Vietnam 2019 by Ashna Muntaza

Travelling has always been a part of life that I wanted to discover. This desire made me decide to travel miles away from Australia to Vietnam – a decision that is without an ounce of doubt one of the best I have ever made. My trip to Danang, Vietnam began on the 29th of July 2019. This two week trip was everything more than I had expected!

Being with people from all over the world not only taught me more about cultural differences but also how diverse our world is! These two weeks were intensely packed with classes and activities which made the trip wonderfully worthwhile. During the first week we went on a city tour to the famous Dragon Bridge, Marble Mountain, Hai Van Pass and the Old Buddha Sanctuary. Seeing these I was amazed at the amount of beauty hidden in Vietnam. To add to my delight, we took part in cooking classes and experienced the vast Vietnamese food culture (I can finally make their Vietnamese rolls, yaay).

A Few of the amazing places: My Khe Beach, one of the main tourist attractions in Danang. Hoi An, packed with colourful ancient night markets all lit up with traditional lanterns, fairy lights and street vendors bargaining to earn their extra bit. The Pottery village in Hoi An, all dedicated to hand made potteries giving that village a rustic ambience.

It was a delight to be in a world full of calmness, living away from the rapid, racing lifestyle that’s very common back at home. I observed how people strongly upheld their roots and traditions that were decades old. Overall, this city that is so full of artistry and tradition is a place worth visiting! Meeting the amazing people around the world makes it even more meaningful. Looking forward to more of such great experiences!

Goooood morning, Vietnam!

July, 2019.


If it wasn’t for my 30-day visa, I would have stayed in Vietnam for much much longer. My month in this country was one of the most rewarding and enriching cultural experiences in my LIFE!

As a second-generation Vietnamese-Australian, I grew up in a household which embraced our traditions but never have I felt so connected to my cultural heritage until this month. Initially, I had my doubts about travelling alone to Vietnam for the first time without my family but in the end, it proved to be such an enlightening experience!


Old Quarter of Hanoi on film


This July, I was lucky enough to work with the Institute for Legislative Studies (ILS) in Hanoi. VILS is a legislative research agency that assists the Standing Committee of the National Assembly of Vietnam in its oversight and representative functions. My internship involved assisting in research reports focusing on particular policy issues that were on the agenda for the next session of the National Assembly.

This internship was organised through the Faculty of Law at UTS and was such a rewarding and invaluable opportunity to gain work experience in a global context. It provided me with diverse cross-cultural experiences which crystallised my aspirations to work in an international environment where I can contribute as a global citizen.

Throughout my internship, I was supported by senior staff who provided guidance in my work as well as travels. They encouraged me to balance my work so that I would have ample time to explore Hanoi and more broadly, Vietnam.


Ha Long Bay – Phong Nha – Hoi An


I am grateful that ILS has shown me with nothing but generosity and kindness in the workplace and outside. Honestly, to all the UTS students who happen to read this, you should definitely look into BUILD and the many programs that they offer!! You will not regret it!!

This truly has been an unforgettable learning and cultural experience.

Katherine Ho – Bachelor of Laws / Bachelor of Arts in International Studies

Vietnam

The idea of doing a semester abroad had always interested me but was something that seemed a little bit unrealistic. So when the opportunity to do a short-term international trip with UTS BUILD came up I jumped at the opportunity – especially when I found out that the International Management Field Study was in Vietnam, as it was somewhere that I had never been.

I have been to a couple of Southeast Asian countries before, so I thought that I knew what to expect when we were finally in country. However, I was pleasantly surprised by how progressive Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi actually were. Obviously, it’s still a developing nation, but many of the urbanised areas mirrored elements of Sydney, and you could tell the extent of the development as old and new buildings juxtaposed each other.

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We conducted numerous business visits while in Vietnam, encompassing a range of different industries such as education and tech, expanding across NGO’s and multi-national corporations. These visits added a lot of value to my degree because they contextualised so much of what I am learning in a business degree on a global scale. I have lived abroad before but wasn’t sure if that is something that I wanted to do again once I had finished my study. But being exposed to multi-national businesses and hearing the experiences (both good and challenging) for expats actually made me excited at the prospect of living overseas again.

