By Anastacia Crowe
During my stay in Vietnam I met a great deal of people who I came to adore, and even love, but there were few who made such an impression on me. Tai, a malaria survivor, soon-to-be father of three, and nature guide in Cat Tien National Park, was one of those people.
From the moment we hiked in to Crocodile Lake, until the moment that we were dropped back off at Cat Tien National Park Headquarters, Tai was there to watch over us. Throughout our three-day trip to Crocodile Lake, Tai, with his trained eyes was there to point out and name all the birds, primates and other creatures that we wouldn’t have noticed with our untrained eyes.
Tai’s job as a nature guide in the jungles of Cat Tien fits his personality remarkably well: He is a man of few words, choosing to observe everything and everyone around him, rather than talking. Without his stoic demeanor, observant eyes, and humble attitude, he wouldn’t be excellent guide that we came to know.
During our trip, I came to realize just how much Tai loved the jungle and the creatures that inhabit it. When we were packing up to leave on our last day at Crocodile Lake, I asked him what led him to spend his life as a nature guide, he simply stated, “The forest”. From the few short days that I spent with Tai, I could tell that his love for nature and wildlife far outweighs his love for people, as he seems to search for solitude outside, rather than choosing to spend time with large groups of people. Who could choose to spend their lives leading people on overnight trips deep into the jungles of Vietnam if they didn’t love the quietness that nature provides in the way that he does.
By Max Longo
Vietnam is developing fast, and with this rapid development comes potential for new productive and sustainable ways to produce energy. During our trip around Vietnam, we visited one of Southeast Asia’s first offshore wind farms in Bac Lieu Province. The wind farm started construction in 2010 and began operation in 2016. With existing plans for a massive expansion, the 62 wind turbines currently have a gross annual electricity output of 335 GW/h, an energy capacity of 99 MW, and is expected to offset 151,330 tons of CO2 emissions a year. I’m motivated by the potential of this wind farm because it aims to address energy access issues in a region that is rapidly developing and is faced with issues of energy insecurity.
How Vietnam serves future energy needs is still evolving. The government had planned to build a large coal-fired power plant in this area, one of many in southern Vietnam. But local concern over impacts, and a desire to reserve local water resources for fisheries, led the government to cancel plans for the coal plant and instead build a wind farm (coal-fired thermal plants require a lot of water for cooling). Amazingly, the wind farm produces enough energy for the entire province of Bac Lieu. The choice to switch away from coal burning and toward wind power is wise environmentally, economically and socially.
The project has been successful in addressing energy access and could pave the way for additional renewable energy generation, substituting for future coal-fired power energy development. My hope is that this wind farm sets a precedent for future projects in Southeast Asia and that it will influence sustainable energy projects in developing nations throughout the world.
The project has major significance in the Mekong Delta region for an additional reason – it demonstrates the power of collaboration between nations in building infrastructure that mitigates C02 emissions. This wind farm was the first project developed under the U.S.-Vietnam private sector agreement, which is a partnership included under the U.S.-Asia Pacific comprehensive energy partnership. The billion-dollar renewable energy project is funded in partnership with the U.S Export-Import Bank, which provides a credit line to the Vietnam Development Bank, which then provides an investment credit and foreign loan. General Electric provided the wind turbine infrastructure.
This project has potential to demonstrate the power of wind energy and global collaboration. Developed and developing nations can work together in strategic partnership to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, provide energy in areas with insecure access, and all while generate profitable returns for investors. This solves problems on multiple levels, which is maybe why the project has plans to double it wind turbine infrastructure.
The wind farm we visited also serves as a tourist attraction. In the middle of the project, with turbines towering over you at every angle, sits a gift-ship where one can buy a coffee mug, t-shirt or even a wind turbine trophy. The Province is proud of their magnificent renewable energy project and has good reason to boast.
Visiting Southeast Asia’s first offshore wind farm was an amazing experience for me. I have never seen such a large scale renewable energy project in person before. The magnitude of the turbines surprised me. I will never forget my experience or the feeling of hope I gained about the future. As I walked through the immense turbines I felt the strong winds which constantly blow along the coasts all over the world. I had a feeling of hope about the future. I knew I was looking at a project of the future. Two nations collaborative efforts for reducing green-house gas emissions and combating the effects of climate change can be seen on the coast of Bac Lieu Province. Hope is on the horizon.
