One of the earliest strategies designed by Bernard and the team was co-funding.
“[At first], we had no intention of embarking on the construction of bridges and roads,” Bernard explained truthfully. He then asked community leaders of a village what they could contribute, and was eventually surprised that villagers had unanimously decided to bear 75% of the costs. This eventually became standard protocol for most projects supported by Mekong Plus.
“The bridges were well built, strong and built to last, and cheaper too,” Bernard remarked. He and the team realised that community participation and the sense of ownership was crucial to successful programmes. This was re-adapted to Mekong Plus’ first school latrine programmes, where Mekong Plus would reimburse schools with the cleanest toilets a sizable part of initial construction costs.
Many bridges are in poor condition in the Mekong Delta.
“The latrines have become their latrines, [and] not [just] project latrines!” He exclaimed.
Henceforth, Mekong Plus’ focus on education advanced spontaneously, birthing further programmes such as providing scholarships to needy children in the Mekong Delta. To Bernard, one of the most effective ways to bring families out of poverty is to ensure that children prosper in school.
“At that point [of time], many [of the] families’ we work with did not realise the importance of education.”
A little girl crosses a monkey bridge in the Mekong Delta.
One of the most remarkable initiatives that Bernard believes Mekong Plus has helmed, and is still doing so today, is an annual solidarity run that brings together almost all of the beneficiary communes in each of the regions where Mekong Plus’ initiatives flourish.
“Everyone including the children, teachers and government cadres [run]!” Bernard said, as he depicted, picturesquely, the sheer extent of the final runs in 2019 before the pandemic caused ripples in 2020. Annually, the runs see around 125.000 participants. At the end of each approximately 3-kilometre charity run, every participant is encouraged to donate an indefinite sum of money to help the community fund scholarship to about 2% of schoolchildren.
Kids running during the solidarity run in the Mekong Delta.