Vansy Senyavong is the director of Maeying Houamjai Phathana (MHP) (Women Participating in Development), which she founded in 2010. MHP works with indigenous communities in Bokeo, Laos’ northern province, specifically focusing on building poor rural women’s capacity. MHP also provides technical services to other NGOs throughout Laos, and is part of the civil society network involved in discussions over the shape of the Laos Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) with the EU. Vansy previously worked for the Belgian NGO Rikolto (formerly VECO), and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). MHP has been a Fern partner since 2015.
“I was a national volunteer for the UNDP for a year. Then I worked as a programme manager for nine years for VECO in sustainable agriculture and income generation in Bokeo, supporting Lao upland communities to improve their livelihoods.
Then [after a landmark government decree 115 on Associations at the end of 2009] the space for local people to establish civil society organisations really opened up, and I started MHP.
MHP tries to address the gap between rich and poor: we want our poor people to truly be equal citizens in developing our country.
We have 17 staff, with two working on the FLEGT process [in April 2017 the EU and Laos held their first face to face VPA negotiations].
We work at a grassroots level in Bokeo [which is around 100km from the China border] which gives us greater impact by being closer to the community. We try to help build the capacity of poor rural people, particularly women, so that they can take control of their destinies in sustainable ways and improve the quality of their lives.
One way we do this is through the natural forest tea co-operative we founded in 2016. Subsistence farmers are struggling to survive because overseas investors are buying up land and forests for banana plantations – but we found a donor to support villagers to secure tenure to their tea forest, so that it will be protected for future generations. The co-operative is giving meaningful employment to people.