A gift opens doors; it gives access to the great. Proverbs 18:16
We slogged through the mud to the village of Dia, about three hours northwest of Hanoi in the Tan Son district. The people here are an indigenous ethnic group called the Muong. Their ancestral home and former livelihood is now in the nearby mountains, a national forest no longer available to them. The Muong and their Dao neighbors are left to make their way as farmers. New gifts and new skills to use the land do not come naturally to them.
The new farmers are learning to grow vegetables in the winter in addition to the two crops of rice they grow throughout the year. MCC works here in six villages in two communes, or townships, working and learning alongside the Muong in agriculture and education projects and in peacebuilding workshops.
The village of Dia includes 55 households, about 200 people. With MCC’s help, Ha Phi Chung is raising rabbits. In the past six months, she has been able to sell several dozen rabbits and earn about $4 million dong ($200 USD) and is still able to give away six rabbits to another family, the same number of rabbits she first received.
It is not enough income, Chung tells us, because she wants to build a house, But it is enough to earn money for food and to keep members of her family from traveling to other communities to earn more money to send back home. Chung’s neighbor has been trying to raise chickens, but the village is too close to the forest and snakes have been feasting on the chickens.
At the school, just a short way down the road, several women are preparing a lunch for the children. MCC has shared its resources to help the community build a school kitchen. The children can now stay at school over lunchtime. The children have enough to eat, their parents can keeping working in the fields and the children are more likely to stay now for the afternoon school session.
We meet a young couple who attended two MCC peace trainings and are now prepared to share their skills to mediate community disputes, many of which involve overconsumption of alcohol and domestic violence. Inaccessible roads, little or no electricity and not enough work to grow the food they need for their families all contribute to unhealthy home lives. Each of the six villages where MCC works has a community mediation group of five men and five women who are now available to respond to community disputes.
We later meet with government officials who ask MCC to expand our resources to work with other villages and communes in the region. Small gifts from MCC have opened doors to help build stronger communities and relationships. When we share our gifts, they are shared with others.
Ron Byler is executive director of MCC U.S.