By Max Longo
While in Vietnam, I had the opportunity to meet Mr. Ly Quoc Dang, an environmental educator, community leader, and researcher through Can Tho University. Mr. Dang received a B.A in Environmental Science from Ho Chi Minh National University and a Masters in Development Studies from Geneva International University in Switzerland. He is currently a PhD candidate at Chiang Mai University in Thailand, pursuing a degree in the social sciences with an emphasis in gender studies.
Mr. Dang joined us for a day of lectures and presentations with the Delta Youth Alliance, a group of students he helps to lead at Can Tho University who are interested in environmental issues, such as environmental education, sustainable farming practices, and pollution control. It was clear that Mr. Dang motivates and inspires these students in their environmental education. In fact, the very day we met with him, he received word from the U.S. State Department that his “Teaching Farm and Youth Engagement” project proposal was funded as one of several 2017 YSEALI Seeds for the Future grants.
Mr. Dang is from the Southern Vietnamese community of Soc Trang. He first became interested in conservation issues as a child by spending time at the local Pagoda. Learning about bat conservation, he grew interested in helping to maintain the bat species and livelihoods of local people. Mr. Dang continues to bring his environmental expertise into the community, which strengthens the bond between a university system and community development. During his lecture, he said, “I work here because I want to raise the voice of the local people.” With the Khmer youth we met living in this community, he is succeeding in his mission.
Mr. Dang’s ongoing commitment to educating and expanding opportunities for local people is inspiring. His passion and enthusiasm for his job is radiant. I feel fortunate to have met him and, through him, learn about environmental issues facing Vietnam.
By Sarah Luth
In the U.S, civic organizations exist for almost any kind of idea and need. Organizing for social, economic, and environmental change is less common in Vietnam. But with rapid development, wider educative opportunities, and increasingly pressing environmental issues, Vietnamese youth are beginning to mobilize.
The Mekong Youth Impact and Delta Youth Alliance students at Can Tho University are the perfect examples of action leaders. During a fun three-day exchange, we learned from each other through presentations, lunches, sports, and field trips to Son Island and a Bat Pagoda. The Vietnamese students were curious to learn about our interests and lives, just as we were to hear about theirs. After the exchange we had each gained multiple foreign friendships, along with way too many pictures to prove it. Through this bonding we achieved a deeper understanding of Vietnamese youth culture and their ambitions for improving their communities and environment.
Several of the students described projects they were involved in that focused on education and environmental awareness. The Mekong Youth Impact group’s “Healthy Initiative” was one of the examples. Formed by several recently graduated students, the goal of the Healthy Initiative is to create a society that concerns about the environment. Their work focused on the floating market, perhaps the biggest tourist attraction of Can Tho city and main income source for the many who live and sell from their boats. Trash, waste, and chemical pollution are a major issue in the river where the floating market takes place. However, many of the people living and selling on their boats have little education and limited knowledge of environmental impacts on the river.
To begin fostering a concern for the environment, the students involved in the Healthy Initiative chose to target the children of the floating market. These are the children whose parents’ livelihoods are made up of selling fruits and vegetables on their boats. The children, due to finances, family needs and transportation difficulties are typically unable to attend school past the primary level. The Mekong Youth Impact students decided to provide these children, ages 4 through 16, lessons in hygiene, environmental protection, and English for free via boat classrooms. While good hygiene practices would help improve health, English would increase their profit margins on the floating market, and ecological lessons would increase environmental awareness of the younger generation. The Healthy Initiative’s goal was to provide this education so that children could understand the ecological and economical importance of the river. Their rationale: if children value the river they will be more likely to become stewards of it. Again, awareness can inspire environmental protection and potentially outward action.
I was very inspired by the Healthy Initiative Project. The graduates involved showed their dedication to the improvement of their community with impressive creativity, patience, and investment in youth.
