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Fighting disease in war and peace




WORKING ON: Professor Huỳnh Phương Liên is still very busy researching vaccines. Photo

by Vũ Uyên – Mai Phương

Most people in their 80s are retired and enjoying days of leisure with their family or pursuing interests and hobbies, but this is not even close to the case for Huỳnh Thị Phương Liên, a professor and researcher at the National Institute of Hygiene and Epidemiology (NIHE).

In a small room at the institute, Prof Liên, 81, magnifying glass in hand, as always, is still deeply involved in researching and recording materials for vaccinations.

DESERVED HONOUR: Vice President Đặng Thị Ngọc Thịnh (right) presents the Hero of Labour title to Professor Liên. VNA/VNS Photo Minh Quyết

Having devoted her life to Việt Nam’s vaccine industry she was recently honoured by the Government as a ‘Hero of Labour in the Renewal Period’ for her outstanding contributions to public healthcare.

She spent 53 years, from 1966 to 2019, on scientific research to promote the country’s vaccine production and preventive medicine sector.

The distinction was presented by Vice President Đặng Thị Ngọc Thịnh at a ceremony at the Hà Nội-based NIHE last month.

LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT: Professor Liên has devoted her life to Việt Nam’s vaccine industry. Photo

Prof Liên is currently a senior specialist at the Vaccine and Biological Production 1 (Vabiotech) company under the Ministry of Public Health, where she has worked since 2006.

Vabiotech is among four manufacturers in Việt Nam developing vaccines to fight COVID-19.

She and her co-workers have successfully produced vaccines for cholera, typhoid, smallpox, and Japanese encephalitis, in addition to the implementation of 12 State-level scientific research projects and the publication of 112 others in prestigious scientific journals.

Of particular note, the first-generation Japanese encephalitis vaccine was successfully produced and added to the National Expanded Immunisation Programme in 1997, contributing to reducing cases of Japanese encephalopathy and easing the burden faced by people suffering from disease and by society as a whole.

It was also the first “Made-in-Việt Nam” vaccine exported abroad.

Liên and many of her colleagues have experienced great hardship during their working lives, as they had to conduct research and studies during the wars  from 1955 to 1975.

Recalling the early days of her studies and work in the medical and vaccine industry, her eyes shine with pride.

She was initially inspired to study by her mother.

“During the war against the French (1946-1954), I was just a little girl but often accompanied my mother, who was a nurse at the time at frontline medical stations, where I witnessed her dealing with emergencies at all hours of the day,” she said. “I felt a desire to study medicine when I grew up and do the same sort of work.”

She did indeed study medicine and in her final year at the Hà Nội Medical University in 1965 was assigned to work at the Faculty of Microbiology and then volunteered to serve the liberation of South Việt Nam.

“A few months after graduating, I underwent training in the application of vaccine production technology at NIHE,” she recalled. “I then put on a backpack and marched to the battlefield in the south with the heavy task to successfully produce three types of vaccines — cholera, typhoid, and smallpox — to prevent a ‘war of germs’.”

At that time, along with hunger and disease, the greatest difficulty on the battlefield was a lack of facilities for research.

“There were no laboratories and not enough materials, and life was harsh due to hunger and malarial fevers,” she recalled.

“Our lab facilities consisted of an incubator for microbial nurturing, run by kerosene lamps. We had to keep the temperature at 37 degrees Celsius to grow bacteria. Artillery shells went over our heads, but we stretched out parachutes and plastic sheets to create a laboratory in the middle of the jungle.”

After much effort and despite the increasing difficulties, cholera, typhoid, and smallpox vaccines were successfully produced, tube-sealed, and labelled with quality inspection stamps to provide to people in the liberated areas between the provinces of Quảng Nam and Quảng Ngãi.

“Though there were many challenges, I feel so proud to have contributed to the resistance war to save our country and protect people’s health,” Liên said.

Her six years on the battlefield were exhausting for the 20-something.

She weighed just 31kg when she returned to the north for treatment of her own health problems.

“I was lucky because I survived the war,” she said. “So many of my comrades fell while still in their youth.”

Though she received the Labour Hero title rather late in life, she was still very happy.

“During my working life, which now amounts to 54 years, I was always so absorbed that I never considered honours or awards,” the professor said in an emotional speech at the ceremony. “But the title of Labour Hero truly is an honour and shows that the Party and State have recognised my efforts.”

The title of Labour Hero honours individuals with exceptional achievements in innovation, contributing to the building of socialism in Việt Nam and safeguarding the country.

Addressing the ceremony, Minister of Public Health Nguyễn Thanh Long said the title was recognition from the Party and State of Prof Liên’s relentless creative spirit in vaccine research and application, which has been critical for the country’s efforts in combating communicable diseases and protecting people’s well-being.

Meanwhile, Prof Đỗ Tuấn Đạt, Vabiotech chairman, said the title was not only a source of pride for Prof Liên but also for everyone at the company.

