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Three dead in Binh Thuan as tropical depression makes landfall

In Vietnam Society on January 22, 2010 at 10:43 am

The tropical low pressure system which made landfall over the region between Binh Thuan and Soc Trang Provinces January 20 has claimed three lives in Binh Thuan and sunk 68 fishing boats.

The low pressure system which made landfall over south-central Vietnam January 20 killing three people and sinking dozens of boats (Photo: national weather bureau)

The three victims were swept away by strong waves while rowing their coracles to find shelter.

The Binh Thuan Province Committee for Flood and Storm Preparedness said the system caused heavy rains and winds of up to level 7 – or speeds of 50-61 kilometers an hour – for 24 hours from the afternoon of January 19.

Around 10 ships that were preparing to transport passengers and food from Phan Thiet City to Phu Quy Island remained stuck in Phan Thiet.

Also in the town, high tides battered Duc Long Ward for several days and swept away two houses into the sea.

Preliminary estimates put Binh Thuan’s losses at VND4.5 billion (US$243,000).

In the Central Highlands province of Lam Dong, the system caused heavy rains and strong winds in many areas.

In Di Linh District, level 6 winds — or under 39 kilometers an hour — caused a power outage in Gia Bac Commune, blew away the roofs of many homes, and felled trees.

Schools were closed on January 20.

In Da Lat, strong winds uprooted many trees, mainly pine, which blocked Yen The and Ba Huyen Thanh Quan Streets.

The Southern Regional Hydro-Meteorological Center said the system has weakened into a low pressure zone after making landfall at around 4pm on the 20th.

It lies centered on the Vietnam-Cambodia border with the strongest winds near its eye declining to level 6.

The region between Binh Thuan and Soc Trang will experience strong winds and medium to heavy rains.

The system would weaken and dissipate by the 21st, the center said.

Meanwhile, a cold front has been moving from China into northern Vietnam, it said, and would cause medium to heavy rainfall in northern and north-central provinces.

The mercury is expected to fall to 11-13 degrees Celsius, and 10 degrees in some mountainous regions.

Source: SGGP Bookmark & Share

VNPT honored with Labor Hero title

In Vietnam Society on January 22, 2010 at 10:42 am

The Vietnam Posts and Telecommunications Group has won the Labor Hero title for its achievements over a long period of time.

VNPT receives the Labor Hero title in Hanoi on January 20 (Photo: SGGP)

The chairman of the National Assembly, Nguyen Phu Trong, who conferred the award at a ceremony in Hanoi January 20, called on VNPT to complete some difficult but important tasks entrusted to it by the Party, State, and people.

VNPT was spun off in 2006 from the Vietnam Posts and Telecommunications Corporation to become one of the country’s largest economic groups.

Last year it reported a turnover of VND78.6 trillion (US$4 billion), 30 percent higher than in 2008.

Source: SGGP Bookmark & Share

Free meals help poor children stay in school

In Vietnam Society on January 19, 2010 at 2:38 pm

Thanks to the kind hearts and innovative ideas of community members in southern areas, underprivileged children are being given the chance at a better life and education.

Disadvantaged students receive free rice at Ham Giang B Elementary School in southern Tra Vinh Province thanks to a charitable school program. Reducing poverty has prevented many poverty-stricken students from dropping out of school.

At the remote Ham Giang B Elementary School in Ham Giang Commune, Tra Vinh Province, 100 percent of students are from the Khmer ethnic minority. Most come from families who are desperately poverty-stricken, and often can’t afford food. Many of the children are forced to drop out of school to help their families eke out a living at home.

Golden Seeds

Searching for a solution to the problem, school Vice-Principal Son Nhuong and other teachers came up with the idea of a “Golden Seeds” fund to help feed students so they could stay in school.

During harvest time, students would collect leftover paddy seeds from rice fields.  Teachers also contributed rice and seeds for students in need and encouraged wealthier families to donate new clothes to poor students at the start of each school year.

