Coming to Lai Chau in mid-July about three weeks after flash floods and landslides there, CWS Emergency Response team members, despite their years of experience with helping poor people in their country, were surprised and moved to meet the families affected by a crushing natural disaster. The flash floods swept away almost all that families had; the damage and destruction spared no one: Thai, H’Mong, Dao and La Hu ethnic groups were all affected. These already-poor and marginalized people become more so. So, of course, CWS joined others – the national Red Cross, government and quasi-government organizations and generous individuals – in responding.
After a rapid needs assessment by CWS and Red Cross staff, CWS prioritized family hygiene kits, of course, plus 500-liter (132-gallon) water tanks and cement so people could start rebuilding their homes and their lives. Our team reached out to about 800 people in 170 families, starting with the basics: soap and shampoo, tooth brushes and tooth paste, wash cloths and face towels and, for women, sanitary pads. Other organizations were giving cash assistance to families who experienced death and serious injury or whose houses and land were completely gone.
In response to requests, CWS decided to provide water tanks large enough to collect rainwater that would last for some time, plus cement, so people could make concrete to repair or pour new foundations for their houses.
While visiting the area as part of the CWS response team, our colleague Giao met Ban Phuc Chieu, a woman from the Dao ethnic group in a village in Phuc Than commune, who couldn’t stop crying as she talked. “The floods swept away everything! The chicken and the duck, my cooking pots and utensils, our water tank. Nothing is left, we were poor already, and we are now poor again with no money to replace anything. So, today I am very thankful to receive this help from CWS. But, I am still a bit sad because I do not have a pot for cooking.”
In that moment, and knowing it was not her job to do so, Giao, decided to help Chieu personally. “I felt so sorry for Chieu. At my home in Hanoi I have some rarely-used pots, but here Chieu was wishing to have just one pot. So, I gave her some money to buy her dream pot and she cried more, saying, “Thank you, thank you”. This small amount of money would buy one or two meals for me in the city; but in this area – where CWS also works on long-term development projects with support from the ELCA and CWS CROP Hunger Walks – Chieu and her neighbors could not earn this amount in a few weeks. So, in the moment, as I say, I just had to help.”
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