Better health for female factory workers
- By supporting peer educators in factories we reach out to huge amount of workers throughout Vietnam, says Nguyen Nguyen Nhu Trang, Executive Director of Life Centre in Vietnam.
The non-governental organisation is based in Vietnam's largest city, Ho Chi Minh City, also known by its former name Saigon. The city has a population of 10 million and was renamed after the revolutionary leader Ho Chi Minh when North and South Vietnam was reunificated in 1976.
Life Centre works within two major areas; Community Health & Resilience Programme and the Worker Support Programme. Staffed by more than 80 professionals they work in different provinces throughout Vietnam.
The Worker Support Programme
Vietnam's top exports include clothing, footwear and accessories. Which means there are a huge amount of factory workers in the country, 80% of them women. The work conditions are often harsh, with heavy workload and long days.
Factory workers are a vulnerable group, many suffering from anemia and too exhausted to take care of their health. They are often skipping breakfast in the morning and avoiding drinking water during the day to save time not going to the toilet.
Through the international HERproject, implemented in Vietnam by Life Centre, the organisation strives to enhance the quality of life for the workers by providing life skills for better well-being.
- We provide peer health educators, a selected group of the workers, with basic knowledge about nutrition and diet, breast cancer, birth care, familiy planning matters, sexual transmitted infections in addition to communication skills so they kan share with their colleagues on the production floor, says Trang.
The project include monthly meetings for more than one year in each factory. Life Centre has been working with female workers for 10 years and Trang says the impact is fantastic. Because the factories are afraid to let anyone inside their properties, because they believe external people come to critize the work conditions, they need to colaborate with the clients using the factories.
The brands open the doors to the factories
- We get access to the factories with the support from the brands producing their clothes and other items here, says Trang. - The brands are concious about CEO, and interested in the workers well-being and invest money to the programme. They have also been able to convince factories to co-fund the project because they understand that investing in workers health also bring them return in profit and productivity.
The Community Health & Resilience Programme
The other major area is targeting people living with or exposed to HIV infection. Life Centre works through Community Based Organisations (CBO's) to reach out to high risk population, including the gay community and sex workers, to help them stay safe.
Using social media and visiting bars, clubs, saunas and other locations, they reach out to about 20.000 gay men each year and provide HIV test, condoms, lubricants and information about safe sex.
- The CBO's can provide a quick HIV-test. If the result is positive they will be forwarded to the public test and health care facilities for more information. The treatment from the goverment is still free, says Trang.
The mission in both programmes is to enhance the quality of life of vulnerable people and communities. Ho Chi Minh City attracts people from other provices, seeking a livelihood, but too often being victims to prostitution and drugs.
FK-participant from Nepal to Vietnam
Sharmila Pudasaini and Dharma Raj Rimal from Nepal are the first participants on exchange to Vietnam in this project. Their background is within public health and social work.
Sharmila has worked in the field of reproductive health, maternal neonatal and child health as well as nutrition for the last four years. Her motivation is to contribute to improve the health conditions for rural women.
Dharma has worked with children and slum communities for three years in Integrated Rural Health Development Training Centre; which is Life Centre's partner organisation in Nepal. When he returns to his home country his wish is to use his experience from Vietnam to start formation of CBO's in Nepal.
- The exchange is a great learning opportunity, Dharma says. This is his first time outside Nepal, and he says the culture in Vietnam is very different.
Sharmila are looking forward to use her experience with garment workers in the Worker Support Programme when returning to Integrated Rural Health
Development Training Centre in Nepal
- We are planning to conduct a pilot project when we come back, she says, targeting small factories producing shoes, carpets and silk.
Updating and designing the training material
In Vietnam one of their tasks is to update and redesign the training material for the peer health educators in the factories, and also the brochures Life Centre distributes to the workers. The working language at the factories is Vietnamese, which means the staff at Life Centre translate the text produced by Sharmila and Dharma, and also present it for the peer educators at the factories.
When we visit Life Centre, The FK-participants have a presentation for all the staff at Life Centre office.
- Today we share updates of flipcharts and communication material and advices for interpersonal communication, says Dharma.
- Sharmila and Dharma help us to develop the training material and also give advise on how to talk with people, how to convince them, how to promote the work. They are very interested to learn how we use CBO's and peer educators to disseminate information to the target group, says Trang.
They are both very inspired from their exchange year in Ho Chi Minh City, and eager to use their experiences while returning to Nepal.