Hoang Thi Xuyen, chairwoman of Tam Thon Hiep Commune Women’s Union, has spent more than two decades endeavoring to help poor women in her community.
The remote Tam Thon Hiep Commune, located in Ho Chi Minh City’s Can Gio District, is extremely poor and has a high rate of illiteracy. Seeing a need to help other women like herself, Ms. Xuyen has devoted most of her life to improving the circumstances of other needy women in the area.
Not only has she helped teach numerous residents to read and write, she has also helped hundreds of women find jobs and start their own businesses.
|Hoang Thi Xuyen (L), chairwoman of Tam Thon Hiep Commune Women’s Union, visits a local resident who opened her own store thanks to a loan provided by the union (Photo: SGGP)|
No stranger to hardship
At the age of 20, Ms. Xuyen moved to the commune with her parents and seven brothers and sisters as part of a city-based program that encouraged people to work as farmers in remote areas.
Her family endured much hardship and was unable to adapt to the harsh land, which was contaminated with alum and salt. They struggled daily just to eke out a living.
One after another, Ms. Xuyen’s family members returned to the inner city to live and work, leaving the young woman and her husband behind. The tenacious couple was determined, however, to struggle to the end.
But sadly, when Ms. Xuyen was just 26, her husband passed away after suffering a terminal illness, leaving her alone to raise their two children in the harsh environment.
To cope with her sadness, Ms. Xuyen threw herself into work and took part in social activities during her free time.
By the time she was 35, Ms. Xuyen was a long-standing and well-respected member of the community. She had earned the trust and admiration of other local farmers and was selected as chairwoman of the commune farmers’ association. Five years later, she was elected chairwoman of the commune women’s union.
In her leadership roles, Ms. Xuyen spent many years working closely with other poor women and their families. Having come from a difficult background herself, she could empathize with them, and wanted to help relieve their struggles.
The women’s union began offering small loans to poor families who wanted to start their own businesses, but as Ms. Xuyen began speaking to people interested in the program, she found that many women were illiterate.
Realizing that the loans would do little to help the women start businesses if they couldn’t read or write, Ms. Xuyen pledged to educate the women first. Once they were literate, then they could focus on finding jobs and starting businesses.
Each day, she and other union members would go to illiterate women’s houses and encourage them to attend reading and writing classes taught by herself and other women.
Ms. Xuyen said, “At the beginning, it was very difficult to hold classes because the women didn’t want to go and we couldn’t find a teacher.”
“After patiently convincing them, 12 finally agreed to come to the class and all of them eventually learned how to read and write,” she said.
Despite her focus on improving the lives of others, Ms. Xuyen always strived to improve her own knowledge as well. After working and teaching during the day, she would prepare dinner for her children at home before attending a continuing education class in the inner city at night.
At almost 50 years old, Ms. Xuyen completed her education program as well as an intermediate politics program.
Working with her whole heart
Wanting to do more for poor, unemployed women and their families, Ms. Xuyen decided to launch a zero-interest loan program for 40 women to start their own businesses.
Though the loans are only VND2 million (US$105) each, it has helped many women open small eateries and earn enough money to cover their families’ daily expenses.
“In carrying out the union’s social activities, we have to be patient and have a good heart,” said Ms. Xuyen.
Ms. Xuyen has also found jobs for 250 local women.
She said she hopes her own story will inspire others who have faced hardship to take on similar social work and make a difference in their communities.