An incomplete story

ImageThis beautiful little girl reminds me of my own granddaughter, and it started me thinking- what is this girl’s life like if she is trying to sell me trinkets in the afternoon on a school day?  The truth is here in the mountain regions near Sa Pa, many little girls like this do not go to school, or do not attend full time.   The government’s line is that these mountain people- the Hmong, the Red Dao, the Black Dao are too lazy to go to school and you must not buy from them to discourage them from the tourist trade so they will go to school.  The truth is, things are a little more complicated.  I don’t claim to know all of the complexities and I certainly offer no solutions here, but I would like you to help me think through the situation. Many girls are not involved in agriculture here on the mountain.  Many girls do work the beautifully terraced rice fields, but there are many more girls than rice paddies.  So, the girls have, since Doi Moi (reforms) turned to the clear economic advantage or opportunity in a tourist driven area like Sa Pa. The girls, who dress in traditional garb, most, at any rate, are the primary sellers of craft goods in the villages.  An entire market culture has grown in which the young girls- 6-8 years old sell trinkets and in the process learn English and several other languages.  Some may attend the local school, but many don’t because the tourist dollars sustain the family.  So, girls sell on the streets and as they get older, language proficiency becomes the tool for advancement.  Over time, a girl like this when she becomes a teenager, will start to go to school, but also take language classes.  As her language skills improve, perhaps she moves from selling trinkets to working in one of the stores in the main town, then perhaps she attends a language school at 18 or 19 after high school, and becomes a tour guide or hotel worker. 

So you see, the government narrative that these mountain people are lazy is just not true, they are hard working, proud people.  The question is how does this girl grow up and have some level of economic opportunity?  It seems right now that the only way this girl grows up to be financially able to care for her family, or strike out for a life beyond this mountain, is to sell trinkets, learn 3 or 4 languages- English, French, German, Chinese, eventually go to school for languages after high school and play a different, more empowered role in the tourist industry as a young woman.

It is very hard, the future that awaits this little girl. She can stay in the village and make handicrafts and the amazing hemp and cotton garments sold in the village of Lao Chi;


she can work the field in back breaking labor, she can get as much schooling as she can and improve her languages.  One complication in this route- in Vietnam, there is no free public education.  If your parents cannot afford uniforms and tuition, your child sells trinkets, or works in the fields.  If she is lucky she attends one of the local free language schools operated by various NGO’s and she becomes a tour guide or some other occupation that earns a good living, or takes her away from the village.

perhaps she (like the girl pictured above) becomes an entrepreneur like her mother and aunt (below), making handicrafts and selling them


Whichever route this girl takes, I wish her well and I pray for her



1 Response to “An incomplete story”

  1. 1 butterflydoc
    June 22, 2013 at 4:52 pm

    Beautiful post, Vince. Thank you for telling this important story.

    The story itself is difficult to comment on, because, as you’ve said, there are no easy answers or solutions to this.

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