By Hanh Tran, KF8 – Fund for Thanh Hoa Poor Women (FPW) – Vietnam

Visiting borrowers during the past three weeks has taught me that interviews can take place just about anywhere– standing in the middle of a noisy market, sitting on very short stools near a street stall or squatting on someone’s kitchen floor.

Earlier this week, Ms. Ha, a credit officer at the Fund for Thanh Hoa Poor Women (FPW), offered to take me to three repayment meetings. I grabbed my bag – which nowadays contains my handy Flip video camera, a notepad, my pocket dictionary, and borrower group photos – and we set off.

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An hour later, we found ourselves at a lively market in Dong Son District. Searching for borrowers in between the rows of colorful fruits and vegetables, fresh cut flowers and delicate china turned out to be quite the task. With Ms. Ha’s expertise, we managed to track down all six women belonging to the 11-Don Son Group.

Our next stop was to the home of a first time borrower, Ms. Phuong. Once there, I spent time with a group of four women, asking questions and listening as they gossiped and teased each other.

The final meeting for the day was at a local Women’s Union center where I was able to catch a few short interviews as group members dashed in to make their monthly repayments and rushed back to work as quickly as they came.

If I could, I would spend hours talking to each borrower. I realize the questions that I am able to ask during the short amount of time I have with the women only offers a glimpse into their lives – a small chapter of the full story. Yet, in those few moments, there is a connection. The hours pass by quickly and at the end of the day, I have footage, pictures and pages of notes. Here are a two of their stories.

Meet Ms. Lien

When Ms. Lien told me that she makes “than” I had to dig in my bag for my pocket dictionary. In the time it took me to find the translation, Ms. Lien had brought a bucket of coal blocks to show me what “than” was.

Ms. Lien is 29 years old and the youngest member of her group. She tells me that everything she does is for her two children. Ms. Lien and her assistant can make up to 1,000 blocks of coal in one day. The recent loan from FPW helped pay for repairs to the machine that they use. On rainy days, the business comes to a halt since the coal needs to dry in the sun. On a good day, the couple can sell 300 blocks for a profit of 60,000 VND ($3 USD). A woman of few words, Ms. Lien pulls me outside to demonstrate how the coal blocks are actually made.

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As Ms. Ha and I watched Ms. Lien work with the sun beaming down on her hat, I thought about how the profits from Ms. Lien’s business might help to provide more opportunities for her two young children in the future. We said our goodbyes and Ms. Lien continued her work. You never know when the rain will come.

Meet Ms. Trinh

We found Ms. Trinh sitting in between a stall lined with assorted spices and a stand selling sets of baby clothing. Interviews at the market are some of the most interesting that I have had. It’s amazing to watch the women in action as they answer questions and make change for customers at the same time. Talk about multi-tasking!

Ms. Trinh at her market stall

Ms. Trinh at her market stall

With her youthful energy, Ms. Trinh tells me that she “sells many many things!” At 60 years old, she recently expanded her stall with an impressive variety of kitchenware – pots and pans, fish sauce (nuoc mam), teapots, spices, mops, rice cookers, scissors, chopsticks, dishwashing liquid…the list goes on…

Ms. Trinh says that the market is like her second home. She has no intentions of retiring any time soon because her profits are needed to pay for her daughter’s tuition and lodging fees at Hanoi University. Ms. Trinh estimates that her monthly profit has grown from 1,500,000 VND ($84 USD) to 1,800,000 VND ($101 USD) since taking out her first loan with FPW.

Usually, when I ask borrowers about their dreams, there is a moment of hesitation. This was not true with Ms. Trinh. Full of energy, she tells me, “I want to travel.” I’ve heard this answer before, but then she adds, “to the places where people have given loans. I would go there to say thank you.”

I get to hear these sentiments day in and out – and those thank yous are truly meant for all the people who show their support through lending. So until Ms. Trinh makes her way to your neck of the woods, I’d like to send her message of appreciation to you. Thank you Kiva Lenders!

Hanh Tran is serving as a Kiva Fellow in Vietnam with the Fund for Thanh Hoa Poor Women (KF8). Click here to view currently fundraising loans from the Fund for Thanh Hoa Poor Women. Join the Vietnam Critical Mass lending team to support entrepreneurs in Vietnam!

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