Atelier 7, article 1
© IHT :
(November 18-19, 2000)
"First Lady Visits Women Enriched by Aid Loans"
by Mark Landler
Phu Tang, Vietnam - While her husband drew overflow crowds and delivered a soaring speech to university students, Hillary Rodham Clinton struck a more intimate note Friday, traveling to this dusty village near Hanoi to meet with women helped by a foreign lending program.
Mrs. Clinton has long championed small loans as a way to lift rural women an d their families out of poverty. In this visit -the latest of 20 she has made from Latin America to Asia- she found no shortage of testimonials.
At the home of Le Thi Luong, Mrs. Clinton heard how Mrs. Luong, a 31-year-old mother of two, has used steadily bigger loans over six years to build a thriving business in tofu making and pig raising.
As Mrs. Luong put her machine through its paces, Mrs. Clinton gazed at the well-kept courtyard and house, which Mrs. Luong recently expanded and crowned with an impressive railing of stone pillars.
Small children, who had clambered onto the roof, peered through the railing at Mrs. Clinton, laughing in delight when she and her daughter, Chelsea, put on conical straw hats to ward off the morning sun.
"Iím very interested in what youíre doing," Mrs. Clinton said to Mrs. Luong, while stealing glances at the children.
Before leaving, Mrs. Clinton inspected a pigsty, noting that the occupants "looked like happy, contented animals." Next to the first lady, a contingent of reporters milled restlessly in their own pen.
Mrs. Clintonís visit to Vietnam is drawing heightened interest because of her recent election to the U.S. Senate. She attracted noisy crowds when she went shopping Thursday in Hanoi. At times Friday, her tour seemed almost like an extension of her long campaign in New York.
At the meeting of 160 women who participate in the loan program, Mrs. Clinton stepped before the crowd with a microphone to five what sounded like a stump speech about the role of credit in strengthening families. She also touched on education, another constant theme of her campaign.
"For many years, I have believed in the power of these small loans," Mrs. Clinton said, standing in a modest village temple as turquoise ceiling fans whirred over her head. "You are really making a better future for yourselves, your families, your villages and your country."
While Mrs. Clinton could have used the same words in a church basement in upstate New York, she did take note of Vietnamís history, pointing out that women have always played a central role in the economy here. Her observation seemed amplified by the absence of men throughout the day.
One man who did come out to greet Mrs. Clinton, Trang Van Quang, said he was not bothered that the loans had increased the influence of women here.
"Itís good for the economy of the whole village," Mr. Quang said. "Weíre all working together to pull ourselves out of poverty."
The micro-credit program, which is financed by the aid agency Oxfam
America, has disbursed $2.1 million in loans to more than 10,000 Vietnamese women.
Recipients explained to Mrs. Clinton how they repay the loans and how the money helped them to bolster their monthly incomes.
As the women , wearing pink shirts, sang songs about the program, Mrs. Clinton and Chelsea clapped along. Outside the temple, more women lined up three deep at every stop to catch a glimpse of the two Clintons.
"We very much thank Mrs. Clinton for visiting us," said Pham Thi Hoa, a neighbor of Mrs. Luongís. "We think her visit shows solidarity for women."
For all the talk about women, Mrs. Pham, 45, insisted that men play an important role in the village. When pressed, she said with a chuckle, "Of course, we run the economy and we take care of our families." ...
On Saturday, [Mrs. Clinton] is scheduled to be the host of a forum on issues affecting women in Vietnam. On Sunday, she plans to give a speech in Ho Chi Minh City, the former Saigon.
Nor has Mrs. Clintonís status dulled her image, either here on the streets of Hanoi. Nguyen Tra My, an employee at a food-processing company, said she knew all the stories about the Clintons.
"Thatís one of the things that makes us respect her more," she said. "We see that she has a lot of character that we can learn from."