After nine years of implementation, the Golden Seeds program continues to be a success. The school has accumulated more than 2.7 tons of rice, and has helped 132 disadvantaged students obtain new clothes, notebooks and pens.

Rice Jar of Friendship

Poor students at Ham Giang B School have also benefited from another charitable program organized by teachers. In May 2008, the school launched the “Rice Jar of Friendship” program, where every teacher was encouraged to contribute at least 5kg of rice and each student one or two cans of rice to help feed poor students.

In a small corner of the school library, a jar was placed to collect the rice brought in by students and teachers. Wealthier teachers volunteered to donate 10-20kg of rice, while students would ask their parents each day for one handful of grains. Within a month, the Rice Jar of Friendship had amassed 250kg of rice. At the end of the school year, 36 poor students were given the grains.

The program proved successful not only in terms of providing food for needy children and keeping them in school, but it also lifted community spirit. Feeling that their friends and teachers cared about their wellbeing, the disadvantaged students said they felt encouraged to study harder. 

Thach Thi Em Qui, a 5th grade student at the school, received a portion of the charitable rice last year. “After bringing my rice home, my grandmother was so happy! I promised to try my best not to betray teachers’ and friends’ good intention,” said Qui.

In the 2008-2009 school year, 9 students dropped out of Ham Giang B School, but after implementing the Rice Jar of Friendship program, there hasn’t been a single drop-out in the 2009-2010 academic year.

The school is now organizing a second phase of the program to help feed students during the upcoming Tet (lunar New Year) holiday in February and also at the end of the school year.

A café with heart

Since the beginning of the 2008-2009 school year, local café owner Ngo Nhat Dinh has also been doing his part to help provide food for poor children. Opposite the Phuong Thanh A Elementary School in What Province? Mr. Dinh’s small restaurant serves up free meals for 15 kids who would otherwise go hungry.

A former teacher at the school, Nguyen Thanh Chan, helped launch the program with VND6 million from his own teaching salary. School Principal Thach Thanh Long then asked teachers to make a list of the 15 most disadvantaged students likely to quit school and report to the managing board.

“Cooking for 15 small children is very hard but all of us are happy with this meaningful work. Seeing that poor students are eager to learn and learn well, we all participate in the movement to support them,” said Mr. Dinh.

Each day at around 11:00 am, a few 1st and 2nd graders always arrive early to help “Uncle Dinh” clean tables. They then wait patiently for their friends to join them for a meal. The free lunches are worth about VND9,000 each, considered a “luxury” to the young students.

Some of the disadvantaged children at Phuong Thanh A Elementary School have additional challenges such as physical disabilities. Lam Chi Nhan, a 5th grader with several siblings, lost the use of one of his legs. Nhan’s parents own a noodle stall and earn just a few hundred thousand dong a month.

”Only on the Tet holiday can I eat rice with fish and meat. On normal days I have very frugal meals. But now with the delicious [free] meals, I am becoming healthy. I try my best to learn in order to get a good job to help my parents and other poor students as my teachers and Mr. Dinh have done for us,”  said Nhan.
Thach Truong Quy, a 2nd grader, has three siblings – all of whom are disabled. Quy’s parents are freelance laborers and don’t have stable jobs. The lunch provided by teachers and Mr. Dinh allows Quy to continue learning without the burden of hunger.  Quy also spares some meat at each meal for his younger sister. Formerly, a very sick and thin child, Quy is now much healthier and hasn’t missed a day of school since the program began.

In the fall of 2008, a special ceremony was held at Mr. Dinh’s café to officially launch the free-lunch program. Commune leaders and program benefactors attended the event.

Watching the poor students eating slowly, some thought the children did not care for the food. But when asked why they ate the way they did, the students said they had not eaten a full meal in a very long time and were simply savoring the dishes. They were also trying to save some to bring home to their siblings, they added.

After listening to the children’s plights, many benefactors attending the event donated an extra VND1-2 million on the spot.

“At first, myself and Mr. Chan thought the program would last no longer than three months, but to our surprise, the benefactors showed enthusiastic support so the free lunches have continued until now,” said Mr. Long.