Likewise, the Delta Youth Alliance is inspiring and motivating youth to create change. Their teaching farm, much like our UM PEAS farm that we presented on is planned to become an experiential learning source for Vietnamese students at all levels. The teaching farm would help students understand small-scale sustainable farming practices in a hands-on setting. With this knowledge students involved could then take action to educate others about the importance of environmental protection and sustainable farming. The project just received funding from the U.S State Department and will begin in February.
These youth groups are leading an important shift in values by spreading environmental awareness and encouraging youth engagement. Environmental concern is building in Vietnam, and youth groups are trying their hands at environmental leadership, finding themselves empowered with the ability to change their circumstances. The purpose of the Delta Youth Alliance is to “inspire and motivate youth to create change”, and it appears they, along with the Mekong Youth Impact are doing so, one floating classroom and teaching farm at a time. They certainly managed to inspire each of us, their University of Montana peers, to become more active leaders in our own communities. Plus, they are really fun to play basketball with.
By Allie McGrath
When people find out I’m a psychology major, the first thing they say is almost always “how does that make you feel?” What I’ve come to see is that, for all of us, how we feel affects the way we make sense of the world around us and how we see our role in the fight against climate change.
Coming from the Big Sky State, we are surrounded by open space and fresh air. With just over one million people, peace and quiet is not hard to find. Since day one in Vietnam, we’ve been woken up by the chorus of honking cars and motorbikes, or the banter of squawking roosters at the homestay, even the grinding and banging of 6:00 am construction outside our hotel windows. Vietnam is packed full with nearly 90 million people in an area smaller than that of Montana, most cruising through the congestion of the cities on mopeds and motorcycles. So, I’ve been feeling a little bit like a deer in headlights, overwhelmed and confused by the pace of development and the incredibly different habitat I jumped into.
As snow piles high back home in Montana, we are sitting here on the 10th parallel, confronted daily by the sweltering sun burning at an average of 80º F. I find myself in a constant sweat stream, flustered by the heat and humidity. Yet, each day also involves taking rest after lunch, a long siesta in a hammock, in which we find sweet relief from the stifling heat.Here in rural Vietnam, there seem to be as many hammocks as there are mopeds. As we swing around in hammocks, I realize how nice it feels to be cool, quiet and at rest. I am reminded of the constant busy pace of life in America, where relaxation seems to be a thing of the past, and how getting to the top quickly is a measure of success. Whoever decided that naptime stops after preschool was seriously wrong.
When I think about the bigger issues we are here to confront–climate change– again I think about how I feel and why it matters. Reflecting on my home country, I feel disheartened that the incoming administration plans to dilute and discredit the obvious, imminent problems our world is faced with. This will have particularly severe consequences, especially for vulnerable countries like Vietnam. But as youth, I feel we are a powerful force, and that it is our responsibility to take action and to keep the conversations open about the changing climate.
I am motivated by the students of the Delta Youth Alliance at Can Tho University and their professors, who are doing their part by conducting workshops and programs in order to spread awareness and improve the understanding of causes, impacts, and adaptations to climate change.
As a psychology major studying climate change, I’m reminded over and over how important our motivations are, and how easily we can feel both overwhelmed and also inspired to be agents of change. And that a little nap time and mindful rest can help offer much needed perspective.
By Paul Willett
I was fortunate enough to have Nguyễn Nhật Minh as my homestay friend. Nguyễn is a 20-year-old computer since major at the University of Can Tho. He enjoys lots of things from American culture, such as movies, music and politics. He also enjoys playing soccer and volleyball with his University friends.
The few days I spent with Nguyễn where jam-packed with different and thrilling activities. He taught me a ton about the night life in Can Tho. The two nights I spent with him involved playing pool, exploring the busy lit up streets as the lunar new year approaches, going to the mall and setting new high scores in the arcade, eating cheap and delicious street foods, catching quick cabs, and ending nights on various hotel rooftops scattered throughout the city.
Nguyễn says he only showed Max and me a small part of what there is to do at night in Can Tho, which gave me a solid perspective on how alive Can Tho is at night. Having the opportunity to spend time with Nguyễn made for a few great nights out and a life-long friend.
