ETA has been working in the Mai Chau region of northern Vietnam for over a decade. In the past two years we have had particular focus with Bao La Commune on a number of construction projects to improve the agricultural and farming systems at two of the most poverty-stricken villages: Na Chao and Long Sang. With agriculture being the main source of income, investment in agricultural and farming systems is of utmost importance to local people.

To ensure we are meeting the priority needs of the communities we serve, every January, ETA invites local villagers, government officials and community partners to join our cozy annual meeting. We take the time to meet, to listen and share plans for the year ahead. This is a wonderful time to hear the stories of how ETA projects impacted the people, and even more importantly, for ETA to express our appreciation for the precious support from the communities while strengthening the momentum for upcoming projects.

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The ETA Annual Meetings are also the time to ‘give back’ through the village fund. Every ETA group travelling to and working on our projects in every destination we work contributes to a community managed Village Fund. These funds ensure an equitable distribution of benefits throughout a community. For example, while many households may want to do homestays, not all families have the necessary housing standards to qualify. The Village Fund allows access to the financial resources for such families to make improvements. Village Funds are also used for collective community activities such as renovating the communal meeting halls, kindergarten and schools. In 2016, with 7 school groups coming to Mai Chau, we were able to provide a total of USD $952 to the Village Fund.

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Besides looking back at what we did, we also host open discussion with all participants on the village needs and possibilities to organize new cultural exchange activities. Apart from working on our community project, our visiting groups immerse themselves in local culture by participating in cooking class, learning basket weaving or visiting a local school. In 2017, we are hoping to develop more activities such as farming, fishing or tree planting to make the experience more unique.

Calling it a meeting sounds distant. It is actually a gathering where we sit down together to talk and share, to reflect on the past year and look ahead towards better days of 2017. We look forward to welcoming more groups to Mai Chau and make 2017 an exciting year to remember.

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