“This expresses the acknowledgment and interest of the Party and State in the efforts and dedication of vaccine researchers and manufacturers,” he said.

Vabiotech has been working particularly hard to develop a COVID-19 vaccine as part of efforts by the healthcare sector to curb the on-going spread of the pandemic. – VNS


Your Vietnam

Fishing gear village looks to preservation



AS REQUIRED: Nguyễn Anh Sáu and his family often make products under order from fishing families and tourists. – Photo

By Thanh Giang

The Hưng Học traditional craft village in Nam Hòa Ward in Quảng Yên Town, Quảng Ninh Province, secured a name for itself over the course of a hundred years and more for making durable and attractive fishing gear from bamboo and wood.

Items such as bamboo boats, fishing baskets, fish cages, and other fishing gear are still bought by fishermen near and far but the craft village is in danger of falling into oblivion despite its preservation efforts.

On a visit to the village, we saw some beautifully decorated houses making sophisticated fishing gear as well as industrial workshops adjacent to rivers and canals making bamboo boats.

According to Nguyễn Anh Sáu, who has 40 years of experience in the traditional craft, the reason the village’s fishing gear is famous is because of the sophistication that comes from selecting the best raw materials. Along with quality workmanship and attention to detail, the strips of bamboo or wood used to make the fishing gear are carefully hand-cut. Products from Nam Hòa are therefore not only durable but also beautiful.

Sáu is considered a skilled craftsman in the village, with unique creativity. In addition to fishing gear, he also makes beautiful miniature bamboo boats for sale to tourists. His house is also the most appealing destination in the village.

IN MINIATURE: Craftsman Nguyễn Anh Sáu with one of his impressive bamboo boats. – Photo

Three generations of Đặng Thị Thắm’s family have produced many different types of fishing gear, of which bamboo boats are the hardest because the quality greatly depends on the weather.

“Making a fishing boat involves many steps — selecting the bamboo, whittling strips of bamboo or wood and weaving them into frames, coating the bamboo with tar, and drying everything,” she said.

Vũ Văn Hùng has been in the profession for nearly 30 years. While it takes a long time to make something like a fishing basket, the selling price is low and the profit margin slim.

But he is nonetheless determined to continue the craft. His family spends a lot of their time making bamboo boats and have been applying scientific advances to increase durability.

“There was a time when a lot of people were involved in the occupation, but not now,” he said. “The village’s young prefer other jobs, so it’s mostly only older people still working in the craft. My family still does it, as it is our profession. While I make bamboo boats and fishing gear, though, my wife works in another industry altogether.”

UNDER PRODUCTION: Bamboo boats being made at the Hưng Học traditional craft village. – Photo

Next generation

According to Đàm Chí Thiết, deputy head of the Economic Department in Quảng Yên Town, Hưng Học has more than 500 households but only 60, with about 300 people, make fishing gear, earning about VNĐ5 million (US$215) per person each month.

“Because the majority of young people prefer other jobs, it’s become quite difficult to employ workers,” Thiết said. “Quảng Yên plans to adopt many measures to preserve and develop traditional crafts from 2021 to 2025, including Hưng Học’s fishing gear.”

The town is re-planning production issues, with display shops advertising local products and promoting sales. It will combine the preservation and development of its craft villages with eco-tourism and spiritual tourism, to attract more visitors. Other types of services can then be developed as well.

Training courses will be held to improve traditional occupations, with products made for fishing, transport, and tourism.

Craftsman Sáu was very happy to learn that the town had started a project to preserve and develop its traditional craft villages.

“We remain enthusiastic and confident about our craft,” he said. “But it is difficult to make ends meet. We want to keep our jobs, so we hope that local leaders will give us the support we need to modernise our production methods. As well as making bamboo boats, fishing gear, and other agricultural tools, we also make souvenir items.”

But Sáu is concerned by the reality that young local people just don’t want to follow in his footsteps.

“Nam Hòa’s fishing gear, especially our bamboo boats, have long been trusted by customers everywhere,” he said. “I can still earn a good living. A small bamboo boat can sell between VNĐ300,000 and 1 million. My house often has local and foreign tourists visiting. But my children just aren’t interested in learning the craft.”

Similar to Sáu, three generations of Nguyễn Văn Thinh’s family have been involved in the craft.

“People in my generation could try their hand at other jobs, but love their traditional craft and are trying to keep it going. Economic interest is only part of it — if we didn’t love the job we wouldn’t be pursuing it and trying to improve it,” Thinh said.

“It’s actually quite a hard work, and I’m not sure either of my two children wants to be among the next generation of craftsmen. To do this job you must be passionate, and that can’t be forced on anyone.”

With plans in place to make the Hưng Học fishing gear village and others like it attractive tourist destinations and with the gradual implementation of a project to preserve and develop traditional craft villages in Quảng Yên Town, hopefully more and more people will return or stay so that these centuries-old occupations continue well into the future. – VNS

NEXT IN LINE: Đặng Văn Nống’s family has been making fishing gear for many generations. – Photo


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Your Vietnam

Don’t be taken in by empty words





 by Nguyễn Mỹ Hà

It seems that every time you check your social media or email there are inspirational sayings or wise counsel from friends and strangers alike.