By Anastacia Crowe
Living a life of balance is not easy, but a VACB farmer we visited who lives in the My Khanh Village in the Mekong Delta seems to be doing just that. Tucked away in a small village on the outskirts of the city of Can Tho, we were greeted by the smell of flowers, the coolness of an area covered by foliage, and the sounds of people whirring past us on their motorbikes. The only thing that was missing was the sight and sound of cars in the area, making our short walk to the pig farmer Mr. Than’s house pleasant, without the constant buzz of the city. We spent the better half of our day at Mr. Than’s house, learning from him and Dr. Chiem about the closed energy farm system he currently resides in and operates.
The VACB system is essentially a combination of: Vuon or Orchard, Ao or Pond, Chuong or Pig-pen, and Biogas. It’s a closed cycle where they raise pigs in an enclosure that allows the family to feed their food scraps to the pigs and where the pigs’ excremental waste is washed away and collected in a biogas digester (rather than washing into the river system). This in turn creates and captures methane that the family can then use to fire their stoves and even power their homes. This particular family used the methane to run a generator that powered its irrigation system, as well as their household electricity needs.
In addition to using pig waste as a way to create methane, the family uses a plant called bèo tai tượng (or water lettuce, Pistia stratiotes). The organic matter from the plants is digested in much the same way as the pig waste: in a large plastic tube, where it slowly decays and releases methane, filling up the tube. The waste leftover from the biogas digester is then transferred to the fishing ponds where it provides feed for the fish (saving the farmer 50% of cost for fish-food) and provides a layer of organic sediment which the farmer can remove later in the year to fertilize his orchard or garden.
In this sustainable model, everything that is used or created as waste goes towards providing something necessary for the other parts of the system; everything is interdependent and interrelated. This model is similar to Lifeline Produce, a farm where I worked for a summer located in Victor, Montana—the family there uses a closed system farming technique, using no synthetic fertilizers, insecticides, herbicides or hormones. They choose to use organic compost to fertilize their fields, and only organic pesticides when needed. Furthermore, they produce their own biodiesel—from leftover oil discarded from restaurants around Missoula—to power their vehicles and the tractors needed for various tasks around the farm.
Here on the VACB farm, the waste is used to produce not only food or fertilizer, but new energy as well. The pig waste is also used to create methane—that would otherwise be released into the air in the form of a greenhouse gas—that can then be used to provide energy for the family. Through this system, the family saves approximately two liters of gas a day that would otherwise be used to power their home. Waste and production are not usually complementary terms, but in this system, they are. Without the waste from the family or the pigs, there would be no renewable source of energy for the farmer to power his home, or food to feed the fish that the family harvests for their meals. Each part of this system provides a balance to the other parts of the system, making it all run smoothly.
Another thing that stood out to me about this commune was how different it was from the city of Can Tho; instead of being a hot and sweaty concrete jungle, it was a cool and refreshing green space. It’s as if the village is the yin to the cities yang; even spending a day in the communes natural, green space made me feel more balanced. I am accustomed to living in a place where green spaces are only a bike ride or walk away, so spending the majority of our time in these cities has made me feel like something was missing. But by visiting this place, I finally felt like I was beginning to balance my yin and yang.
By Lione Clare
Mr. Than greeted us with a warm smile, individual handshakes, and freshly brewed green tea. He owns a unique farm in My Khanh Village on the outskirts of Can Tho in the Mekong Delta of Vietnam. Mr. Than is known as a “smart farmer,” because he was the first to accept switching to a biogas energy system as part of a project the Can Tho University College of Agriculture is working on. The biogas system digests pig dung and vegetation then captures the methane gas byproduct, which is used for cooking, generating electricity, and pumping water around Mr. Than’s home. Capturing the methane that would otherwise be released into the atmosphere as a powerful greenhouse gas makes this a renewable energy system.
Mr. Than has been using the VACB model (fruit garden, pigs, aquaculture, and biogas) on his farm since 1996. The system has saved him around $4,267 dollars over 20 years and also made his farm and the surrounding environment much cleaner. Pig dung no longer gets washed into the river or becomes concentrated around the farm. Other benefits of the system include a reduction in women’s work otherwise needing to chop and dry firewood for cooking, being able to use the broken down organic matter from the bottom of his fish pond to fertilize his crops, and saving half the cost for fish food.
