The M’nong people become poorer
The first state farms dedicated to the production of coffee and rubber were developed in the entirety of the area. Assailed by the wave of migration which accompanied these industries administered by senior officials and politicians, the M’nong minority was forced to abandon their agricultural practises and thus began to lose their food-producing resources, which were linked to the forest, clearing and the practise of very long fallow land. Previous to this the M’nong did not die of hunger.
Binh, a Vietnamese friend whose parents cultivate coffee in the Highlands and with whom I have spoken about the pauperization of these populations explains that “the problem is that they do not have a business sense as we understand it. Take two people who want their land. The first is a friend and proposes to buy the land at a very low price. The second is a rich unknown and proposes a much higher price. Well, they will forget their interests and sell to the first, even for mouthful of bread. Relationships take precedence over business.” I add further “whereas a Vietnamese person would have also made friends with the second man?” Binh smiles but I can’t tell what he really thinks.
M. Duk is amongst the Vietnamese anxious to help their M’nong neighbours. He drives us by motorbike along wooded paths in the Thuy Duc district. We finally arrive in a small minority village. There all the houses are made of wood but the majority also benefit from 50 cm thick concrete foundations: a contribution from programme 134, well known throughout Vietnam. The end stages of this programme targeted the granting of land and new houses to the poorest families in the country. In this village the inhabitants have benefited simply from a few materials (planks of wood, new sheets of metal, a little cement) allowing the construction of a low wall and a roof. As for the land, not one hectare was given to the villagers.
Lack of schooling
This however is not the most important of needs. Here children do not have a high school within less than 18 kilometres. The M’nong of the village do not have vehicles and the majority of the children do not have bicycles. They stop school before 5th grade as they are already deterred by the school fees, as even several cents per month represents too much for parents who have nothing. In another village, there is both a primary and secondary school, but the M’nong are badly lacking a nursery as there is not one. Or rather there is a nursery, but it is a building which is only open 2 hours a day. The rest of the time the smallest children wander the fields with their parents. They are therefore incapable of adapting to the school system from 1st grade. There too the level of drop-outs before the end of primary school is shocking.
I was shocked by the lucidity of several of the village chiefs that I met on the economic evolution in Vietnam. They are very conscious that the survival of their children is in danger if they do not mange to give them a chance to adapt. Here, even if you do not have the means to send all children to primary school, this does not prevent you from being critical of the quality of teaching in the new high school which was been built three kilometres from the village. The teachers are so bad that the majority refuse to send their children, preferring, when they can, to send them to the high school 18 kilometres away.
Everything therefore becomes complicated for the families who are forced to pay full board in a host family. The majority do not have the means to do so. Classes are in the morning and the afternoons are dedicated to working in the fields from a very young age. To remain in school in such conditions is impossible. M. Pham’s 3 children have stopped school, the oldest in 3rd grade, the second in 7th grade and the last, thanks to the work of the older siblings, managed to go to 8th grade. Farming the land is not a problem for him, the Thuy Duc region is wild and much of the land still needs to be cleared. But what is the good, if no-one has the means to buy coffee plants, rubber trees or the fertiliser for the rice?
Come back in the upcoming days for the concluding part of our report into the ignored province of Dak Nong.
Report by Anh Duong. Previously published in Enfants du Mekong magazine No175.