In Vietnam, People Leave Mekong Delta to Find Jobs in City

    25 March 2024

    Eleven-year-old twins Dao Bao Tran and her brother Do Hoang Trung live on a houseboat in Vietnam's Mekong Delta. But their dreams take them far away.

    Tran loves K-pop. She watches videos at night to learn Korean and would love to visit Seoul. Her brother Trung wants to be a singer. But he says their hopes are "unrealistic." He adds, "I know I'll end up going to the city to try and make a living."

    Trung sees the reality around him. Climate change is making the Mekong Delta one of the most at-risk areas in the world.

    Do Hoang Trung walks along a bamboo bridge to reach a houseboat he shares with his twin sister and grandmother in Vietnam, Jan. 16, 2024. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
    Do Hoang Trung walks along a bamboo bridge to reach a houseboat he shares with his twin sister and grandmother in Vietnam, Jan. 16, 2024. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

    Difficult time in the Mekong Delta

    A United Nations climate change report in 2022 warned that there will be more floods in the wet season and drought in the dry season. Farming is getting harder with the loss of land due to the rising sea and the loss of water from dams on the river upstream.

    The Vietnam Chamber of Commerce and Industry reported that the area's share of Vietnam's gross domestic product, or GDP, has dropped from 27 percent in 1990 to less than 18 percent in 2019.

    Factory jobs in the city offer better wages. Therefore, the call of the city is often hard to ignore for the 17 million who live in the delta.

    That is what Do Thi Son Ca, the single mother of the twins, did.

    Soon after her children were born, Ca left the Mekong Delta to find work in Ho Chi Minh City. She left the children to live with her mother, Nguyen Thi Thuy, on a small houseboat ever since.

    Thuy sells meat and bean buns at the Cai Rang floating market, the largest of its kind in the Mekong Delta. On good days, she makes about $4, hardly enough to feed her grandchildren.

    The twins have already missed two years of school because their grandmother could not pay the costs. Their mother was struggling in the city and could not help either. Now their houseboat is in urgent need of costly repairs.

    "The storms are becoming more violent," said the grandmother. With heavy rains, she must pump out water so her houseboat does not sink.

    Moving to the big city

    Moving away from the Mekong to bigger cities or even to other countries for a better life is not new.

    Mimi Vu is a migration expert based in Ho Chi Minh City. Climate change, she said, has hurt livelihoods in the Mekong Delta. The area is less developed than other parts of Vietnam and lacks access to education, clean water, and health care.

    "Every generation still struggles," Vu said. And moving to the city does not guarantee anything.

    The mother of the twins found a job in a clothing factory in Ho Chi Minh City. She also got married and had a baby. But like thousands of workers in Vietnam, both she and her husband lost their jobs because of low overseas orders. They have since moved back to his home village.

    "My family is poor. So I don't think too far ahead. I just hope my children can receive a full education," she said.

    Vietnam's government has approved a plan to strengthen the Mekong area's agricultural economy. It produces about half the country's rice and feeds other countries, like Indonesia and the Philippines. The plan includes trying new farming technologies, creating more fisheries, growing fruits, and building airports and highways to bring foreign investment.

    But moving to Ho Chi Minh City is hard to resist for many, especially the young. Even those in the countryside see moving to the city as the fastest way out of poverty, said 23-year-old Trung Hieu.

    Hieu shares a living space with another young man from the delta. After 12 hours of making parts in a factory, he works a second job transporting people on his motorcycle.

    Hieu wanted to be a teacher. But his family had to choose whether to send him to college or let his younger sister finish school. He chose to move to the city so that he could send money back home.

    "My sister is doing well in school. I'm very happy," he said.

    I'm Anna Matteo.

    Aniruddha Ghosal reported this story for The Associated Press. Anna Matteo adapted the story for Learning English.


    Words in This Story

    delta – n. the triangular or fan-shaped piece of land made by deposits of mud and sand at the mouth of a river

    drought – n. a long period of dry weather

    dam – n. a barrier preventing the flow of water

    GDP – n. abbreviation for the gross national product excluding the value of net income earned abroad

    livelihood – n. means of support or subsistence

    access – n. permission or power to enter, approach, or make use of