Amidst the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and relentlessly changes in the global economy, founding director Bernard Kervyn of Mekong Plus, a non-profit organisation that commits a majority of its efforts to rural development in Vietnam and Cambodia, is relieved to convey that not all is bad news
Support from corporations and private individuals remain strong
Most notably, Mekong Plus received more than US$132,000 of donations from Dragon Capital Group.
Founded in 1994, Dragon Capital Group is a financial institution focusing on Vietnam and other countries in Southeast Asia, managing US$4 billion worth of funds with 100 employees.
MOMO, a popular E-wallet service in Vietnam, also helped Mekong Plus raise a total of VND60,000,000 (US$2650) during their first month of collaboration. Users are given the choice to round up their final payment numbers to the nearest VND10,000, allowing the difference to be donated to a select pool of beneficiaries which include numerous NGOs and NPOs such as Mekong Plus.
“After applying for about half a year, we are happy to be finally accepted,” Bernard said, feeling relieved.
Vietnam’s Women Union, together with Bayer Vietnam, a German pharmaceutical MNC, raised a total of VND100,000,000 (USD4,400) for Mekong Plus in 2021. Both organisations routinely contribute to Mekong Plus’ effort to improve the lives of locals in Vietnam and Cambodia.
Ultimately, Mekong Plus is gratified by the kindness displayed by numerous corporations in 2021.
“Beyond making profits, businesses feel the need to be socially responsible. They support [us] constantly,” Bernard said.
Surprisingly, private donations in Vietnam’s Hậu Giang, Bình Thuận and Ninh Thuận provinces contributed more than VND445,000,000 (US$19,600) despite the difficulties locals face living with COVID-19. The provinces have been out of bounds to visitors until late December 2021, after more than 5 months of strict social distancing.
“Thanks to staff members, volunteers sharing [the cause] on their [Facebook] pages, we received many donations from friends, government officials and policemen,” Bernard added.
Rural infrastructure projects continue unaffected
Projects to co-fund the construction of bridges and roads in the Mekong Delta prove successful and continue albeit being burdened by the pandemic.
Bamboo bridges, colloquially known to locals as monkey bridges, are thin, makeshift bridges built cheaply to allow locals to cross smaller rivers and streams that are common in the region. To help farmers transport goods and ensure that children go to school safely, Mekong Plus continues to fund one-third of the cost of metal or concrete bridges.
“As a result [of these efforts], we [build an] average [of] 10–20 bridges and 10–20 kilometres of roads annually,” Bernard said.
Thanks to 10 years of uninterrupted effort, most places where Mekong Plus is active have become accessible.
Moving forward with pandemic-driven initiatives
At the same time, Mekong Plus has been steadfast with its newer initiatives sparked by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Raising funds and collecting used smart devices to allow children in Vietnam to continue e-learning remain important since schools are only scheduled to resume after the Lunar New Year in February in many provinces.
On the other hand, the situation has eased in Cambodia, previously a major cause of alarm for Mekong Plus due to widespread bad internet connection and serious poverty that makes co-funding of smart devices for needy families difficult.
“Most schools have re-opened [in Cambodia] and it is no longer an issue,” Bernard explained.
The annual solidarity run in the Mekong Delta organised by Mekong Plus with its sister organisation, Mekong Quilts, a sustainable handicraft social enterprise, has evolved to become relevant with the pandemic situation.
“It became impractical to host thousands of people for a fund-raising run!” Bernard explained.
Instead of a short marathon that saw more than 125,000 annually, Mekong Plus re-adapted the event to work within school compounds. Schoolchildren ran in the school’s playground and participated in drawing activities and collecting plastic to boost their awareness of environmental issues.
Mekong Quilts has also made adjustments to its product range to provide continued employment for underprivileged women of the region.
Hand-sewn and reusable designer facemasks featuring Mekong Quilts’ elaborate patchwork premiered in March 2020 and became a hit among both local Vietnamese and foreigners. Sales of the beautiful facemasks remain strong throughout the entire of 2021 thanks to global trends.
Furthermore, a collaboration with Scancom, an international furniture producer, has seen waste fabric turned into designer cushions. Cushion for dogs and cats are planned for March 2022.
How you can help Mekong Plus
Despite optimistic numbers, the need for funds remains great as the pandemic has resulted in widespread unemployment in rural Vietnam and Cambodia.
For Vietnamese and foreigners living in Ho Chi Minh City, weekly biking tours within and beyond the metropolis allow the public to experience Mekong Quilts’ durable bamboo bicycles while contributing to the cause.
The tours have generated VND63,000,000 (US$2780) in the last 6 months ever since they were allowed to resume.
At the same time, members of the public can now become sponsors of various relief projects. With detailed listings of beneficiaries that range from schoolchildren in need of scholarships to locals seeking to change their lives through microcredit of small-scale farming in their homes, sponsors can now choose their preferred beneficiary based on their profiles.
Visit https://mekongplus.org/en/sponsorship/ now to find out more and help make a difference today!