Thuong, her husband and two children live with her parents. Her husband is a blacksmith but is often without work. She was able to join a group that produces for Terre d’Oc, a French partner of Mekong Plus for many years (products are sold namely in the Nature et Découvertes stores).Thuong earns € 45 more each month, and has doubled the family income! Her only concern is more orders – she wants to work more. Mekong Plus has created a social enterprise, Mekong Creations, which sells products through its stores in Vietnam and Cambodia. In total over a hundred women work full time.
Mekong Creations follows the path of Mekong Quilts, a social enterprise started in 2001 by Thanh Truong. Quilting was a hobby for her. To make a quilt can take a month! Suddenly the idea popped: train poor women (in the villages where Mekong Plus has projects) to become “quilters”and sell the quilts to foreigners who live in, or pass through Cambodia and Vietnam.A great way to generate employment!
Today Mekong Quilts employs 350 women. Many would like to join and wait for the first opportunity. When there is a training program often a few other villagers come and sit outside “If there is room for one more, I want to be the first.”
After 11 years of operation Mekong Quilts has seven stores, now shared with Mekong Creations. Prices are set to generate a profit, which helps finance the Mekong Plus projects in the same villages.
Just giving work to a few hundred villagers is not good enough, unless they share with the whole community, so Mekong Plus works to develop community solidarity ensuring that all projects are the result of strong community participation.
Mrs. Bé and her household of four basically survive with just € 13 per person per month. Bé decided, with a broken heart, to remove the children from school, she could no longer afford it. But she was able to join the group of quilters,which increased her income to almost 100 € per month, and doubled the family budget! In addition she has learned a great and challenging job.
Quilters work together, and exchange about their worries and problems, their hopes and dreams. Mekong Plus provides training from time to time on health issues; on how to make a good vegetable garden; or how to raise chickens without seeing them die during the rains; and so on.
So how are the two brands doing now? The economic crisis has hit Vietnam badly – most businesses have seen their sales fall by 50%. There are fewer tourists, and those who come buy very little. So profits have diminished. Mekong Plus needs to keep the villagers busy and provide consistent employment. Mekong Plus has been presenting its products at trade fairs in Bangkok and Singapore to help keep sales up.
Some Australian, French or American customers volunteer to buy more to sell to their friends and neighbors back home. Everywhere the same response – extraordinary quality! Tempted to do the same? Ah but you can also order online!
Bernard KERVYN, September 24, 2012