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Tea for more than Two - A story of hibiscus and hard work.

Farmers and Thao Moc director in a Hibiscus garden

Luong Thi Tien is a young woman who lives in the Dien Bien province in Northern Vietnam. She has a young daughter and earns income by growing hibiscus flowers. Tien can be seen smiling serenely as she poses, picking the beautiful hibiscus flowers on the cover of a brochure for hibiscus tea. This happy, beautiful picture with her colourful pink and green shirt contrasting with the plants she is surrounded by, belies the suffering she has endured in her 24 years.

Tien was 16 years old when she was forced into marrying a man she did not know. Several months after the marriage, Tien's new husband became very ill and she discovered he was infected with HIV. Tien's husband passed away not long after their daughter was born. As if this was not enough hardship for a young woman, Tien's life hit rock bottom when she discovered she too had contracted the HIV virus. Desperate to escape, Tien admits she considered suicide but her family and young daughter encouraged her to not give up, so she began antiretroviral treatment. Owning no assets herself, she continued to live with her parents and help them to raise pigs, grow rice and other vegetables on their small lot of land.

In October 2012 Tien was offered a lifeline, she was approached by CFRC (Community Finance Resource Center, one of CCA's partner in Vietnam) who had extended their services to people living with HIV. Through the CFRC program, Tien was able to borrow money to buy a herd of pigs. Her own pigs. After four months she sold the pigs for a profit of over $500 CAD. Yet this was only the beginning of her changed fortunes.

Harvesting hibiscusIn 2013 CFRC began a partnership with a hibiscus tea company based in Hanoi, the Thao Moc Company. This pilot project benefited the CFRC members, through training and income, while at the same time the Thao Moc Company gained much needed hibiscus growers and markets. Tien heard about the project and volunteered to be part of this pilot along with seven other local women, ranging in age from 24 - 52. The women were all members of CFRC's microfinance program and had access to land. Tien planted one hectare of her family's land in hibiscus and, along with the rest of the women, was trained in growing and processing techniques by Madam Mai Thi Tan, a pioneer in developing hibiscus in Vietnam. Business management and marketing training was also provided by CFRC.

The group harvested their first crop and with support from families and CFRC were able to package, market and sell the entire five ton crop. By the end of 2013 the group had made more than $7000 (CAD) in revenue. Tien has grand plans to reinvest her share in more hibiscus crops and maybe even a coffee shop where her family can sell hibiscus tea products. Tien may have been through a lot of heartache in her 24 years but her serene smile is genuine; she is a mother, a survivor and now a successful business owner with no limits to her future.

This extraordinary pilot has now expanded and not surprisingly has a waiting list of women wanting to join. The hibiscus growers are now being trained in forming a co-operative so once the project is phased out they will be able to support each other and sustain this success.

Learn more about the co-operative difference