“We will try to keep the program running until the end of this year. If funding from the benefactors continues, the school will continue to extend the program into next year to help poor students,” Mr. Long added.

Source: SGGP Bookmark & Share

Vietnam, Germany celebrating 35th year of diplomatic relations

In Vietnam Society on January 18, 2010 at 2:55 pm

Vietnamese President Nguyen Minh Triet and his German counterpart Horst Kohler will sponsor the “German Year in Vietnam 2010” to celebrate the 35th anniversary of the two nations’ diplomatic relationship, the German Embassy in Vietnam has announced.

The year 2010 is an important one for bilateral relations between Germany and Vietnam with a wide range of events and activities planned to reflect the breadth and depth of the two nations’ relationship.

The German Year in Vietnam will focus on four areas: environment, urban development, arts and discussions.
A host of workshops, fairs, and exhibitions are planned for the topics of environment and urban development, focusing on transport, architecture, environmental protection and climate change.
In the arts category, German photography, movies, dancing and fashion will be highlighted via concerts, photo and film festivals, dance and opera performances, and book and fashion shows.
Other workshops and seminars will be held on the topics of water and forestry issues, economics, immigrants, cultural preservation, and Germany-Vietnam diplomatic ties.

Youth cultural exchanges, chess competitions, visits from German politicians, and discussions on educational cooperation, will be held throughout the year.
This year will also see a high-ranking international seminar held to discuss economic cooperation between Vietnam and Germany.

The German Foreign Affairs Ministry and Goethe Institute in Ho Chi Minh City will be responsible for holding the year-long activities to draw attention to German culture in particular and Europe in general.

Source: SGGP Bookmark & Share

Smuggling spikes at Cambodian border in Tet lead-up

In Vietnam Society on January 16, 2010 at 3:04 pm

Demand for many essential goods is soaring ahead of this year’s Tet (lunar New Year), which has led to an increase in smuggling across the Cambodian border.

A transporter carries smuggled goods in a boat along Vinh Te canal in Tinh Bien District, An Giang Province. Smuggling activities along the Cambodian border have skyrocketed ahead of Tet this year. (Photo: SGGP)

A group of SGGP reporters posing as traders recently accompanied Tho, a smuggled goods broker, on a trip to An Giang Province’s Vinh Nguon town. The community is considered a gateway for illegal products imported from Cambodia to be transported to Chau Doc town.

Along a 2km road next to the Hau River, the reporters saw dozens of parking lots for cars and motorbikes with license plates from Can Tho, Kien Giang, Soc Trang and Ho Chi Minh City.

Smuggled goods were transported relentlessly on the roads, smothering the area in dust and exhaust from vehicles.

Tho led the reporters past the Cambodian border-guard into Ta Mau market, about 100m away, without being asked to show any papers. Here, a “center” displayed numerous smuggled goods for sale.

The reporters observed products for sale including wine, beer, electronics, bicycles, and mobile phones from China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Japan to name a few.

Buyers simply select the goods they want, pay a deposit, and return to Vietnam to await their deliveries. Full payment is made only when the buyer receives all the goods they ordered.

After smuggled goods are transported to Vinh Nguon town, some are delivered to traders there, while the remainder is loaded onto buses or motorbikes for delivery to other localities.

On National Highway 91, which runs through An Giang Province, local residents and travelers often complain of being terror-stricken by the many speeding motorbikes carrying contraband goods. The vehicles travel extremely fast to evade authorities.

Commodities like tobacco, hard liquor, beer, and sugar are smuggled into Vietnam in large quantities, said Nh., a Can Tho province-based trader of illegal Cambodian goods.

Varieties of brandy like Remy Martin, V.S.O.P., and Remy X.O. Martin are among the items smuggled most from Cambodia since traders can earn high profits reselling them, Nh. said.

A bottle of Chivas 12, for instance, could be purchased for VND300,000 in Cambodia and sold for VND530,000 in Can Tho. A bottle of Red Label whiskey, meanwhile, can be purchased for VND170,000 and sold for VND250,000, he said.