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The culture in Vietnam was really unique and easy to become immersed in, I loved the sense of community that was felt as you saw people in the streets with friends or working. I had some basic knowledge of Vietnam’s history before going but being faced with the reality of things like the Vietnam War and the impact that it still has on people today was shocking – this was really highlighted when visiting the War Remnants Museum in HCMC.

Despite this, and the reality of the tragedy that can be quite overwhelming, what really stood out to me was the resilience of the Vietnamese people, especially the women, which was highlighted to me in our visits! They’ve have worked so hard to be where they are today and are continuing to overcome monumental challenges, yet still manage to have such a positive perspective. I think this is something that I will always carry with me as it has shifted my perspective.

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I was nervous going into the trip as I didn’t know anyone, this really pushed me out of my comfort zone! I was so glad that I did this though because I was lucky to be in a group of students who were all happy to talk to everyone and were really inclusive. The cultural experience aside, it’s amazing what you learn about 30 other people, and yourself, while travelling.

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Overall it was a great two weeks, between the travel, business visits, cultural sites, exploring and dinner I don’t know how we managed to do so much! I loved that we moved from HCMC, to the Mekong Delta and then up to Hanoi. It gave me such a dynamic overview of an incredible country. It is really hard to pick a highlight from my time in Vietnam, so I think I will have to go back and do it again!

-Hayley

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Hiroki BLOOM Microventures

My name is Hiroki Suyama and in January 2015 I took part in the Bloom Microventures program in Vietnam.

I began my trip on the 10th of January two days before the beginning of the program. First stop, Singapore! Entering the mustard coloured interior of the budget airline, Scoot, is what I think marks the beginning of the trip. Seeing the small spaces between the chairs, I began dreading the 8 hour flight. Luckily for me, I had paid that extra amount to get a window seat. My flight was improved ten fold when I realized there was a free seat next to me. Sprawling all my carry on luggage upon the two seats, it was absolute luxury. The pilot over the PA said something inaudible and perhaps in another language. Landing in Singapore, I braced myself for the humid heat that I had been warned about. But the heat was quickly forgotten, due to the beauty of Changi Airport. I couldn’t help but smile at how pleasant this airport was, and so I was walking through grinning from ear to ear like a true tourist. Stayed at a dingy hotel but that was fine as I was leaving early in the morning. Next stop, Ho Chi Minh City!

I arrived at Ho Chi Minh City for a change over to head to Hanoi. I had originally asked the woman at check in, in Singapore, whether my checked luggage will be automatically transferred onto the next flight. She assured me it would be so as I got to Ho Chi Minh City, I just headed straight to the Domestic terminal. I lined up for the security check and was informed that I need to go back to the check in counter to receive a new boarding pass. So I went over to the check in, not really worrying as I still had an hour or so until boarding the flight. After lining up for what seemed like hours, I reach the front to be asked ‘where is your check in luggage?’ So back to the International terminal I journeyed. I frantically scanned the baggage line but the entire thing was empty. I went to the lost baggage area and informed the officials of my situation. As I was about to give up and deem the bag lost, I spotted it on the middle of the floor a few carousels down. With no time to lose, I swept it up and half ran, half walked to domestic. Then the treacherous lining up process commenced again. This time, as I got close to the front of the line, a man behind the counter calls out something in Vietnamese and so I questioned the person next to me. Apparently people heading to Hanoi (which was where I was going) were to move out of the line and over to him to get checked in instantly due to the nearing departure time. So I left my place in the line, which had become my home, and received my boarding pass. But then I ask him what to do with my check in luggage. After receiving a confused look, he informed me I must line up again to check it in. Frustrated, I began the lengthy wait once again. After that, the rest was smooth sailing or should I say… smooth flying. Checked in luggage, up to the security checkpoint, through to the boarding area, a crammed bus to the plane, twenty-minute wait in a crammed bus, boarding the plane. Again inaudible, untranslatable static murmur by the pilot and we were off. To end the stress from check in, I was awarded with a magnificent view of the multitudes of lights, which was Ho Chi Minh City. In that moment, all the waiting and running back and forth was definitely worth it.

