Fighting poverty with 'great unity'

  • Letters
  • Sunday, 13 Apr 2003


HANOI: Dinh Xuan Lam, historian and deputy director of the Institution of History, describes Vietnam’s “great unity” as a “vital and constant factor.” 

To the Vietnamese people, this unity is a collective memory, forged through centuries of beating back all-powerful invaders. If the repeated 13th century invasions by the Yuan-Mongol forces of the Tran Dynasty were early aids to meshing disparate peoples in Vietnam, the French and American armies provided a more recent cause for their adhesion. 

Now, it looms so large on the national consciousness that even at a young age, school children learn about the “great unity.” 

Times are changing and the enemy has taken on a different, more insidious garb – that of poverty. Nevertheless, the way to beat the enemy remains the same for Vietnam: through the unity of its people. And in a modern society, an imperative to keep people together is eliminating economic and social disparities and by ushering in equity. This is the task that faces Vietnam now – eliminating inequities of all kinds, existing or perceived, among its 54 different ethnic groups. 

Postman Nguyen Hong Quan makes regular trips to Lum Commune in Muong Te District carrying letters, newspapers and books. In the dry season, Quan can go by motorbike to this most remote corner of Lai Chau Province. 

But the 90km trip from the district town is mostly through forests and takes him two days even by motorbike. In the rainy season, he has to walk and only makes two visits a week. He usually has very little mail to bring away. 

The postal service is but one of the many symbols of the nation’s development and modernisation in the 17 years of doi moi, renovation process. Naturally, in the government’s war on poverty and backwardness, the main fronts were opened up in remote and mountainous areas and the countryside, where the worst poverty existed. 

Incidentally, these are the very places that the nation’s ethnic minorities live. And renovation has wreaked remarkable change on their lives, socio-economically and culturally. 

While it is true that average urban income remains four times rural income, people in the countryside are increasingly benefiting from government investment and services like healthcare. Every year, the state invests 40% of its revenues in building infrastructure. 

The major aim of this investment is to usher in development for people irrespective of ethnicity or location. Not only will such development foster a continuation of national unity but ensures that the beneficiaries join hands to impart further momentum to the development spiral. 

As a famous sociologist pointed out, once fundamental needs are fulfilled, higher needs rear their heads. Realising this, the government has been working – with international groups like Unesco – to preserve and carry forward the rich and varied culture of the ethnic groups. 

In the Central Highlands, the Ede’s epics have been collected, translated and recorded. As an old adage puts it: “Oh gourd, love the pumpkin. Though of different species, you share the same trellis.” 

Moreover, it cannot be stressed enough that it is only a just society that progresses. This implies that the strong sections care for and uplift the weaker ones. Enter “the great unity.”  

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