To end poverty, central Vietnam commune separates families

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Many children in Nghe An Province's Hong Long Commune grow up without their mothers, who work in Taiwan and Singapore.

Bui Van Cach has been a single father for ten years, waking up every day at 3 a.m. to work his field, feed his livestock and cattle, and get his children -- 11, 13, and 15 years old -- ready for school.

Like most families in the poor commune of Hong Long in the north-central province of Nghe An's Nam Dan District, Cach encouraged his wife to join a labor export program in Taiwan in 2002.

There, many Hong Long mothers have found jobs housekeeping, caretaking and street-vending to earn more money for their children's futures, news website VnExpress reported Saturday.

Cach and his wife borrowed money for the procedures. She left when their youngest son was not yet a year old. 

Cach, now in his 40s, said the children have learned to accept the absence of their mother, but the first days were tough.

"The baby kept crying for his mother, while my two older children, 3 and 5, also skipped meals because they missed her so much," he said.

In the afternoon, he would often lie to them, saying that their mother would come home at night.

At night, he said she would come in the morning.

In the morning, he would give his children sweets and tell them that their mother brought the gifts early in the morning but didn't want to wake the children up. 

Statistics showed that 165 women in the commune are working abroad in Taiwan and Malaysia. That means that more than 60 percent of the locality's families have relatives abroad.

Nguyen Van Nam, chairman of Hong Long Commune, said the commune does not have a lot of arable land, and thus labor export has become a kind of poverty alleviation plan.

One of the women was Nguyen Thi Ngoc, who chose to go although her children had already lost their father.

Ngoc's mother, who has taken on all mothering duties since she left, said the woman wanted to make money to fix leaks in their house.

Without mothers, most of the children also help with farming.They are skinny with dark skin and hair burned by the sun in the fields.

When wives are away

Old women in the commune have opened small stores selling food as most men do not have the time to go shopping at markets far away. Some might have time but feel uncomfortable doing "women's work" like going to the market.

Men in the commune said they have learned to restrain their sexual desires and many said they do not even spend time with other women.

"It's been long enough for us to be familiar with it. When we miss them too much, we gather and have a drink together, then go home and have a sleep," a local man said.

"There's Internet and phones now so we can see our wives usually anyway."

Cach said he accepted the sacrifice so his children can have a better future.

"Their mother is working a hard job abroad, so I and the children at home also have to try our best," he said.

Life has been richer in the commune, with leaf and bamboo houses turning to concrete with new furnishings.

But many older residents say these "modern" families aren't happy and that the children are "missing something."

"Some women have come back, but it's been too long and their children no longer recognized them," said one resident.

"They wake up in the middle of the night and still ask when their mother will come back."

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