There were buses that were organised to pick us up from the airport at Hanoi. As my flight was delayed, I assumed it had already left and so I took a cab to the hotel. I would later find out that the bus had not left and so I put another student in an awkward one on one situation with a creepy taxi driver. I arrived to find the hotel, to my delight, was absolutely beautiful. And this is where I met a few of the others on the program as well as our coordinator, Ly.

The highlight of my trip would probably riding around through the village of Hoa Binh on the back of a tractor waving at the residents. It was an experience like no other. It was as if we were kings and queens having everyone race out and smile and wave. We did a gratuitous amount of waving followed by exclaiming one of the only word we knew ‘xin chào’ meaning ‘hello’.

Due to the program outlining that we will be staying at a ‘traditional stilt house’, I was expecting to have it rough for the days we were in the village but we actually stayed in a brilliantly beautiful wooden house. We rode bikes around the village daily, which was really nice for me as it was almost a blast from the past when I used to do an unnecessarily large amount of bike riding.

It was intense seeing first hand the way that these people were living. Hearing some of the stories were absolutely heartbreaking. But observing the operation of companies such as Bloom Microventures, helped restore my faith in humanity. The complexities of the methods and the work that goes into seeing who shall get a loan and who wouldn’t were quite extensive and very interesting to listen to and learn about.

A close second to the main highlight would be the boat cruise around Ha Long Bay. We had the whole boat to ourselves bar the honeymooning couple and one elderly man. The views were utterly exquisite. A few of us woke up early in the morning to practice Tai Chi, which was a new experience with the towering rock formations and the swaying deck of the boat (not that I’ve ever tried Tai Chi before).

After three weeks had passed, it was time to leave. Typically enough, it felt like the time had gone by so fast. Getting back to Australia, it was nice to go to the beach, eat vegemite toast and down a cold Carlton. I will miss the cheap cabs and the cheap food in Vietnam though. I would recommend this program to everyone. I would definitely go back in the future.

Bloom Microventures – Summer 2015

Hi my name is Daniel. I was a participant in BUiLD Abroad’s 2015 Summer program in Vietnam with Bloom Microfinance, which assists female farmers in rural areas in northern Vietnam, by providing microloans to help fund entrepreneurial activities. This was my first experience on a BUiLD Abroad trip.

The core of the trip involved two elements – seminars on microfinance held in Hanoi, and then two field trips to Hoa Binh province, where Bloom centred its microfinance activities. The seminars were conducted by Ly, the program director, who was able to contextualize our learnings from the seminar to real world cases of microfinance and impoverished conditions in which her clients lived. Our field trips to Hoa Binh were equally eye opening. It was often confronting to see the difficult economic and social conditions in which Bloom’s clients lived, and some members were visibly distressed to witness people living in such conditions. We were also able to vividly witness the life-changing transformations that microfinance could offer to these disadvantaged communities, where loans of a few hundred dollars to entrepreneurial individuals could fund business ideas that benefit entire communities. It would be safe to say that life perspectives of many were changed through this trip.

Aside from serious life learning, there was also serious fun to be had. My personal highlight was our overnight tour of Halong Bay by boat. Our boat cruised through the hundreds of beautiful islands that make up the bay, which was one of the most beautiful experiences I have had. There was even a chance to go kayaking to the islands, swimming at an island beach, and moonlight squid fishing. We were also given a bicycle tour of beautiful Ninh Binh and a hiking tour of Cuc Phuong National Park. All these trips were absolutely brilliant and unforgettable. On top of all this, I have gained valuable friends at UTS through the trip, with whom I still keep in contact with and discuss further BUiLD experiences for the future.

To those who may be considering on going on a BUiLD Abroad Trip to Vietnam – just do it. I absolutely recommend this trip to all. This trip has grown me in more ways than I can imagine, and am still enjoying the benefits of it today. The BUiLD Grants make these trips very accessible and the benefits from these trips are just too irresistible to ignore.

Daniel Choi – 12037154

Christopher Yong 2015 Bloom Microventure BUiLD Program Reflection

From riding shotgun with talkative cab drivers, playing volleyball with the village locals to reminiscing over my journey 63 floors above Hanoi, my Summer BUiLD Program was one not to be forgotten.