Smuggling activities along the Cambodian border have become increasingly complicated with traders using sophisticated tactics to evade authorities, according to anti-smuggling forces in An Giang Province.

Last year, authorities uncovered 135 cases of smuggling totaling more than VND3.2 billion (US$184,000).

The provincial Customs House also found 131 cases related to illegal imports and exports worth over VND3.4 billion.

However, the actual volume of goods smuggled across Vietnam’s southeast border with Cambodia is likely much higher, said representatives of provincial agencies.

Smugglers even set up stores to sell contraband near border areas, some local goods transporters said, adding that they operate under the knowledge of a powerful, high-ranking individual.

Asked about the issue, Colonel Huynh Van Tien, Commander of the An Giang Province Border Guard, said: “The smuggling situation here may be well-known by the agencies concerned; however, many times we have planned to crack down on smugglers but failed, since smugglers knew our plans in advance”

Source: SGGP Bookmark & Share

Kumquat, peach farmers expect bumper crop in Hanoi

In Vietnam Society on January 16, 2010 at 3:03 pm

Less than one month before the Tet (Lunar New Year) holiday, kumquat and peach growers in Hanoi’s Nhat Tan and Quang Ba area say they are looking forward to a bumper crop this year. 

A grower at Quang Ba takes care of kumquat trees for Tet holiday. Farmers are forecasting bumper crops of kumquat and peach trees this year.(Photo: SGGP)

The kumquat fields have started to turn yellow while the red peach blossoms are in bloom – a signal a bumper crop.

Although there was less rain in 2009 than usual, the weather was still good for kumquat and peach blossoms, said Le Van Hong from Quang Ba, Tu Lien Ward.

At present, growers in several of Hanoi’s famous villages, including Nhat Tan and Quang Ba, said their peach fields are starting to blossom and are expected to be in full bloom in time for Tet.

Nguyen Bich Tam, who has 30-year’s experience in planting peach trees, said that if the weather remains stable with temperatures that are neither too hot nor too cold, growers will indeed see a bumper crop.

Thanks to the good weather, most growers, whose knowledge has been passed down from generation to generation, are 70-80 percent sure of having good peach and kumquat crops this year, Tam said.

At present, wholesalers and early Tet shoppers are visiting the gardens to order trees.

Nguyen Dao Phong, a buyer in Hoan Kiem District, said he has visited peach gardens since the beginning of January to choose a beautiful tree.

Phong said the price of kumquat and peach trees will likely rise higher over the next few days to VND100,000-200,000 (US$6-11) each.

Farmers lament small price increase

Despite the predicted bumper crop, farmers stand to profit only a little this season.

Although expenses for planting such as fertilizer and seeds have increased, the price of ornamental trees at Tet will increase only slightly, by around 10 percent or so, compared to past years.

According to Bich Lan, owner of 300 kumquat trees, despite expectations of a better crop for peach and kumquat trees this year, it is difficult to increase kumquat prices due to the global economic crisis.

Last year, many growers increased prices of kumquats, so they sold just 30-40 percent of the total by December 30 of the Lunar calendar, she said.

At present, the average price of kumquat trees is VND150,000-300,000 each. The best plants fetch VND4-5 million each, said Lan.

Many other growers in Nhat Tan and Quang Ba say that the prices of peach and kumquat trees this Tet will not rise sharply because there are large numbers of trees flooding into the capital from neighboring provinces such as Hung Yen and Thai Binh provinces.

Source: SGGP Bookmark & Share

Vietnam respects religious freedom: priest

In Vietnam Society on January 15, 2010 at 9:15 am

The country’s religious freedom policy has increasingly expanded and given Catholic followers the opportunity to contribute more to the country, priest Phan Khac Tu, deputy chairman and general secretary of the Vietnam Committee for Catholic Solidarity, said in an interview with Sai Gon Giai Phong.

