Brewing in Viet Nam

To make really good Vietnamese coffee, one must be both focused and patient. Pour some boiling water into an individual strainer containing ground coffee and sitting atop a cup, then cover. Wait a few moments, add a bit more water, cover, and let the coffee slowly drip, drip, drip into the cup. Remove the coffee, add sweetened condensed milk, stir, and sip slowly, ideally in the company of family and friends. “Amongst friends, the coffee never drips too slowly”—the saying goes, reminding us of both the importance and value of time spent with those close to us.

Efforts to better protect and assist disadvantaged and vulnerable populations in Viet Nam also require focus and patience. Abused and neglected children, exploited women, persons with disabilities, others in exceptionally difficult circumstances, and those whose human rights have been violated, warrant focused attention and effective action, carried out in a timely manner. Government has the responsibility to protect and, where necessary, assist these children, women, and men. Much has been done and is being done, but a great deal more is required. It was, therefore, useful for me to see firsthand steps being taken in the right direction by Government and others during my 11-16 July mission to rapidly evolving Viet Nam—my second this year.

Since 25 March 2010, when the Prime Minister signed “Decision 32”, much progress has been made in promoting the role of the social work profession in addressing the rights and needs of disadvantaged and vulnerable populations. Approximately four dozen recently established schools or departments of social work are providing training at the bachelor’s degree level. Transnational arrangements—at least two of which involve cooperation with schools of social work in the Philippines—are focused on social work education at the master’s degree level. One of these is being facilitated by CFSI through the Social Work Education Project (SWEP-Viet Nam). SWEP-Viet Nam builds on lessons learned from SWEP-Mindanao, as well as CFSI’s experience in Viet Nam since 1992. CFSI’s long-time academic partner in Viet Nam—the University of Labour and Social Affairs (ULSA)—is in the forefront of this collaborative initiative, which includes significant input from the Asian Social Institute (ASI) in Manila.

There have been important changes in the law in Viet Nam, as well as social welfare policy developments. The establishment of Social Work Centers by the Ministry of Labour, Invalids, and Social Affairs (MOLISA), and its provincial counterpart, the Department of Labour, Invalids, and Social Affairs (DOLISA), marks a step towards community-based services that draw on the strengths of the Vietnamese family and community and a step away from institutionalized care arrangements. It also creates opportunity for earlier intervention and, therefore, less risk of lasting damage, disability, or loss of life. The leadership and staff of the newly opened Social Work Center in Quang Ninh province, which I had the privilege of visiting, are determined to provide evidence of the positive benefits and preliminary impact of such an important move. Three of the programme managers there are recent graduates of the Executive Education Programme being carried out under SWEP-Viet Nam

Community-based workers in the Ho Chi Minh City area are also thirsty for new knowledge, attitudes, and skills in social work. They are participating in a training programme carried out by partners of CFSI, one of the outcomes of which is bridges of sorts between those working in government, mass organizations, and local civil society groups. They are bringing to the classroom their very real experiences of working with victims of violence and exploitation, abuse, neglect, heroin addiction, HIV/AIDS, and displacement. Their stories also underscore the gap between rhetoric and reality, which remains the concern of many, including yours truly.

The key ingredients for greater social protection in Viet Nam are rapidly coming together. Many who wish to serve more effectively are being trained, community-based facilities are being built, and new service delivery models are being tested. Greater, direct involvement by the broader Vietnamese society—including those for whom social protection services are formulated—will help ensure laws, policies, and services are truly responsive and effective. They are like hot water for good Vietnamese coffee—absolutely essential.