Mr. Than’s daily life includes feeding his pigs and fish, washing the pigpens (to get the dung into the biogas digesters) and tending his garden. He also participates in Can Tho University’s education workshops, where he shares about his renewable energy system and encourages other farmers to adopt the biogas model.
By Kevin Cofer
We have been fortunate enough to receive an array of lectures from a handful of some of Can Tho University’s brightest professors. One of which was Dr. Vo Quoc Tuan, who taught us about the ecosystem services of the Mekong Delta, mainly facilitated by the mangrove trees. Born on February 28th 1978, Dr. Tuan then earned a bachelor’s in Land Management from Can Tho University in 1997, later a master’s in remote sensing from South Korea, and finally a doctorate at the German Aerospace Center (DLR) in Germany. In his professional life Dr. Tuan has published seven scientific articles and is currently a professor at Can Tho University in Vietnam.
Dr. Tuan shared an overview of his research, explaining how scientists have identified four types of ecosystem services: provisioning (such as food, water, wood, and fuel), supporting (such of nutrient cycling, soil formation, and primary production), regulating (including disease prevention, climate regulation, and flood control), and cultural (including spiritual values, educational opportunities, and recreational enjoyment). His lecture also included an equation used to calculate the monetary value of ecosystem services. This is a useful tool allowing researchers to express naturally occurring functions as a fiduciary value, which may help to provide an accurate perspective of how significant ecosystem services really are.
I found Dr. Tuan’s research very interesting because it defines a direct correlation between ecosystem functions and livelihood sustainability. His research quantified the value of these naturally occurring functions and helped to illustrate their significance for local people. Household surveys suggest that a growing number of patrons living within the mangrove forests of the delta understand how vital the mangroves are to the functionality and production of the landscape. Here is a photograph that Dr. Tuan showed us of him with Dr. Robert Constanza, a leading scientist in ecosystem services, as they discussed the value of natural and social capital, in theory and in practice.
By Sarah Luth
Transportation in Vietnam has many forms, but by far the main method of travel is by motorbike. City roads are a crowded sea of colorful, honking motorbikes moving in all different directions. There are approximately 42 million registered motorbikes nationwide, with a total population of around 90 million people. Mr. Dat, a young Vietnam National University employee explained that as Vietnamese youth, once you turn 16, “everyone owns a motorbike,” even before getting a drivers license at 18. There is no tax on motorbikes, whereas buying a car requires payment of a large initial tax. Walking around the streets of Ho Chi Minh City and Can Tho, it is easy to spot the cars, buses, and bicycles because they are so few relative to the mass of motorbikes.
Thirty years ago boats were the main mode of travel, particularly in southern Vietnam. With wet soils that frequently changed the ground level, roads made much less sense than river travel. Boats are still widely used, and now fitted with electric motors. However, with rapid development many roads were paved which gave way to the bicycle, followed by an overwhelming shift to the motorbike. Some wonder if there will be a shift from motorbikes to cars, and indeed data suggest increases in car purchasing, but talking to the youth reveals a different future path.
When asked about buying a car, Mr. Dat explained that he doesn’t want one for several reasons. Driving a car would be slower because it is more difficult to maneuver a car through traffic than a motorbike. There is also no space to park cars in the city, and he can use Uber or Grab to go where he likes with friends at a very reasonable price.
I got the chance to ride a motorbike through Ho Chi Minh City with our friend Zenda. Zenda admitted that he hates the traffic. Most of his friends do too.
They all own masks to help protect their lungs from air pollution, and enjoy the more sparse roads of their home towns. On the back of his motorbike, if I had extended my arms I would have touched other people on their motorbikes as we scooted by. Weaving around other drivers and pedestrians, it was impossible to go very fast and many riders used the sidewalks to get through. It’s difficult to say what transportation will look like in Vietnam’s future, but perhaps the densely populated country will avoid following the individually owned car-loving footsteps of America.