Notre Dame Cathedral in HCM City. Father Phan Khac Tu, deputy chairman and general secretary of the Vietnam Committee for Catholic Solidarity, said religious freedom in Vietnam has increasingly expanded. (Photo: saigon24h)

On the sidelines of a Committee conference in Hanoi on January 13, Father Tu said religious practices in Vietnam have increasingly enjoyed respect and Catholics have been given convenient conditions to conduct their religious activities.

“The event that most impressed us was the visit to the Vatican by Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung in 2007, where he and Pope Benedict XVI discussed the establishment of full diplomatic relation between Vietnam and the Vatican,” Father Tu said.

“In late 2009, President Nguyen Minh Triet and the Pope also met at the Vatican, where the President said he agreed with the Pope’s instruction to Vietnamese Archbishops that ‘a Catholic must be both a good parishioner and a good citizen’. The Pope also encouraged all Catholics to devote themselves to their compatriots and nations,” he said.

“I believe that when the Pope said this, he realized that the right to religious freedom is respected in Vietnam,” he added.

Regarding the opinion that some outside political forces have acted against Vietnam by taking unfair advantage of religion to sabotage national unity, Father Tu said the Government and social organizations should make the public aware of the Party and State’s religious policies.

Anyone found committing wrongdoings in the name of religion must be strictly punished, he said.

When asked about the Committee’s activities in 2010, Father Tu said it would celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam Bishop Council and the 30th anniversary of the Common Letter issued by the Council in 1980.

The Common Letter was an important landmark in Catholics’ connection to the nation, Father Tu added.

The Committee would also organize a seminar and a national conference on the Common Letter to promote that connection and honor Catholics for making outstanding contributions to society, he said.

Source: SGGP Bookmark & Share

VEA orders HVS to use slag alternative

In Vietnam Society on January 13, 2010 at 12:27 pm

Mr. Le Ke Son

Deputy head of the Vietnam Environment Administration (VEA), Le Ke Son, January 12 said inspectors had asked the Hyundai Vinashin Shipyard Co. (HVS) to use alternatives to toxic copper slag when cleaning and repairing ships.

Speaking to Sai Gon Giai Phong, Mr. Son said inspectors had ordered HVS to immediately begin using steel balls or water as alternatives to the slag, known as nix grains, to remove rust and paint from its ships.

Inspectors asked officials in the central province of Khanh Hoa where HVS is based, to support the Vietnam-Korea joint venture in maintaining production in times of economic hardship.

Mr. Son, tasked with leading the HVS investigation, stressed that the company’s earlier production and use of 800,000 tons of nix violated environmental protection laws and had caused public concern for over a year.

The shipyard was ordered last March by the VEA [a division of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment (MoNRE)], the environment police, and Ministry of Transport inspectors to take environmental protection measures.

Mr. Son said that HVS would still be responsible for the 800,000 tons of previously produced nix and the company must commit to building a waste treatment facility.

The VEA deputy head said that while copper slag was a more efficient material for refurbishing ships, residents’ health and the environment could not be sacrificed for economic benefits.

Mr. Son reiterated that nix grain is not an illegal substance; therefore, HVS would be allowed to use it in the future if it ensured a good storage area and came up with effective nix treatment measures.

The provincial Department of Natural Resources and Environment must conduct regular environmental monitoring and impose severe penalties if violations are found, Mr. Son added.

Also on January 12, HVS sent a document to the media explaining its use of nix. It said in the last two years, HVS has tried to reduce the amount of nix used to repair ships.

However, due to a drop in clients as a result of the economic crisis, over 1,000 of HVS’ 3,600 workers had to be laid off. HVS says it therefore had no choice but to import more than 20,000 tons of nix to increase the efficiency of its ship cleaning and maintain profits. The company said it would not buy more nix in the future.

A treatment factory for the slag is planned to begin construction in March, 2011 with a capacity of 300,000 tons a year.

Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung has asked the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment (MoNRE) to focus on improving environmental management mechanisms and policies on sustainable protection of the environment.

MoNRE needs to immediately prioritize safe water supplies for both urban and rural areas, Mr. Dung said while addressing a year-end conference on January 12 in Hanoi to review MoNRE work in 2009 and outline plans for 2010.