There have been too many experiences to recount on my 21-day journey but before I formally begin my reflection, I’d like to first give acknowledge and say thanks to a few people that helped make the trip what it was. First, a very warm thank you to Ly and Gina, our delightful program coordinators. From the offset Ly and Gina helped us to adapt and feel comfortable amid the hustle and bustle of Hanoi. Without their guidance, I can guarantee the trip wouldn’t have been as amazing as it was. Secondly, a very big thanks to UTS:BUiLD for providing me with a grant and facilitating such an amazing program.

Now onto my reflection, there is no better way to sum up my program than the homestays at Hoa Binh.

From the offset, the communities and 6 villages in Hoa Binh welcomed me with open arms. Despite there being countless moments of intense joy and awe, I will recount 3 experiences that I should always cherish:

1. Being invited to Chi’s house and being offered me homebrewed alcohol – Chi is a local laborer within Hoa Binh. Conveniently, he is situated right next to our homestay and always enjoys coming around for a game of bamboo push-of-war or helping us to round up the local boar.

This particular day, I had just found out that the Village Chief had agreed to let the group keep the local Boar if we managed to catch it. The boar was domesticated but they still let it roam free amongst the homestay and neighboring properties.

I decided to scurry over to Chi’s house and requested in broken Vietnamese that he help us catch the “big-black-pig”. Upon hearing this unusual request, Chi invited me into his place and sat me down.

With a sinister grin plastered across his face, he reached over to the cabinet that lay on his left. With a slight jiggle of the wooden knob, the cabinets opened and low and behold were two monstrous jugs. On the left, 20 to 25 finger-banana-sized hornets lay fermenting in a plastic jug. On the right, a two-toned snake was coiled in a translucent liquid. He said that if I took a shot, I’d become strong. I interpreted it as a rite of passage. As honored as I was, I passed it up.

2. An encounter with the wild (domesticated) boar – In light of my missed rite of passage, I thought it would be interesting to try and catch the boar. In short, Tyso, Aaron and I ran around the homestay frantically attempting to grasp the hind legs of the boar.

Needless to say, in the midst of the moment, when your eyes are locked with the deep, entrancing glare of the boar, you can’t help but cower away. In the process the boar managed to breach and damage a small vegetable patch.

We were incredibly apologetic and offered to help at any chance; the Village Chief on the other hand wanted none of it and expressed his happiness that we had a crack and was trying our best to integrate into community life!

3. Gifts from the Village Chief – It was the final morning of the homestay and everything seemed to go slower than it usually did. The bulk of us scurried around to make the most of the final moments while a few lay content on the wooden benches in the common area.

After breakfast, Tyso, Aaron and I headed up to the kitchen to drop off the dishes. The Village Chief was squatting in the middle of the open area with a meat clever in his hand and his foot firmly pressed against a bundle of bamboo straws. We watched as he carefully craft a hat.

Within a few minutes, Tyso and I had received matching fisherman hats – symbolic of patience. Whilst Aaron received a unique and slightly more elaborate hat – probably because there was an inside-joke throughout the village that we was going to marry the Chief’s daughter. The Village Chief expressed some remorse for not being able to make hats for the whole group but everyone was just grateful to have been there in the first place!

In hindsight I truly wish I had appreciated the little things a bit more. Often when you’re caught up in a barrage of awe-inspiring moments it is difficult to be grateful and appreciative of what’s happening. However with that being said, there were countless moments of awareness that will stick with me for years to come.

Moving forward, I have not only learnt to cherish what’s happening in the present but to always try and give back to others. I’ve learnt this not only from the communities in Hoa Binh but my friend’s that I was able to share this experience with.

Thank you UTS:BUiLD and Ly and Gina from BLOOM Microventures.

My Experience with Bloom Microventures

I had no idea of what to expect from Vietnam. As a child born into a family of Vietnamese immigrants, the stories I have heard were punctuated by laughter that masked the dark aftermath of war. My knowledge of Vietnamese culture was knowing that nước mắm was delicious despite its smell; my grasp of the language allowing me to be able to order certain dishes, count to three and pronounce phở correctly. Coming out the other end of Vietnam (literally – I flew out of Vietnam from Ho Chi Minh City/Saigon) and the Bloom Program, I can definitely say that I have learnt many things.

