Beyond Mekong Quilts’ beautiful handmade quilts, garments and festive souvenirs, founder, and managing director Bernard Kervyn notes that one of the project’s main goals is to elevate families by creating a social net for women.
“Many of our women artisans are single mothers and victims of family abuse,” he said.
A widespread problem in the Mekong Delta and beyond
Due to long-term social issues such as alcoholism and traffic accidents, a significant number of women in Mekong Quilts’ areas-of-activity are either widowed or no longer live with their husbands.
“[These women are] very vulnerable financially,” Bernard emphasised.
Desperate for income to sustain their families, many resort to odd jobs and agriculture work for farm owners to pull through.
A woman is busy feeding her animals in a rural Vietnam farm.
“In the worst case scenario, they move away from the villages to developed cities like Saigon to find work,” he added
Regardless of the choice, they all result in a problem that is endemic in underprivileged families; children are often nannied by grandparents and relatives who may lack the interest or are incompetent at taking care of them. This often means a poor understanding of school discipline and dismal drop-out rates even before secondary school.
A project relevant to the needs of local families
At the heart of the Mekong Quilts’ effort is the formation of workgroups in villages. Beyond being geographically close to beneficiaries’ homes, each workgroup is led by a group leader who acts as both a trainer and ‘life mentor’.
“Mekong Quilts is not only about income,” Bernard reminds.
As female artisans gather together to produce quilts and other products, regular discussions about day-to-day problems help Mekong Quilts volunteers act quickly.
A group of quilters working on bed quilts.
Annually, Mekong Quilts organises about 10 training sessions for each workgroup to help the women combat issues such as domestic violence. Leaflets and visual-heavy infographics are distributed, while trainers issue questionnaires and encourage participants to ask questions.
To help them grow financially, many of the training sessions also introduce entrepreneurial strategies such as vegetable, mushroom, and poultry farming developed by Mekong Quilts’ parent non-profit organisation Mekong Plus.
Ducks being raised in a farm in rural Vietnam.
Many female artisans go on to flourishing financially thanks to Mekong Plus’ microcredit scheme that assists with humble start-up costs—monetary values that do not interest banks but yet are significant to the women.
Adept artisans often return home to do fabric work while tending to both their children and newfound sources of ‘cottage industry’ income—achieving both financial independence and family stability at the same time.
Working closely with children and schools
With children staying in school thanks to mothers’ stable income, one of Mekong Quilts’ next concerns is the quality and accessibility to education that aims to uplift the next generation.
Through Mekong Plus, the team works closely with local educators to improve the curriculum when it comes to ‘sensitive’ topics such as gender equality, sex education, and bullying.
For kindergarten and lower primary levels, Mekong Plus helms an oral hygiene programme that encourages healthy dental habits through group activities such as games and group brushing sessions during school hours. The best performing schools receive co-funding that is supported by profits from Mekong Quilts to upgrade toilets and build new sanitation-related infrastructure.
A little boy practicing teeth brushing at a local school.
It comes full circle when students bring information back home.
“We see households with toothbrushes in their toilets. [This was] not the case a decade or so ago,” Bernard said.
Mekong Quilts scholarship and how you can help
All of this and more of Mekong Quilts-led efforts unites in an annual solidarity run where 10% of every commune participate in a purpose-driven marathon—at the finishing line sits a donation box that funds the scholarships of over 3% of children from beneficiary regions.
“Everyone contributes any sum [of money] they can,” Bernard explains, heartened by how everyone from students, teachers and local officials join the run with sheer enthusiasm.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the annual solidarity run, one of the largest in Vietnam, has not been organised in the last two years. The team is looking forward to resume the annual event with a full-scale solidarity run in September 2022.
Thousands of childrens participate in the annual solidarity run.
Visit Mekong Quilts and Mekong Plus to discover innovative products, to learn more about community-focused efforts, and how you can make a contribution to improve the lives of women and children in Indochina today.