) we reached the town of Ha Giang, capital of the province. We stayed at Truong Xuan Resort, a welcome reprieve after all that cramped car time. First thing was to stretch out on the porch of our bungalow overlooking the River Lo. All rivers in Vietnam are muddy, it’s the nature of the beast in such a rain-drenched climate. Even so, it was serene watching the water wind its way past while locals cleaned their fishing nets on the shore. Dinner was at the hotel as it had started to sprinkle and we were tired. We all order versions of nem or spring rolls. I had the fresh version, veggitarian. Ashley had same but fried. We also had salads. Everything was dripping in mayonnaise. Strange! A hotel specialty, I’m sure. Oh well, it was washed down with frosty Hanoi beer.
In the morning, after a breakfast of Vietnamese coffee (thick and sweetened with condensed milk), eggs and fruit, we packed up the car and went to see the hotel manager. He had arranged our visitor’s permits ($11 each) and distributed them to us after we settled up (dinner, accommodation and permit cost us around 500 VD each – $25). Next on our itinerary was the town of Dong Van The road was all switchbacks through the mountains. Stunning scenery and scary precipices It was slow going, but beautiful and we stopped often to take photos or scamper up to look-out posts. One memorable spot proudly showed off its “Fairy Bosom,” two identical green mounds surrounded by lots of other mountains. I passed on a souvenir framed photo of the foliage fringed décolletage.
Dong Van was packed with people, all there to particpate in an annual flute festival. Since it was so full, we had to stay at a hotel I would not recommend – Plateau Terrace. Terrible! Moldy walls, no light, construction on one side. Oh well. We got there late in the day, so we poked around the town a bit trying to find a place for dinner. Easier said than done. Some restaurants were booked up, others were out of food. We finally found a place that served a delicious vegetarian Bun Chau (Broth, noodles, herbs and the lady kindly put in tofu instead of the usual meat). I am not usually vegetarian, but I have been leaning that way since I got here. Seems a bit safer. Plus, you get up close and personal with a lot of the animals and it just doesn’t feel right to eat them (ducks and piggies in particular).
We watched a bit of the festival, lots of swirling, colourful costumes, lots of speeches and finally a bit of flute playing. Two men usually play at once, circling around each other. The traditional garb for men here is wide dark pants, black Chinese-style jacket and a little black cap or beret. Sometimes they throw on a scarf and look like jaunty Frenchmen.
Vietnam is home to 54 ethnic minorities and, the Tay, Dao and Hmong live in the Ha Giang region. Everywhere we looked, the men’s clothing was consistent, generally black on black, the women, however, wore colourful skirts, scarves and tunics embellished with intricate embroidery.
Day three was the big walk. We had the driver take us to Meo Vac, 22 km away first thing in the morning so we could attend the market bustling with vendors of veggies, fruit, rice and livestock.
Then we walked the 22km back to Dong Van. Yeow. It was hot. Stunning scenery and parts of the way we were accompanied by friendly locals who would disappear down the mountainside when they came to their homesteads. Luckily there was a half-way café to get a cold drink and rest our feet. The whole trek took about six hours. Thankfully my blisters didn’t come up until the last 5 km. At the end, a cold beer never tasted so good.
Next day was back to Ha Giang and the lovely Truong Xuan Resort. Instead of eating at the hotel that night we ventured into town. On the menu? Duck, pork and horse. I was still full from a roadside Bun Chau lunch, so I passed.
Before heading back to Hanoi the next day, we made a detour to see the Lung Cu flagpole. Marching up 154 steps alongside many patriotic Vietnamese vacationers, we finally made it to the top of Dragon Mountain, for a stunning view of China, 1600m above sea level.
Driving back to Hanoi, we were all a bit tired and sore, but also thankful we’d been able to see this breathtaking northern region.

Overcoming my Hanoi Horrors

The intersection near my apartment.

The intersection near my apartment.


Link to my story on expatsandaliens about Hanoiying traffic!

SWOT/Recruitment Workshop

Introducing the workshop.

Introducing the workshop.


Last week my colleague Ashley Laracy and I gave a Strengths/Weaknesses/Opportunities/Threats (SWOT) workshop at Bac Thang Long college in Hanoi. We compared some of the findings another volunteer did in 2013 with the findings of my recent stakeholder interviews. For the past few weeks I’ve been speaking with deans, teachers, students, alumni and enterprise partners to find out how they view the college. I’ll be using this info to polish up the website and also for promotional purpuses. Bac Thang Long college is quite concerned right now about enrollment. There has been a recent government change in courses at colleges. Previously, people who failed the university entrance exams could take a one-year college course and then transfer into university. No longer. Now students have to complete a 2-year college course or simply work for three years before they can retry their university exams. This means Bac Thang Long is going to lose about 30 per cent of its enrollment since people will like just opt for working and saving up money before they try again.
As an outside observer I know there are many layers to the problemic onion which I am not party to. However, I was able to share what I found with the teachers and other staff at the workshop.
Here’s a little summary of my findings from teachers/students and alumni:
GENERAL STRENGTHS AND WEAKNESSES
STRENGTHS
• Location
• Class schedules for workers.
• Regular pedagogy upgrading from international partner WUSC.
• Open, enthusiastic teachers.
• Practical experience for students (Guest experts, field trips, internships).
• Student services, financial assistance, career counseling, job placement.
• Partnerships with enterprises – internships/job placements.
• Teacher/student ratio.
• Courses tailored to needs of enterprise partners.
• Infrastructure – library access, access to computers/equipment.
• Website.
• 3-year training for middle school graduates.
• Extra-curricular activities (dancing, soccer).
• College/teachers stay connected to alumni.

