Within a five foot area on a concrete slab, a man poured water over his head to bathe, then washed clothes in a bucket. Shortly after, a woman arrived to gut a chicken. Under tin-roof canopies, people cook over campfires and live four to a room the size of a king-sized bed.
Life in a Hanoi slum is to live simply, then send as much money as possible back to the family living in the country. Rent is about $10-$15 a month. About 30 or more people live in the slum I visited, living lives separated from their families.
No one is getting rich in this cramped, grimy place. But, they make more money in Hanoi than they could in the rural towns in Vietnam from which they came. They work migrant jobs like pulling carts at all hours of the day. Some sell fruit on the street corner.
It’s a risky place in many ways. After dark, it’s a dimly lit maze of alleys and opportunities for theft or assault. And often, the stress and loneliness leads these migrant workers to use heroin or prostitutes, and both vices often come with AIDS.
Out of the many needs in the slum, one of the greatest is the need for knowledge. World Concern helps in several ways. Much of it has to do with educating people about HIV and AIDS. It’s been more than 20 years since the world has learned about AIDS, but in small Vietnamese villages, many people still don’t know what it is or how it is spread.
Migrants who get AIDS in the city are bringing back more than a paycheck when they visit their home villages. We try and make sure that doesn’t happen.
Through education, condoms, behavior change courses, medical check-ups and countless conversations from hard-working volunteers, World Concern is bringing AIDS to light in the slums. We’re telling people that the risks are real, and their decisions not only affect themselves, but their families, and even entire villages.
If we stop the spread of AIDS in Hanoi, we don’t have to respond to the disease spreading across the countryside. We are grateful for the support of the government to get access to those most at risk, and thank our donors across the world, especially Tearfund UK.
I was impressed with a man I met who goes out of his way to be an advocate. He works all night – and hasn’t lived near his family in years. He faces more challenges than I can fathom, and goes out of his way to volunteer, thinking of others before himself.