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The first lesson I learnt was smiles was an international currency. More often than not, the group would find ourselves at a loss in markets around Hanoi as we tried to bargain for that knick-knack we had our eye on. We quickly learnt how useful the calculator app was on our phones, as we paired up the numbers with smiles and pleading eyes that would put puppies to shame. A smile also goes great when we were riding around the villages on bicycles or tractors, waving to the bemused locals.

The second lesson I learnt was that a little goes a long way. A simple ‘xin chào’ would be enough to brighten someone’s face. A ‘cảm ơn’ would bring on confusion, especially after having a conversation with our lovely guide as translator. 1000 or 2000 VND that the odd cabbie would try to keep was no longer 6 cents during the last few days, but the principle of having being short-changed (we obviously did not budget well). This concept really struck home for me when I made my Vietnamese-speaking mother send a quick message to the Village Chief. The voice clip was less than a minute long, and said a simple thanks from one parent to another for caring for their child in their native tongue. The Village Chief was thrilled, and began to interview me. He asked me how I felt visiting Vietnam for the first time, how my mother and her family regards Vietnam, and he asked what he could do as a leader that could improve the villages so as to bring pride to those who have left their homes and families following the war. He ended the interview by sending a video message back to my mother, thanking her for her thanks, wishing her a new year, and inviting the rest of my family to stay in his care.

I made sure to exchange new year’s greetings with the lovely team at Bloom and the Village Chief’s family, and needless to say they were thrilled to bits to see a loud, thriving Vietnamese family much like their own bring in the year of the goat all the way in Australia. My Vietnamese vocabulary has somewhat expanded, though most words are food related. This fantastic experience has allowed me to establish a connection to a country I only previously heard stories about, and helped me further my understanding of a culture whose principals are the core foundations of my family’s values. Big thanks to BUiLD for presenting me with this opportunity, to Bloom for being a wonderful bridge that facilitated this experience for me in the best way possible, and the crew of 12 other oddballs from UTS for all the laughs, the talks and the flu.

BLOOM Microventures, Vietnam – Jan 15

I went on this trip hoping to learn more about microfinance, a field that has intrigued me as a great way to be able help people in a way that is practical and sustainable. This field appears to me as a way to link my professional skills of accounting and finance with my professional interests of social work and philanthropy. On our trip we were presented with mini lectures of an hour a day in Hanoi teaching us about poverty in Vietnam and the ways that microfinance can be used to help alleviate this poverty. We learnt about what the typical day of a microfinance officer is like and how applicants are assessed. From a risk criteria sheet, we made a list of questions that were sensitive to the situation but allowed us to get a feel for the applicant’s home life, dependents, health, and financial security.
One day on our field trip we had an opportunity to speak with 4 new loan applicants, by asking general questions, as well as the specific questions we had prepared to gain an insight into the risk of each applicant. This gave an opportunity to see real life scenarios that allowed an insight into the structure and considerations of microfinance to be able to understand more fully how it works and see it’s effects. As we spoke to the applicants I found most were very forthcoming with information and were so grateful for the opportunities that BLOOM had given them to be able to grow their family businesses. Although it was confronting at times to see the living conditions of some of these poor villagers, with their simple housing and many without a bed to sleep on, talking to these people proved to me that microfinance is really such a powerful tool for these communities to use and it was remarkable to see what some of these women had been able to do with their loans. Hearing their stories gave a personal touch and being able to hear how they were making their way to a more independent living was at times very emotional as we sat on their cold, hard cement floor where they ate, socialised and slept at night.
The next day of our field trip we then visited 4 women who have existing BLOOM loans, as a part of the check up that a loan officer would do. This was a much poorer village to visit and we really saw some devastating effects of poverty. It was a sombre mood between us students as we listened to stories of disability and domestic abuse that had led these women into deep poverty. The only positive was hearing how highly they spoke of microloans in helping them to survive and have hope for the future. We left this village feeling very confronted by how hard these lives can be, but trusting in the ability of BLOOM microloans to be able to provide some comfort to these women.
I feel like I came away from the trip with a fuller knowledge of microfinance and it’s uses and effects on communities. I believe it is an area that shows much potential and one in which I want to continue to pursue as a possible area to apply myself to. During this trip we were looked after incredibly by Ly and her assistant Gina who were very hands-on, acting as interpreters, carers, and gave advice on great restaurants to eat at. I couldn’t have asked for a better organisation than BLOOM to do this trip. The villagers were welcoming and friendly, giving us a cultural performance night of traditional singing and dancing both times we visited the village.

