Green Spirit in Motion – Disaster Relief at Ban Sen Village

A Town Left with Nothing

In July of 2015, torrential rainfall and forceful winds brought the small village of Ban Sen, in Quang Ninh province, to its knees. The vicious weather brought landslides and a sweeping flood across the village, killing 17 people and leaving many more homeless in a quiet locale nestled on a remote island near Halong Bay.

$2.7 trillion VND ($115 million USD) of damage destroyed the livelihoods of many families in the province. The 85-strong population of Ban Sen village fled to high ground on that fateful day, watching their houses, possessions and only way of making a living swept away in a torrent of muddy water. Large-scale aid operations were incredibly difficult because the one road that connected Ban Sen village to mainland Vietnam had been buried in a mudslide.

At the office of the V’Spirit Cruises, a part of the V’Spirit Premier Cruise, we decided to take our own, small-scale action. The situation was desperate, and we decided that Ban Sen village was in dire need of our Green Spirit program, which focuses on responsible tourism in Halong Bay as well as charity and disaster relief for our greater Vietnamese family in Quang Ninh province. We went in August 2015 to Ban Sen village with crates of aid and a determination to help.

The Green Spirit in Motion

A 5-hour bus ride took us to the northeastern corner of Vietnam, where we boarded a motorboat and took the bumpy ride to Van Don Island where Mr. Chung, a resident of Ban Sen village, greeted us. The huge smile and friendly handshakes he gave us upon our meeting masked the pain from the disaster, which had swept away everything he and his family had worked for.

After this was a difficult 2-hour trek, but one paling in comparison to the difficulties faced by the Ban Sen residents. We saw the aftermath of the flood upon reaching the town; there was mud slung in every direction, collapsed trees and chunks of housing and furniture littering everywhere. Mr. Chung explained that the village has always been poor but beautiful, yet now, there was not much left for them to showcase.

Stories of Disaster

We set about immediately looking for beneficiaries of our disaster relief. Mr. Chung took us to meet Mrs. Nguyễn Thị Bích Thùy, who was single-handedly trying to clean up and repair the massive damage caused to her house. The flood had destroyed the vast majority of it, but had left a family shrine to Mrs. Thùy’s recently deceased husband, with the incense still burning despite the vast amount of rainwater that had flashed through the house. She took this as a divine miracle from her husband, who she believed had saved Mrs. Thùy and their two children’s lives. We gave her some clothes, food and simple things for the house, for which she was grateful.

We heard similar stories of tragedy as we made our way around the village. We met a lot of children in the Ban Sen, all of whom had a heartbreakingly worried expression on their faces. They received our aid with a sheepish grin, but spent much of their time with us talking about their desire to go to the mainland to get a job and earn enough money to send back to their families in Ban Sen. There is a long way to go for that to happen, but it was very uplifting to see that the community spirit was strong and that even the children were determined to help in any way possible.

Later on, we found Mr. Nguyễn Văn Hòa atop his roof, fixing a hole and waving down from above. The garden below him was a wasteland, with muddy and cracked earth as well as dead trees lying flat across fences. We entered the house to find Mrs. Uyên, the wife of Mr. Hòa, taking care of their young son, who suffers from cerebral palsy. The two eldest daughters in the family study in a university in Hanoi, which they had wanted to quit upon hearing of the flood to get a job.

“I told them not to,” explained Mrs. Uyên, “we worked very hard to raise the money for them to go to school, so we were adamant that they stayed there. It took some time to convince them, but I think now they understand that they have a better chance of helping us in the long-term if they continue to work hard in school”. Mr. Hòa, Mrs. Uyên and their son were the last recipients of our aid in Ban Sen village.

The population of Ban Sen has been through some incredibly trying times, yet their hospitality to guests is absolutely unwavering. As we said our goodbyes and prepared to leave the village, they surprised us with a tuk-tuk ride that would take us straight back to the ferry terminal. We were very touched by their generosity and left with much reason to be hopeful about the future of Ban Sen. The flood may have swept away their homes, but it is evidentially much harder to sweep the smile off the face of a Ban Sen villager.