NGOs in Vietnam Vietnam has made significant progress in reducing poverty. Since 2002, more than 45 million people have risen above the poverty line. Today, only 6% of the population lives in poverty. However, 86% of those people are ethnic minorities, meaning there is room for improvement. Here are three NGOs in Vietnam that are continuing to improve life.


In 2014, Oxfam launched its Even It Up campaign to reduce global income inequality. In Vietnam, they identified that only around 200 people own 12% of the country’s wealth. The wealth of the richest person in Vietnam could lift 1.3 million Vietnamese out of poverty. Unfortunately, this consolidation of wealth has risen as the poverty rate has fallen.

Solving income inequality is key to fighting poverty, as Oxfam stated in a 2017 report: “high levels of inequality reduce social mobility, leaving the poorest more likely to remain poor for generations.” Oxfam tackles this issue by advocating for governance reforms, such as tax and wage reform, and support for socially disadvantaged peoples. Their past successes helped over 400,000 rural women and minorities and migrant workers.


SNV is an NGO based in the Netherlands. They focus on promoting “premium quality” in agriculture, energy, and WASH (sanitation). The NGO in Vietnam worked with the IDH Sustainable Trade Initiative to assist Vietnamese pangasius farmers in using sustainable farming practices. Pangasius, a relative of the U.S. catfish, makes up a substantial portion of Vietnam’s exports. SNV  wanted to help address concerns about the environmental quality of pangasius operations. SNV worked with the IDH, members of the seafood industry and the government of Vietnam to help pangasius operations achieve Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC) certification. Between 2011 and 2013, SNV helped farmers produce over 50,000 metric tons of pangasius. They also ensured co-financing for 35 operations.

In 2016, SNV partnered with NGOs CARE and Oxfam to implement the Women’s Economic Empowerment through Agricultural Value Chain Enhancement (WEAVE) project. It aims to reduce gender inequality among ethnic minorities in Northwest Vietnam. In the Lao Cai and Bac Kan provinces, WEAVE is helping women who participate in the banana, pork, and cinnamon industries. In the Nam Det commune in the Lao Cai province, more than 1,300 hectares of cinnamon are now USDA-certified organic. This is over 70% of the acreage in the commune. This certification will not only support sustainable agriculture, but it will also increase jobs in the cinnamon industry, especially for women.

Rock-Paper-Scissors Children’s Fund

The Rock-Paper-Scissors Children’s Fund operates only in Vietnam. They focus on education and the transportation necessary for it. For example, they provide bikes and helmets to girls to help them attend school. As of 2019, they have provided more than 1,700 bikes and repaired more than 1,400. Rock-Paper-Scissors also ensures schools can offer music and art education classes. “Music and art provide a way for kids to leave the daily struggle of grinding poverty,” fund founder, Sara Stevens Narone, stated. In 2019, Rock-Paper-Scissors reached 87% with weekly art classes, 25 students with thrice a week music lessons and 150 minority students with a summer art camp.

These NGOs and others in Vietnam have helped improve quality of life. As COVID-19 has dampened the global economy, Vietnam still expects moderate growth rates of 3-4% in the next year. But this is three points lower than pre-COVID-19 expectations. This means much more can and should be done to combat poverty.

– Jonathan Helton
Photo: Wikimedia

art programs
Education reform, particularly in Vietnam’s rural areas, is slow. With the social gap pushing the Kinh majority and ethnic minorities further apart, alleviating rural poverty is becoming increasingly difficult. Rural minority children are being left behind. Thankfully, there are some humanitarian relief programs that are determined to make a difference.

The Rock Paper Scissors Children’s Fund was started by an American mother of two adopted Vietnamese girls. She wanted to help her daughters’ native land by introducing opportunities in art and music in the village of Cam Duc.

The organization joins with local schools and orphanages to foster hundreds of children’s penchant for art. The Rock Paper Scissors Children’s Fund uses donations to help with the children’s school and book fees, purchase more art supplies and bring in more instruments, since students share violins. The organization not only hopes to reach more children, but also to help them effectively. The Rock Paper Scissors Children’s Fund takes children beyond the restrictive parameters of the everyday classroom and builds community.

Similarly, the Catalyst Foundation partners with adoption agencies. This foundation organizes cultural camps and hosts the annual Little Red Fairy My Vietnam Contest. The contest is an opportunity for the foundation to hand out scholarships in order to motivate children to continue developing their talents.

Tohe is an art program that focuses on impoverished children throughout the country, not exclusively in rural villages. Established in 2006, Tohe has a special focus on disabled children. Tohe holds weekly classes at welfare centers in and around Hanoi, Vietnam’s capital.

The program aims to raise confidence within the children and decrease the social stigma surrounding disabled children. These classes have creative playgrounds, where children use clay and recycled materials to create patterns, toys and structures.

Some of the art pieces are incorporated in commercial merchandise, such as prints for laptop cases and clothing. Tohe hopes to expand its collaboration with retailers. Profits are cycled back to Tohe to help improve the program. To date, over a thousand children have been touched by this initiative. The program wishes to merge with the education sector in order to create a greater influence.

The survival of small scale art programs is difficult. In most countries around the world, developed or developing, art is often seen as a past time chiefly for the privileged. Even in the West, funding for the arts in school is lacking. By high school, students are prompted to choose courses that will steer them toward a practical career. These courses are often in science, technology or business.

Moreover, there is sometimes stigma around making art into a career because of the financial position in which it often results. In growing up, there is a pressing expectation for practicality.

The expectation to be practical is palpable even more so in impoverished regions of the world. Households withdraw their children from basic schooling so they can help contribute to the family income. If these families reach a point where they must give up basic education, then pursuing the arts is surely out of the question.

It is important to show governments the importance of a well-rounded education. In order to break the cycle of poverty, building a future for children must start with promoting their growth in critical thinking and their use of imagination.

-Carmen Tu

Sources: Adopt Vietnam, GIVE, Indiegogo – Tohe, Rock Paper Scissors Children’s Fund, UNICEF
Photo: Rock Paper Scissors Children’s Fund