A place for many golden hearts

Since 2000, under the slogan "the State and the People joining hands", Ben Tre has strived a lot to join the country's movement of rural roads and bridges building. And it has so far been in the leading pack of the country. Over the past 3 years, with the work of the province's Society of Science and Technology for Roads and Bridges (SSTRB), hundreds of roads and bridges have been constructed and put into use, an effort to reduce the hardship of traveling in the rural areas. 

However, with a dense grid of canals and ditches, Ben Tre will have to build a lot more bridges to eradicate more than a thousand of its remaining "cau khi", or bamboo bridges. Also, about 1,250 km more rural roads are under needs to be asphalted and concretized.

1. In mid July, 2006, I returned to meet Mr Trinh Van Y, Chairman of the SSTRB, at his office. When asked about his bridge-building-forever works, Mr Trinh Van Y abruptly grew excited and gave me surprising can-tell figures: During the first 6 months of 2006, Ben Tre's SSTRB and its district branches already raised a total sum of VND 9,464 million (including US$462,623, 12,300 euros and AU$1,710) to spend in their new rural road and bridge projects throughout the province. The SSTRB is planning to use the above money to build 101 bridges, totally 2,269 metres long, including 23 suspending bridges, 77 concrete bridges, and one steel bridge. The bridges have benefited more than 16,800 local households to travel for their daily business, contributing to the development of the locality.

Established in 2002, but the SSTRB swang into action right in the early 2003 by launching a campaign to raise money among foreign and domestic donors for rural roads and bridges building in Ben Tre. With a strong and transparent program, the Society and its branches have since raised totally VND12 billion, constructed 281 bridges, with 6,349 metres in length, and 37 concretized roads (totally 31,091 metres long), eradicating 260 "cau khi" (bamboo bridges) and 42 river-crossing ferries in Ben Tre's rural areas. 

Mr Trinh Van Y emotionally continued: "Ben Tre province thanks Mr Toni Ruttimann very much. He is a Swiss charitable activist who zealously goes to Argentina, Italy, Mexico, Houston (Texas, the US) to persuade donors there to contribute construction materials, cables, steel pipes, etc, and back to his home country to persuade Swiss teenagers to donate their savings to build bridges for Ben Tre. Among 40 suspending bridges built so far, 2/3 were totally funded by Mr Ruttimann, the rest 1/3 of them were partly funded by Mr Ruttimann with counter fundings by the local budget."

With the help from his friends, Mr Ruttimann has built more than 200 cabled suspending bridges in various countries around the world, namely Ecuador (105 bridges), Colombia (14), Honduras (34), Mexico (29), Cambodia (35), and most recently Viet Nam with 48 bridges, 40 of which are in Ben Tre province.

Once asked about the best impression he had during his staying in Ben Tre, Mr Toni Ruttimann told me that what he liked most was the Ben Tre people's community awareness. He said, he was very positively and warmly welcomed and cooperated with by the local people in many places where his projects were deployed. This zeal is not always found anywhere else.

2. Beside Mr Ruttimann, Ben Tre has also received help from Schmitz Organization, a German charity organization. Between 2005 and June, 2006, Schmitz sponsored to build 20 reinforced-concrete bridges in rural Ben Tre, each worth VND25 million. In collaboration with Schimtz, the Society's Civil Engineering Consulting Centre (CECC) shared its hands with the works of technical planning and coordinating with local authorities. The Society is now under planning news projects to cooperate with Schmitz to build 75 more bridges in the rural areas.

Such works and so much money raised in just nearly three years, making it convenient for so many people in rural areas of Ben tre are an encouraging success of the SSTRB. This has helped lifted the Society's prestige and polish its image among foreign donors and other charity doers.

Of course, to gain trust from foreign donors, Mr Trinh Van Y disclosed, the Society had its own way to carry out business. Based on requests from localities that needed help in building rural roads and bridges, the Society then designated the CECC to assist the localities in carrying out field surveillance and planning detailed design and budget estimate works for each of the projects. Then, the Society and local officials went to meet with private donors and sponsoring organizations to submit the project documents and drawings for sponsoring. The maximum proposed sum of sponsor money is not always excessive of ¾ of the project expense estimates. The rest 1/3 would always be contributed by local people, which is seen as an act of community conciousness and responsibility. 

After a project was accepted by the sponsors, that is, they agreed to sponsor it, then something of a procedure would take place and a document would be under-signed by related parties as the Society and the local officials received the money from the donors to carry out the project. Exactly, the money would always be handed directly from the donors and local officials, the receivers, while the Society just played the role of an in-between agent. By this way, the Society hasn't set up funds of any kinds. Sometimes some individuals or organizations wanted to donate money out of charity purposes and transferred it into the Society's bank account, the Society would then draw the whole donation sum and give it to the localities that needed fundings for rural projects. With such a transparent and effective way of doing charitable work, the Ben Tre's SSTRB has so far been gaining trust from the charity workers and organizations around the world.