Journey into Hanoi.

“Cảm ơn”

This became my favourite saying traveling around Hanoi. It is the Vietnamese word for Thank you. Traveling with 12 other UTS students around Hanoi with Bloom Microventures was an adventure I’ll never forget. Learning about the use of microcredit loans and exploring around both urban and rural areas around Vietnam was an equally interesting and unforgettable learning experience.

Bloom Microventures is a social enterprise dedicated to supporting farmers through microcredit loans in rural Vietnamese areas. On our journey we got to see the direct impact the loans made for the farmers. We spent two three day journeys in Hoa Binh staying in their local farm stay and was very welcomed with the farmers kind generosity. These loans allowed provided by Bloom to these farmers allowed them to purchase new livestock and equipment in which they used to improve their everyday life.

In addition to spending time learning about the microcredit loans we also had many fieldtrips and adventures organised for us. These adventures allowed me to see the beauty of Vietnam. Cycling through the fields of Hoa Binh, paddling in a kayak through Ha Long Bay, riding in a boat through a cave in Ninh Binh and exploring the markets that Hanoi always allowed me to experience something new.

Reflecting on the positive memories that I had during my time with Bloom, I can safely say the experience was both enlightening and humbling to see both the beauty that Vietnam offers and to see the farmer’s lives positively impacted through the loans they borrowed. I had such a great time and would thoroughly recommend that they consider this trip when applying for BUiLD Programs in the future.


Nathan Ma (11394424)

Doing time with Bloom Microventures

My two-and-a-bit weeks in and around Hanoi have been incredible. Bloom Microfinance are doing great work giving rural communities access to investment capital and training programs. They’re also giving tourists a glimpse of the everyday life of Vietnamese villagers.

Here are a few things I’ve learnt on this program with Bloom:

Good land is in short supply in Vietnam. With a population density of nearly 300 people per square kilometre (in comparison Australia has around 3) that’s not surprising. This puts huge pressure on farming families, who need to grow enough rice to feed themselves, plus some extra crops to sell for cash.

For a communist country, Vietnam seems to love capitalism. I’d read lots before I came about the business boom that’s been happening in this country over the past decade – and it’s obvious in nearly every part of Vietnam. Everywhere you go there are ads for goods (foreign and local) and lots of new development. The good news is that the standard of living seems to be increasing for most Vietnamese people. The bad news is that the gap between the rich and poor is getting wider all the time.

Harvesting cassava is really hard work! In fact, all farming in Vietnam still uses a lot of manual labour. Workers here are just as likely to be women as men. And people work well into their 60s and 70s. I really admire the strength and stamina of the farmers we’ve met.

The only thing stopping NGOs from helping more is revenue. Raising funds is tough and time consuming. Most NGOs rely on foreign donors, who can influence how funds are spent. This can limit the options open to NGOs.

Traffic in Vietnam is crazy. From the incessant beeping to the motorcycles taking shortcuts through parks to the cars driving down the wrong side of the road, the streets of Vietnam are no place for the fainthearted. One of our Vietnamese guides told us that we were the bravest group they’d come across. We definitely embraced the gung-ho ‘just walk slowly into the on-coming traffic’ attitude very early on!

Young people in Vietnam are working hard to learn English. I was stopped on the street by three different sets of strangers wanting to practice their English on me. From tourism students in their mid-twenties to girls in their early years of high school, each of them wanted to improve their skills as they knew it was the best way to improve their career opportunities.

NGO fieldwork requires patience and empathy. Working with a community requires trust and that only comes with time and consultation. While that might make change frustratingly slow, it’s the only way to make it long-lasting. Communities need to be responsible for their own decisions, even if they’re making the “wrong” ones. All outsiders can do is offer their knowledge (when asked) and assist with resourcing programs that are truly desired by the community.

This is an excerpt from Dan’s blog 17 Days in Hanoi. Check it out to read more about her experience in Vietnam on the Poverty Reduction through Microfinance program in January 2014. 

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