Empowering Communities: The Life-Changing Work of Thien Chi Center to Reduce Poverty in Vietnam

Thien Chi Center, which translates to “Good Will,” is a Vietnamese non-profit organization dedicated to social development and training. Established in 2004 and officially registered with VUSTA (Vietnam Union of Scientific and Technology Association) in 2005, Thien Chi has been instrumental in alleviating poverty in the Binh Thuan province of southern Vietnam. Operating in the districts of Duc Linh, Tanh Linh, and Ham Thuan Nam, Thien Chi has significantly improved the lives of impoverished families through various innovative programs.

 

Reducing Poverty in the Binh Thuan Province

While Vietnam has made significant strides in poverty reduction, approximately 5% of the population in Thien Chi’s operational districts still live in extreme poverty with less than 1$ per day and per person. Thanks to Thien Chi’s comprehensive projects, extreme poverty has been reduced by 75%. The organisation focuses on addressing basic needs through microcredit, education, women’s rights, health, and employment creation programs. This holistic approach has empowered communities to rise out of poverty and achieve sustainable livelihoods.

 

Microcredit: A Catalyst for Change

Microcredit is a core activity at Thien Chi Center, aligning with its mission to empower communities to solve their own problems. Loans are granted after a thorough assessment of each family’s situation, with funds dedicated to generating more income. Households with a clear plan for using the capital are more likely to receive a loan, and training programs help recipients learn how to manage the funds effectively, reducing investment risks.

Huyen Head of development of Thien Chi Center visiting a family of beneficiaries
Huyen, Head of development of Thien Chi Center visiting a family of beneficiaries

Each loan cycle lasts six months, with Thien Chi employees visiting families monthly to monitor progress and address issues. The first loan amount ranges from 2,000,000 VND to 5,000,000 VND (approximately $80 to $200), depending on the project. After each cycle, the loan can be renewed and increased if the family’s income exceeds 1,200,000 VND (about $2 per person per day). If then Thiên Chi Center no longer directly provides loans, village workers keep them informed. If a family’s income drops below the threshold, Thien Chi Center may reintegrate them into the programme.

 

Pig Banks: An Innovative Solution

Beyond microcredit, Thien Chi Center offers another pathway out of poverty through livestock support. Families receive two breeding pigs financed by Thien Chi, valued up to 10,000,000 VND. In return, families care for the pigs and their offspring. Thien Chi receives back piglets equivalent to the value of the initial animals, allowing families to keep the rest. The newly born piglets are then given to another family in the need and that goes on and on.

Strict criteria govern loan eligibility to ensure viability. Families must demonstrate prior pig-raising experience and possess appropriate facilities like a pig pen. Thien Chi conducts surveys to assess suitability.

 

A piglet from one of Thien Chis pig bank
A piglet from one of Thien Chi’s pig bank

Repayment occurs in piglets, which can be sold to fund new breeding animals for other families, fostering a cycle of support. Over 30 families benefited from the program by October 2023.

Pig banks align with Thien Chi’s overarching goal of empowering communities to break the poverty cycle. Beneficiaries leverage initial loans to establish sustainable income streams, driving economic progress.

 

Education and Scholarships

Providing scholarships for underprivileged children is a major commitment for Thien Chi Center, as education can be a pathway out of poverty. However, school fees are often unaffordable for families struggling to meet basic needs, leading many children to drop out after grade 9.

Collaborating with local authorities, villagers, and schools, Thien Chi provides scholarships to over 1,500 students in 135 schools each year. Thien Chi assess families’ situations to determine eligibility, offering one scholarship per family, with the government contributing for other children. Families must commit to regular school attendance; otherwise, support is withdrawn.

 

Teenagers studying with computers that were donated to their school
Teenagers studying with computers that were donated to their school

Each year, schools list poor children in the area in need of support, typically 20-30% of students. Thien Chi then selects the neediest families, sometimes rotating scholarships yearly due to a shortage of funds. Local authorities also help ensure children receive proper education.

Scholarships significantly relieve families and aid children’s development, keeping them busy and offering hope for a better future. School attendance teaches social interaction, rule-following, and kindness, fostering pride and optimism in families.

 

 

Community and Kids Health Programmes

Thien Chi Center runs comprehensive health programs aimed at improving community well-being. These include training sessions on domestic violence prevention, gender equality, and common disease prevention, benefiting over 2,200 people annually. Additionally, Thien Chi collaborates with local education departments to offer dental health and sex education programmes in schools, raising awareness on essential health issues among children.

