Poverty eradication projects ill-adapted to people's needs
Letter to Friends around the World # 82

Ms. Nguyen H. is a social worker in a southern province of Vietnam. She has worked in a community development project that includes schooling, livelihood programmes and access to housing.

Often, governmental and non-governmental organizations, put under pressure by the expectations of their funders or conditions of certain donors, execute their plan in a top down way. This is the case for the relocation of families who were living and working at the garbage dump. Local media showed all the good results and admired their nice new houses. What they didn't mention is how much the families did themselves to overcome their difficulties.

The 70 new houses had been built identically and are 32 m² in total. There isn't a garden and they were modelled on a family with 2 or 3 children, although most of the families have up to 7 children and many have grandparents staying with them. To save money, the houses were built in a way that every four houses share common walls and ventilation. Noises in one house can be heard as if people were sitting in the same room. You can climb up and jump into the house from the back. As a result, the nice looking houses are not quiet, offer very little intimacy and security.

When the families complained, they were told that they did not have the right to ask for more, since they got these houses at a very cheap price. People started to say that they would like to go back and live at the garbage dump because it was better there.

Why would they miss their old shacks in an environment which smells ? To stop working at the garbage dump was one of the criteria for the families to be relocated. Since not all of them found another way to earn their living, some secretly went back to work at the garbage dump at night. Others raised chickens or ducks in their bedrooms and the whole family would sleep in the living room.

The lack of privacy and the cramped living space created tensions and even violence among family members and neighbours. Beforehand, they had never experienced quarrelling like this. They say that as a community they had felt like a family before.

Learning from this experience, we want to conceive new houses together with the families. There has to be space between the houses and the size of the family must be taken into account for the allocation of square meters. We have asked families to contribute to the building of the new houses, so that they can have a say at all moments of the process.

I dream for the people of the community to be the project creators and this project can rebuild trust and peace. I would like that whatever we do with the families is based on love, trust and honesty.