WEAKNESSES
• No foreign language capacity training.
• Soft skill training needs expanding.
• Due to govt changes transfer program now obsolete.
• Not enough majors for middle-school student program.
• Criteria of BTL does not match criteria of partner (bank).
• Limited technology and equipment.
• Not up to date on some technology needs of enterprises.
• Some courses need to be more specialized (supermarkets)

Here’s what the enterprise partners said:
STRENGTHS
• A large pool of students that partner can profit from (bank).
• BTL events provide exposure for partner products (bank).
• BTL provides opportunity for partner to build goodwill in community (bank-scholarships).
• BTL provides opportunity to tap volunteer labour.
• Grads are large labour pool for Thang Long Park and 32 other parks (1,000 enterprises).
• Guest lectures from enterprise staff that prepare students for reality of workplace.
• Hard working, enthusiastic, disciplined students.
• Quick respond to suggestions for new, or improved, courses. Stays current with changes in the field (supermarkets).
• College staff stay connected with enterprises, post positions regularly.
• More loyalty with grad hires vs university grads.

WEAKNESSES

• School relies on enterprises to provide equipment, this causes worry for enterprises and slows them down.
• BTL does not stay up to date on emerging needs of some enterprises. For instance electronics manufacturers and the making of touch screens.
• Cannot adapt to change in electronics field quickly.
• Students need more communication skills, especially those with local accents (call centre).

Coming up with solutions.

Coming up with solutions.

SWOTActivity3

The participants then came up with their own solutions and wrote them on a flip chart which is currently being translated. I’ll share those findings when I get them. Not sure the goal was really understood, so we’ll see what they came up with.
SWOTIntro

My post on Hoa Sua Resturant for Innovate Development

Lovely exterior of the Hoa Sua Restaurant in Truc Bach.

Lovely exterior of the Hoa Sua Restaurant in Truc Bach.

A wonderful spot just around the corner from where I live. I wrote about it for the Innovate Develoment website. Check it out!

WUSC, Uniterra and My Mandate in Vietnam

Outside the WUSC office in Hanoi.

Outside the WUSC office in Hanoi.


The walk from the cool Hanoi airport into a waiting cab was the first warning. It was 37C with 85% humidity. Hanoi in July is not for the faint of heart. I’ve been here five days now and am slowly getting used to the hot, wet blanket that envelops me as soon as I walk out of my hotel—at 7am.
My lovely hotel.

My lovely hotel.


But before I get into the details of my experience in this amazing city, I should let you know why I’m here.
WUSC works with eight colleges throughout the country.

WUSC works with eight colleges throughout the country.


A short while ago I was selected by the World University Service of Canada (WUSC) to go to Vietnam for a nine-month mandate. My role is communications/marketing advisor for the North Thang Long Economic Technical College, also known as BTL. (the college’s name in Vietnamese is Bac Thang Long). I’m part of WUSC’s and the Centre for International Studies and Cooperation’s (CECI) Uniterra Program, which recruits Canadians to work in partnership with local organizations to help reduce poverty and inequality through education. My mandate is part of the Private Economic Development sector and the project is known as Skills Training for Labour Market. WUSC volunteers are in eight colleges throughout the country and roles include gender equity officers, IT, communications and administrative support.
The WUSC office is next to a government hotel and not far from  the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum.

The WUSC office is next to a government hotel and not far from
the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum.


My job is to help improve BTL’s reach within the country and to use marketing and promotional tools to increase enrollment. BTL has three main faculties, engineering/info technology, accounting/finance and tourism/commerce. There are 5,000 students currently enrolled in the 10-year-old college, many are part-time shift workers in the nearby industrial park who hope to improve their skill set and create a better career future for themselves.
The amazing lunches at the WUSC office.

The amazing lunches at the WUSC office.


My first week in Hanoi has been spent getting in-country training at the downtown WUSC office. Not only have I received background on BTL, but info on Vietnamese culture and even some language lessons. One of the highlights of each day has been lunch, cooked up by one of the very talented local WUSC staff members.
Tips for surviving the heat? Drink lots of water, stay out of the sun, and take naps. I know it won’t last. Apparently it gets down to single digits in the winter. This has been one heck of a trip to pack for!