“I live in a very small house, and because it encroaches on the canal, it must be held up in the back by many poles. My house is not as fragrant as my friends’ houses. My house smells like garbage and decayed animals all day long. My sister and I often have diarrhea and digestive illnesses. One time my sister had malaria and my Mom cried so badly and blamed my Dad for being so poor that we have to live on a garbage dump. On the other hand, my Dad blamed my Mom for not paying the garbage collection fee, which costs less than one dollar per month. He blamed her for throwing garbage directly into the water, which consequently leads to the children getting diseases. Because of the canal, my family is not happy and healthy. I wish we could afford the garbage collection fees. I wish no one would throw garbage into the river and that the water could be fresh, just like on the TV shows. Then all of the families would be happy and healthy.”
Each day, the organizers of the “Dialogues with the Rivers” Photo Contest (the first Photo Contest ever organized by Vietnam Rivers Network) received such moving and intense stories from all over Vietnam, which we called “the river stories”. A total of 593 photos and stories were submitted by 130 authors and were shared on VRN’s Facebook page from May to September, 2015. The contest received thousands of likes and shares, and prompted hundreds of discussion threads about the endangered rivers.
Viewers were captivated by photos such as one of a father living with his six children on a small boat by the river or a photo depicting the over-exploitation of sand leading to an unusually dry river. These photos made viewers more aware of and concerned about the current situation of the rivers across the country. Another set showing images of the villagers catching and cooking clams by the rivers in Ha Tinh, portrays the beauty of people in labor and the long history of the river cuisine. The story behind those photos, however, revealed the emergence of a sand exploitation area 3 kilometers upstream of the village. This situation has created the fear that one day livelihoods and food sources based off of the river will disappear.
In general, this contest was an interesting benchmark made possible by the tireless efforts from all members. There were fluctuating feelings and differing opinions every time we checked the Facebook event, but always there was love and concern for the rivers. All the stories were told, retold and shared over and over, and we know that rivers will always have a place in everyone’s hearts and minds. It was good not only for some individuals, but for the whole community.
Furthermore, the participants’ comments, judgements, and analyses about their own photos as well as other participants photos, created an exciting event that kept attracting more followers. Several photos sent to the event framed the consequences of stopping rivers to build hydro-power plants. This was very important because behind the success of a hydro plant exists the loss of regional ecological systems and rich soils, which it enhances the impact of climate change. Minorities’ culture, heritage and traditions are also endangered. All these key aspects reminded us all of the importance of protecting the beauty of rivers.
After the initial worries, now we can proudly say that the photo contest was an important chance for all communities to raise awareness on river protection. Now, the public understands better the challenges that rivers are facing. There has been an increasing wave of photographers and public interest concerned more about the rivers and everything they provide to us.
While supervising the event on Facebook, we know that there is a need for more discussions about the future of the rivers. More projects, research, books and photo books about the rivers will be delivered in the near future. These are all possible and positive actions. We expect that more photos and stories will be told and shared, and that the rivers will forever be our “blood veins of life”.
Story by Vietnam Rivers Network
Featured photo credit:
“Clam village”, photos by Nguyen Minh Son. Clam village by the La River in Ha Tinh province where people have caught and cooked clams for generations.