The children in Dak Tleub village, of the Dak Cheung District in Sekong Province, Laos, are smart, innocent, and happy with what they have, even though they live in shabby houses, eat humble meals, and have to join their parents in the fields. This is what the project team encountered and were deeply impressed with when they arrived.

Dak Tleub village is one of the most challenging border communes of the Sekong province of Laos. Due to the difficult terrain, terrible road conditions, harsh weather, and low education, hunger and poverty persist for the people here.
Hearing about the project of economic development, hunger eradication, and poverty alleviation for the people of Dak Tleub, and with the desire to continue the success of poverty reduction projects with passion fruit for farmers facing hardship in Vietnam, Nafoods quickly became a technical consulting partner, accompanying the International Labor Organization Office in Cambodia, Thailand, and Laos officially embarked on the project “Technical consultancy on planting and caring for passion fruit – creating agricultural livelihoods for ethnic minority farmers.”

Dak Tleub now, to many people’s surprise, is filled with green and fruit-laden passion fruit orchards, which are found on both sides as you walk along the road. You will also find passion fruit rigs erected by the people, connecting directly from the hillside down to the edge of the main road. Mr. Ho Dieu Bang, technical staff of Nafoods Passion Fruit Joint Stock Company (under Nafoods Group Joint Stock Company), said: “This is the result of days of hard work helping people grow passion fruit, from how to sow seeds, to making trusses, to take care of growing trees.”

The consulting team encountered many difficulties in the early days at the borderland between Vietnam and Laos. The distance from the Vietnamese border to Dak Tleub was only about one hundred kilometers away, but it took them all day to get there. The road is rough, jagged with rocks and potholes, making the motorbikes they rode there jump like horses. It was not a long distance, but the journey seemed extended due to many difficulties at the start of the project. Communication with the local body and people was also difficult due to the language barrier.
The company’s technical team could not connect with the International Labor Organization Office representative due to the weak and unreliable phone signal. For the next few days, the channel of information exchange between the technical staff and the people completely depended on the coordinator from the organization.
Contributing to the story of the first training sessions, a project member shared: “There was a time I was so frustrated and discouraged with the low education level as most of them were illiterate and had very poor listening comprehension skills. There needed to be videos and pictures to help with the explanation, but we did not have any available for them to understand. So both sides agreed it would be better to do everything together, even to the smallest detail.”

In January 2021, when Nafoods’ Dai Nonh 1 Passion fruit variety was present at Dak Tleub, the technical team discussed dividing the areas to manage. They “rolled up their sleeves” to assist nearly 30 households in sowing seeds, including 1 hectare of hilly land in the border area. Perhaps, the technical team’s motivation came from seeing the inquisitive spirit in the eyes of the people who desired to escape the poverty they have had to endure their whole lives.
From the beginning, the people’s compliance was very good. The company’s team of experts and technicians joined them in the fields, meticulously guiding each technical step from digging holes, placing pots, making trellises, cutting leaves, pruning branches, to fertilizing, guaranteeing the highest productivity. Because of the language barrier, they had to pay close attention to every little detail. The initial confusion that made the people feel “out of rhythm” was removed as they caught on and followed the guiding hands relatively well. The technical staff did everything with the highest supportive spirit. They were strict with the technical process but still made sure to help the people save costs and human energy by using readily available bamboo to create stakes, tie trusses, etc. According to the project evaluation report, after four rounds of direct training in the project area, 80% of the households participating in the project adhere to the cultivation techniques and apply the trained skills in the field very well.
Like every other project, when everything is stable, the people take initiative steps with the technical process, and the passion fruit has its first harvest, it is time for the journey to end and the delegation of experts and technicians from Nafoods to leave the local people to continue with the new missions. The ripe red passion fruit adds to the affection and cohesion of Dak Tleub people and creates a bond with the team of experts and technicians on the project.

This result is not the best that we could achieve from this level of dedication. However, it is still a great result worthy of the efforts of the participating members of this project and the locals.
The result is proof that perseverance and consensus will dissolve all boundaries and barriers in terms of qualification, languages, customs, and lifestyles.

Ms. Truong Thi Hong Nhung, the project coordinator, smiled with satisfaction about the project’s success and shared: “Unfortunately, because of the complicated situation of the COVID 19 epidemic, it was impossible to join Dak Tleub in harvesting the first crop. As a project coordinator, who relays information from the field to partners, there was a time when I was saddened to hear stories from the technical team in the early days. It was an obstacle that was almost impossible to overcome. However, now Dak Tleub’s green working passion fruit orchards have brought real economic value to the people by helping 30 households find a way to overcome poverty and hunger and educate the children. They no longer have to follow their parents with bare heads or feet into the fields. And I believe that in the next 5-10 years, Dak Tleub will have “local interpreters” that can speak fluent English – the children that get to go to school, all thanks to the Passion fruit from this project.