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To improve Ho Chi Minh City: Aspirations from a poor alley

Sunday, October 25, 2015, 16:10 GMT+7
To improve Ho Chi Minh City: Aspirations from a poor alley
Nguyen Thi Nhu Y (second right) is presented with books and a bicycle by philanthropists so that she can keep up her studies.

Editor's note:A Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper reader has contributed her ideas on how a city worth living in should be and ways to improve the standard of living for all residents in Ho Chi Minh City.

>> An audio version of the story is available here

Below is what Nguyen Thi Thu Huong had to share about her mini-survey conducted in her poor hamlet, located in Dong Thanh Commune, Hoc Mon District.

When I learned of the forum set up by Tuoi Tre to pool people’s aspirations for a city to be worth inhabiting, I decided to conduct a small-scale survey in my humble neighborhood, and was confided in with simple dreams.

I went to part of my neighborhood near a cemetery which is dubbed “a happy T-junction.” Here, needy residents rely on one another and have their house walls lean against the newly-built tombs of the better-off’s relatives.

The people there exclaimed at my question about how a city worth living in should be, and replied without hesitation and almost in unison that whatever makes them feel happy contributes to a city worth living in.

‘I want to keep up my studies’

The first person to offer her concept of “happiness” was a child. Her name is Nguyen Thi Nhu Y. She was expressive of her poor mother’s dreams of a worthwhile life.

Nhu Y, intimately known as U (Chubby), confided in me: “Miss, all that I want is to keep up my studies, just as my neighbor, Ai. Now that Ai has graduated from high school, she has landed a job with a firm, and no longer peddles lottery as my mom and I do.”   

People would be surprised to learn of the little girl’s simple dream, which turns out to be almost out of reach for the disadvantaged.

A fatherless child born to a poorly-educated mother who failed to obtain her little girl’s birth certificate, Nhu Y has grown up as wildly as the vegetation in the cemetery. She has eked out a meager living by peddling lottery tickets.

Her education level of grade 6 would have teetered on breaking apart time after time but for the support of the community.

However, even with that support, Nhu Y’s dream of continuing her education was almost shattered. The little girl narrowly cheated death recently because her mother could not afford insurance fees to seek treatment for the tumor in her head. Nhu Y is one of many needy children in the neighborhood who crave a decent education. Perhaps the little girl has spoken up for her peers’ cherished dreams. I really hope the community will keep up their loving care and support for these types of children.  

From little deeds

Another resident in Dong Thanh Commune who is also enthusiastic about voicing the aspirations for a city worth living in is veteran Tran Van Uoc.

In his opinion, such a city should boast a green countryside free from pollutants caused by human activity. He is convinced that such a goal cannot be achieved overnight, but can only be realized based on individuals’ daily efforts to safeguard the environment for their successors’ sake.

“A countryside which is neither green nor clean is not a modern rural model,” he stressed.

Uoc himself has taken steps toward that goal by performing such deeds as whistle-blowing on those who allow the flow of toxic sewage and waste into the locale to pocket unjustified profits, and discovering the illegal, shabby burial of insecticide-infested soil. He is now concerned about the adverse impacts of the polluted Saigon River on the entire urban population.

Meanwhile, Nguyen Thi Hong Phuong, an officer in charge of women’s affairs in Dong Thanh Commune, found people key to satisfaction in the city. In her opinion, a city worth living in is manifest in pacific neighborhoods where residents care for one another. Such harmonious communities would make a rewarding city.

Over the past 20 years, she has traversed local alleys, visited households, and helped forge familial and neighborly bonds as well as ethical values among them.

In order for a rewarding city to thrive, all of us, young and old people alike, should keep dreaming of nice things and be willing to do deeds no matter how insignificant they might seem.

A city worth living in should be centered on the poor Ho Chi Minh City is home to over one million poor residents, particularly migrant workers from other provinces.

These needy people have bid farewell to their hometowns in the central region or the Mekong Delta in the southern region to eke out a living in the economic hub by working such menial jobs as peddling noodles or lottery tickets.

These people’s dreams are simply that the city administration can help them pay off their debts and provide for their children. Waking up from their dreams, they are faced with the daunting reality that they are stuffed into shabby, overcrowded rented rooms and send their young children to unlicensed nurseries.

Poor mothers swallow their tears and take their children to unoccupied plots next to high-rises for them to run around, for they cannot afford tickets to such amusement parks as Dam Sen or Suoi Tien.

They struggle to earn a living for their future and thus do not consider Ho Chi Minh City a place worth living in. Once they have earned enough to support their families, they return to their hometowns, where they deem their neighborhood a place worth living in.

Any city should pay attention to its poor urban population, especially migrants. They are fully deserving of a fulfilling life and the social welfare that upper classes are also entitled to.

If the Ho Chi Minh City administration fails to heed this population segment, the goal of turning the city into a place worth living in will be hard to attain because of hidden risks regarding social ills related to poverty, lack of education and unemployment.

It’s advisable that the municipal government come up with great, sound policies for social welfare such as offering affordable recreation services; and building, leasing and selling inexpensive apartments and rented rooms to migrant working families.

The government should also allow children of these migrant working families suitable learning and living conditions just as permanent residents are given by establishing educational facilities at industrial parks and export processing zones.

Administrative procedures are also supposed to be particularly convenient to facilitate migrant workers’ quick, easy integration.

Only if these suggestions are effectively adopted will a large portion of the population consider Ho Chi Minh City a city worth living in, instead of a place where they struggle to make ends meet because they have no other choice.

(Vo Duy Nghi, PhD)

This is a part of a series on ideas to make Ho Chi Minh City a better place to live in.

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