Teeth brushing workshop at one of Thien Chis partner school
Teeth brushing workshop at one of Thien Chi’s partner school

Employment Creation: Building Sustainable Livelihoods

Creating sustainable employment opportunities is crucial for poverty reduction. Thien Chi’s employment creation programs focus on training individuals in skills such as quilt-making, bamboo products, and water hyacinth crafts. These initiatives provide jobs for 44 underprivileged people (mostly women), enabling them to earn a stable income while staying in their hometown close to their families.

Mekong Quilts wonderful handcrafted quilts
Mekong Quilts’ wonderful handcrafted quilts

The products made through these programmes are sold via Mekong Quilts, a social enterprise that reinvests all of its profits back into community development projects.

 

The Role of Partnerships in Thien Chi Center’s Success

Thien Chi Center recognizes the importance of building strong partnerships to ensure the success of its community programmes and fundraising efforts. Collaborating with local partners such as People’s Committees, government departments, and Women’s Unions, alongside international partners like Australian Volunteers International (AVI) and Terre d’Oc, enhances Thien Chi’s capacity to deliver effective programmes and secure necessary funding.

 

Huyen and the Thien Chi team at work
Huyen and the Thien Chi team at work

A key partner in these efforts is Mekong Plus, an international non-profit organization that was instrumental in establishing Thien Chi and its sister organisation, Anh Duong Center. Mekong Plus continues to raise funds primarily in Europe, directing them to support Thien Chi’s initiatives. This collaboration allows Thien Chi to focus on implementing impactful programs while benefiting from a reliable stream of financial support.

An Interview with Huyen, Thien Chi’s Head of Development

How did you hear about Thien Chi Center and what motivated you to join?

Huyen: “I first learned about Thien Chi through a friend who was working as a fundraiser for Mekong Plus in Binh Thuan Province, Vietnam. After working in a music bar and restaurant for several years, I wanted a change and felt a calling to do something more meaningful. Visiting a poor family on my first probation day with Thien Chi changed my life. Seeing their struggles and the impact Thien Chi had on improving their situation inspired me to use my knowledge and skills to help my community.”

What specific project or family case stands out the most since you started working at Thien Chi?

Huyen: “One family I met had a mother as the breadwinner, a husband suffering from a stroke, a mentally ill daughter with two children who also had mental illnesses, and a son who lost half his skull in an accident. They survived on just $1 per day and per person from collecting plastic bottles. Thien Chi provided them with a loan and training, which enabled the husband and son to raise chickens and the daughter to find a job. This experience made me realise my privilege and motivated me to improve myself to raise more funds for Thien Chi.”

Huyen visiting one of the Thien Chis pig bank
Huyen visiting one of the Thien Chi’s pig bank

What are the main challenges Thien Chi faces and what are your wishes for its future?

Huyen: “Thien Chi faces several challenges: securing international funding for a developing country like Vietnam, overcoming cultural tendencies towards crowdfunding and pagoda  donations, managing programmes with insufficient funding for human resources, language barriers for staff, and the need for improved fundraising skills. My wishes for the future are to raise at least $200,000 annually, enhance our staff English proficiency, and attract more international funders to support Thien Chi’s innovative programs.”

 

Conclusion

Thien Chi’s comprehensive approach to poverty reduction and community development has transformed countless lives in the Binh Thuan province. Through innovative programs, strong partnerships, and a dedicated team, Thien Chi continues to empower communities and create sustainable livelihoods. Join us in supporting Thien Chi’s mission to build a brighter future for the people of Vietnam.

By highlighting the incredible work of Thien Chi and sharing inspiring stories like Huyen’s, we can drive more support and awareness for this vital organisation. Let’s come together to make a difference and help Thien Chi achieve its goals.

As Mekong Plus and its partners continue to pioneer change in South Vietnam and Cambodia, your support becomes integral. Whether it’s through volunteering, spreading awareness, or contributing to our initiatives, your involvement can be a catalyst for lasting change.

 

 

Donate to Thien Chi Center :

 

Make a donation to Thien Chi Center: https://thienchicenter.org/donate.html

 

 

More ways for you to make a generous contribution :

 

Sponsor a child with a scholarship: https://mekongplus.org/en/sponsor-a-child/

Finance a microcredit: https://mekongplus.org/en/finance-a-microcredit/

Join our eco-tours: https://mekongplus.org/en/mekong-bikes/

Buy our handicrafts: https://mekongquilts.com/

Make a donation to our programmes: https://mekongplus.org/en/donate/

Follow us on Facebook: Mekong Plus

 

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