STORIES FROM THE FIELD
The story of Mr. Nguyen Ngoc Tu, a landmine victim in Cua area, Cam Chinh Commune, Cam Lo District is a great example of desire and ability overcoming hardship and pain. Cua is a famous place of Quang Tri Province with many specialties, of which pepper is the most famous specialty. Roots of Peace (ROP) implemented the Sustainable Horticulture & Agriculture Development Project (SHADE) from 2012 to 2018 after receiving requests from the people and the Cam Lo District government to extend our project into this district. There are 12 clubs established in this area with 325 farmers. As the demand for SHADE Project is very large, while funding is limited, we were forced to prioritize which farmers would be able to join the project first. With our limitations in mind, we focused on supporting the families of landmine / UXO victims, hoseholds living in poverty, farms with women as head of household and households with orange agent victims. Mr. Tu is one of them and one of the most successful club members to participate in the project. Born in 1967, his family was poor and at the time only planted low value crops such as cassava, peanut and sweet potato. When he got married in 1990, he had big dreams to set up business and take his family out of poverty. As we he was working on the family farm to save up funds for his business his first daughter was born in 1992, then 3 years later the second was born.
In 1996, although his life was still difficult as he worked to escape poverty Mr. Tu and his family were living a very peaceful life and were happy. It was spring time of that year when he was working on the land for planting, when his life was changed in an instant. Boom. He did not know what had happened at first, but reality quickly set in. He had encountered an unexploded bomb in his family’s farm that had exploded upon contact, causing him to be severely injured, with pieces of his body torn to pieces, including losing much of his left leg. The physical pain of the accident, the subsequent surgeries and the recovery was nearly overwhelming, but the hardship did not stop there as it took a lot of money to save his life and heal his wounds. While at the same time, he was the main provider for his wife and one and four year old daughters. His inability to work put his family in a very difficult situation.
Despite the encouragement and help from relatives and the authorities, Mr. Tu was no longer in a fight just to get out of poverty, he was in a fight for the future of his family. Scared to be a burden to the family, after the wound sufficiently healed, Mr. Tu began to do light work in the house, before gradually doing heavy work in the garden and then in the field. Pepper is the tree where Mr. Tu placed his hope to change the economic situation of his family. Seeing it as a high value crop that is suitable for his farm, he started to plant 120 pepper trees over the course of 2 years. At that time, pepper trees were growing very well with no pests nor disease. Although he can not work as he was once able to, he was not afraid of sunshine and rain and he still put the work in to do such as activities as digging holes, planting trees, fertilizing and harvesting. This investment started paying dividends for the first few harvests, however pests and disease soon took over his pepper orchard. He recalls, “In the past, pepper cultivation was very easy, but then there were many diseases, we do not have the technical measures to prevent diseases, so most of the pepper is dead and the for the trees that are alive, they have very low productivity.”
Remembering that time, he said, “I was desperate, I was in a very difficult situation, but then I crossed over, I fought with blood and tears" He added “If I did not get my farm productive. I would not be able to overcome my accident.”
In 2013, Mr. Tu joined the SHADE project. With his orchard being devastated by diseases causing reduced yields, Mr. Tu decided to destroy his orchard to make room for new planting. MAG conducted a landmine / UXO survey, but no signs of landmine / UXO were detected, and the family did not require MAG to carry out the clearance. After tearing out the old vines which he had so carefully cultivated, he planted a new pepper orchard with an area of 1,000 square meters, using up valuable resources with the hope of producing new results that can help us family out of the long struggle with poverty.
“When ROP came, we participated in the training courses, received the best materials, then the technicians from ROP came to the house to reinforce trainings and support the use of the best techniques. Because of this my new pepper grows very well. Previously, the productivity was low but now it has been restored and it has more fruit.” He added, “the project changed my perception of pepper cultivation, if I applied the old practices to pepper, my pepper orchard will not grow as good as today.”
Prior to joining the project, he harvested on average about 0.8kg / tree. Thanks to good technical application the yield has improved significantly, from 0.8 up to 1.7 kg / tree. What he is most happy is that the pests & disease have fallen down, with only about 0.2% of his garden being affected. With a high yielding pepper orchard despite the loss of one leg, he has received admiration from his neighbors, from local authorities and especially from his wife and his children. He is now no longer lacking in confidence, but very proud of what he does. It has been 22 years since the landmine / UXO accident and six years since joining the project, Mr. Tu and his family have saved money from the selling of pepper cuttings and dried pepper to repair the old house where they have lived since the time of the accident to now. Although the economic condition is difficult, he now his renewed hope for the future. While his eldest daughter had to stop school after graduating from high school, she began work to help her family support her sister in her studies. With this family support, the youngest daughter was able to graduate from college. Realizing his dedication in overcoming his challenges, Roots of Peace has frequently visited him and together with officers from the government, ROP’s staff has always offered support to him where possible. This is particularly true of the CEO of Roots of Peace – Mrs. Heidi Kuhn who has always visited him every time she visits Quang Tri. Mrs. Kuhn states, “Mr. Tu is a living legacy to the suffering incurred by the Vietnamese people, long after the guns have silenced from The Vietnam War. His courage to overcome obstacles and firmly plant peace is a constant source of inspiration.”
In 2016, Roots of Peace called for support from Mercer University where the doctors from this American University were able to replace the prosthetic leg that he had been using since 2000 with a newer, better, more aesthetic one that made travel and work in the field much easier. Mr. Tu said, “because of my efforts and the encouragement of family and relatives, I have overcome the complexion of myself. When the pepper tree had diseases, my income was reduced and my life became very hard. When ROP comes, once again I found my confidence, I found the hope for life. Thanks to ROP’s support of the best material package as well as technical support, thanks to the encouragement of ROP officials as well as their leadership that I was resurrected and succeeded again. Thank you Roots of Peace.”