In August 2011, I went on a Bloom Microventures microfinance tour to Soc Son, Vietnam. I can honestly say it was incredible! We met many local Vietnamese villagers and were able to interact with them on a really personal level. It was great how they were all so friendly and clearly unused to tourists. Their adorable kids were very excited to meet us!
Travel in Full Bloom
The way Bloom combines tourism with microfinance is extremely innovative. Compared to numerous microfinance institutions, Bloom’s unique model of cross-subsidising microfinance operations with income generated through tourism enables the organisation to have a far greater social impact.
Thanks to the revenue earned from tourists like me, the organisation does not depend entirely on interest repayments in order to finance their operations. As a result, Bloom can charge much lower interest rates and can focus on the poorest individuals and communities who are often excluded from traditional microfinance schemes.
The tours are also a powerful word-of-mouth tool. By meeting the borrowers on a tour, we could see clearly just how very successful Bloom’s program has been in lifting some of the poorest women in Vietnam out of poverty. On top of this, the tour itself was very enjoyable, and the beautiful countryside was such a welcome contrast to the bustle of Hanoi.
Every part of the tour was like opening a window into another world.
Meeting Ms. La
First, we visited Ms. La, who had already received a loan from a previous Bloom Microventures tour. We all listened with rapt attention when she told us about her business: how she has made significant progress and is looking to reinvest profit earned from her chicken farm to provide a better life for her nine-year-old daughter, Huong.
I was left marvelling at how she takes care of her Huong by working in the nearby garment factory, tending to her field and looking after her livestock. As a single mother, she is the sole breadwinner of the family.
We equally admired Huong, who, at such a young age, cycles an hour to school every day, cooks for her family while her mother works and decorates the house with colourful drawings. I think I was not the only one nostalgic about my childhood at that moment.
During our visit, Ms. La showed us her chickens and how to pet them! We even got a lesson in making delicious traditional Vietnamese black sesame-seed rice crackers from Ms. La’s mother.
Lunching with Ms. Huong
To stretch our legs, we took a short walk through the surrounding hills and along the edge of a small lake nestled in the commune of Nam Son, where we paused to take it the area’s tranquil beauty. From there, we headed to Ms. Huong’s for a simple but delicious Vietnamese lunch, enjoyed while listening to stories she told about the lives of rural Vietnamese women. The stories all came to life when we took a bike ride around the village and along the lush green rice paddy fields.
Loaning to Ms. Toan
As the weather cooled a bit, we came to the highlight of our tour: meeting the woman whose loan would be funded from our tour fees. We were all keen to learn about Ms. Toan’s plans and ambitions for the future, which all start with the purchase of 60–80 chickens for eggs and for meat, depending on future prices. Funnily enough, the discussion very quickly turned from raising chickens to the intricacies of traditional Vietnamese weddings. It was a very relaxed interaction that saw all of us sharing funny incidents from our pasts!
Ms. Toan’s children were a real delight. They loved the attention we gave, especially when we were giving them piggyback rides. They were definitely the coolest kids in the village! Arguably the best part of our day was meeting all the local children, who even performed an impromptu dance for us that they had been rehearsing for Independence Day. Their enthusiasm was contagious!
As the sun slowly set on the rice paddies of Soc Son, we knew it was time to say goodbye and return to Hanoi. We thought of all the stories we had heard that day, the images we had seen and the scents, flavours and feelings we had picked up when learning about this village world.
Memories of my Bloom experiences will be carefully stored, as they are among the best souvenirs any tourist could bring home from a journey. Overall, my Bloom Microventures microfinance tour was by far the best tour I have ever done, one that I would recommend to all.