The side hustle of a heroine

Every time I go to workshops, he would take care of all the housework. Gender equality is not about categorising chores for male and female. It is about shouldering the workload and having each other’s back.
Ms. Nguyen Thi Kim Lam
Deputy Director and Head of the women's livelihood group of Thuan Phat Cooperative

Read the Vietnamese story here 

Along the winding river in An Minh district, Kien Giang, it is not difficult to spot the restless figure of Ms. Lam checking the quality of a new tilapia batch. She opened up: “In this area, tilapias are plentiful and cheap. People usually just chop them up as food for crabs. Such wasteful practice that I decided to learn making fish cakes out of them."

The Covid-19 pandemic and climate crisis have shaken businesses the world over, but the female farmers in the Mekong Delta proved their resilience. Besides the main livelihood that is rice production and shrimp farming, Ms. Nguyen Thi Kim Lam, Deputy Director and Head of the women's livelihood group of Thuan Phat Cooperative, took advantage of the abundant tilapia resource in the region, learned about the tilapia cake-making model from other cooperatives and helped her women earn extra income.

“We failed miserably at first and there almost went my motivation. I kept asking myself why it took us forever to succeed.” Lam recalled. After 3 trials, the fish cakes remained yellowish with an unpleasant smell. 60kg of tilapiaswere thrown away in everyone’s frustration. Ms. Lam confided: "At that time, I was really downhearted, but then I remembered how it took other cooperatives a whole year to succeed, and why we shouldn’t neglect our efforts after a few trials. So I pushed myself even harder".

Ms. Lam's patience and perseverance in finding solutions has restored the whole team’s morale. If anything, the fruitless attempts made Lam research further and draw out several scenarios, and in one, she decided to change the production location to a house near the main road. This would serve as a more hygienic “kitchen” to prepare and process fish, and a more accessible place for other teammates. She excitedly recounted the big day: "After frying the fish,... Ms. Tuyet fretted: ‘Oh no, Lam, the batch is ruined again!’, I rushed over to try a piece and it was to die for!... We were all over the moon!” The change of location was a turning point: delicious fish cakes must be made with tap water instead of well water.

Ms. Lam processing the new tilapia batch alongside her fellow cooperative members

Ms. Lam's initiative of a secondary livelihood received thorough support from the project “Gender Transformative & Responsible Business Investment in South East Asia” (GRAISEA), from the concept completion stage to providing equipment and machinery in the production stage. Ms. Lam cheerfully explained: "Making fish cakes by hand was very time-consuming, lasting a few hours each time. But with the machines, the process is much more efficient that yields higher-quality outputs."

Eyes alight with joy, Ms. Lam feels that all of her efforts have paid off as they started to receive many local orders, especially after finalising the product’s label and packaging design. Moreover, in 2021, the product "Tilapia Fish Cakes" has been recognised by the Provincial People's Committee as the Representative Rural Industrial Product of Kien Giang province.

The cooperative's product "Tilapia Fish Cakes"

The business training sessions of GRAISEA project have enhanced the female farmers’ professionality in building a brand identity for their products, thus winning consumers' trust and generating more income. For Ms. Lam, the members of the livelihood team have haboured many positive changes in their daily life and mindset. Now, they exercise their rights, raise their voice, and participate in decision-making processes at all levels.

Seeing the increasingly improved role of her women, Ms. Lam feels proud that now both men and women can attend cooperative meetings, where women actually accounts for more than half of the participants. Not only are they trained in production and business techniques, but also on the women leadership role and gender equality. Contrary to previous times, when the female attendees were often too shy to speak up or chose to sit at back rows, they now actively contribute opinions and defend views.

Both women and men in the cooperative actively join meetings 

On top of that, Ms. Lam also noticed herself transforming during the project participation and being the leader of the secondary-livelihood team. She no longer shies away from vocalising her opinion but instead has become an assertive woman leader, and an inspiration for her teammates. In the family, Ms. Lam is wholeheartedly supported by her husband. “Every time I go to workshops, he would take care of all the housework. Gender equality is not about categorising chores for male and female. It is about shouldering the workload and having each other’s back.”

With an unwavering determination fueled by the dedicated companionship of her teammates and family, Ms. Lam was energized to continue growing personally and collectively. She earnestly hopes for more initiatives that will help women in the Mekong Delta improve their status in the family and community.

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