He urged the ministry to pay due attention to inspecting and examining rivers nationwide to detect potential pollution problems early and deal promptly with polluters.

Regarding the planning and use of land, MoNRE should better its management and use land resources in an economically efficient and appropriate manner, PM Dung said.

He requested that MoNRE work to protect wet-rice farm land, and specialized and protective forests, to help ensure both food security and environmental protection.

MoNRE said it completed almost all targets set for 2009, notably the issuance of a resolution on stepping up economization of the natural resources and environment sector.

Related articles:
Complaints escalate over HVS use of toxic slag
Locals accuse HVS of continued nightly toxin use
Residents worry over HVS dumping of toxic slag

Source: SGGP Bookmark & Share

Quang Nam authorities swallow indignation, to look into relief irregularities

In Vietnam Society on January 12, 2010 at 12:35 pm

Authorities in Tam Ky in Quang Nam Province, who had initially rejected a Sai Gon Giai Phong report last month that they did not fully distribute relief materials to victims of Typhoon Ketsana which hit the town last September, are now set to carry out a probe.

This house owned by Nguyen Tan Oai was completely destroyed by Typhoon Ketsana which hit Quang Nam Province last September. But local officials did not give him the entire relief amount allotted by the Government and the media reported about it, sparking off a probe (Photo: SGGP)

Pham Cong Thang, vice chairman of the Tam Ky city People’s Committee, had said the report was “not accurate” and demanded a denial from SGGP and three other newspapers which reported the story.
In a communication he had sent to the Quang Nam Province People’s Committee, other official agencies, and the four newspapers, Mr. Thang said after the story was reported, the administration sent officials to Tam Phu Commune in the city to speak to victims.
According to the inspectors’ report, some of the victims were not given the whole relief amount simply because their houses had not been completely destroyed as believed at first.
But correspondents from SGGP and other newspapers stood by their reports. They returned to the spot and found that the houses have indeed been destroyed completely and remain in that state.
Mr. Thang then changed his tune and told SGGP that since he had assumed office only a month ago, he was not fully conversant with the issue.
But after viewing videotapes of the collapsed houses shown to him by SGGP, he admitted that the commune authorities had failed to accurately estimate the damages so or provide relief properly.
The city would establish an inspection team that would visit the commune along with him to evaluate the damage and report it to official agencies and newspapers in January, he said.
If the newspapers’ reports are found to be true, the officials involved would be penalized, he promised.

Source: SGGP Bookmark & Share

Disadvantaged children receive 480 packages of Lego

In Vietnam Society on January 12, 2010 at 12:34 pm

The Ho Chi Minh City Child Welfare Foundation coordinated with the Viet Tinh Anh Joint Stock Company January 10 to offer disadvantaged, orphaned and disabled children 480 packages of Lego toys worth VND2.5 billion (US$13,000).

Students from HCMC’s Minh Dao Primary School take part in a Lego competition themed “Children’s Dream” on January 10 at the Inter Continental Asiana Saigon Hotel in HCMC. (Photo: SGGP)

A ceremony was held at the Inter Continental Asiana Saigon Hotel to offer the gifts to the children from Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City and Can Tho City.

More than 500 children from charitable centers, and 150 children from Minh Dao Primary School in HCMC’s District 5, took part in a Lego-assembling competition themed “Children’s Dream” during the ceremony.

The toys were offered by Denmark’s Lego Group in conjunction with the Viet Tinh Anh Joint Stock Company following an official visit by the Queen of Denmark in November 2009.

Lego Group’s flagship product, Lego, consists of colorful interlocking plastic bricks and an accompanying array of gears, minifigures and various other parts. Lego bricks can be assembled and connected in many ways to construct such objects as vehicles, buildings, and even working robots. Anything constructed can then be taken apart again, and the pieces used to make other objects.

The toys were originally designed in the 1930s in Europe and have achieved an international appeal with an extensive subculture that supports Lego movies, games, competitions, and four Lego-themed amusement parks.

Source: SGGP Bookmark & Share