Even if you spent your fair share of time in your younger days going through self-improvement books, you might still feel tempted to read this latest “secret to success and/or happiness” and contemplate its meaning and whether there’s something in there for you to consider.

Not to disappoint you, and at the risk of sounding cynical, but you’re wasting your time.

“Follow your dreams and you’ll be successful!” and “Trust your passion, and success will follow!” might make some sort of sense when you’re young and dreams and passion feel like vehicles that may take you where you want to go to.

But life tells you that dreams are hard to achieve and that passion can fade all-too-quickly.

In a talk when launching his new book, Algebra of Happiness, Scott Galloway, author, entrepreneur, and professor at New York University’s Stern School of Business, said: “We have speakers here every week, and they all end with some variation of ‘Follow your dreams’. And many of these people have indeed found success and are millionaires.” Or have they?

When you look around for encouragement during the prime of your youth or to get you through a tough period of your life, it’s easy to look up to people you think are happy, successful, respected, celebrated, or whatever.

Everyone and everything, though, has a bright side and a dark side. You don’t get to see the dark side of people celebrated in life, and even if you try and follow their footsteps it could be decades or perhaps eternity before you’re as accomplished as they appear to be.

So, better to try and build your own life from what you have, and keep working at it. Instead of following your dreams or passion, find something you are good at and do it passionately.

When you were young and easily taken in by grand ideas of freedom, daily routines seemed boring and lacking in basic appeal. People inject ideas into your head, such as live life to the fullest, in the moment, or as if tomorrow will never come.

But what if tomorrow keeps coming and you’ve spent all you had and all your energy on today? What can possibly be left for tomorrow?

A popular saying has it: “Sow action, reap habits, sow good habits, reap character, and character defines fate.”

It’s more worthwhile to focus your time, energy, and effort on making your daily life better, more meaningful and more rewarding.

Daily routines are, of course, vital for your well-being. Showering daily keeps you clean, a good meal a day keeps you healthy, a job makes you feel useful and earns you money to live on. And at the end of every single day, a good sleep recharges your batteries.

In between washing, eating, working, and sleeping, there is plenty of time for entertainment, perhaps travel every few months, family visits, or outings with friends. Routines aren’t likely to overwhelm you, and actually give your life a certain structure.

Everyone has read about extraordinary people like Harvard drop-out Bill Gates, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, or the man with his eyes on Mars, Elon Musk.

But they are just a few people in an ocean of humanity, and you really don’t have to be like them to have a fulfilling life.

Life can be broken down into years, and the years broken down into days. There are good days and bad days for all. Those pesky daily routines keep you balanced and rested for the next challenge. And a “next challenge” there will always be.

Whether you’re on top of the world or in the pit of despair, at the end of the day you’ll need some shut-eye. A warm comfortable bed, and a deep, sound sleep prepares you for tomorrow, much more so than any words of purported wisdom. VNS


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Your Vietnam

Remote classes a winner for yoga teacher



by Hoàng Vân Anh

Hà My Yoga was founded by yoga teacher Lê Hà My and specialises in teaching beginners the basics of the spiritual discipline and how to avoid injuries in those less-than-limber early days.

Despite now being based in Sweden, she continues to teach Vietnamese students via her archive of online videos and also writes about how to use props to make it easier to practise. A book is also in the pipeline.

She first practised yoga seriously in 2016. As someone who enjoys sport and movement and had tried many different things, she found savasana — the five minutes of rest at the end of every yoga class — to be unique compared to other practices.

Later on, she aspired to teach to the standard of Indian teachers and fortunately won a scholarship for a training course at the Om Factory HANOI – School of Yoga. And that was when she underwent a change in career.

HELP FOR BEGINNERS: Hà My and one of her many props. Photo Hà My Yoga

Her previous job in HCM City didn’t have a fixed schedule and was quite stressful. She quit that job to fully focus on the 200 hours of teacher training, and when a later opportunity fell through she decided to stay in Sweden and start teaching yoga.

Within a few months, she was at it full-time, with up to 20 hours of classes a week. She practised providing instructions in both Vietnamese and Swedish simultaneously, and was also able to plan classes under any topic the studio asked of her.

“The best part about teaching at Om Factory, which is a big studio, is how I receive constant feedback from the sales team, which originates from customers,” Hà My said.

“After a year of working there, I gained so much experience that I now teach better classes and deliver better value for money to students.

“My favourite thing about practising yoga is how much calmer I have become. As a career, I’m very serious about it, to the point that I want to pass down the craft and the business to my future children and grandchildren. I used to always show up late at my old job, but that has never happened since I started teaching yoga and engaged in constant self-reflection.”

When asked why she focuses on props and beginners, Hà My said that both are interrelated. Since moving to Sweden, she must be her own boss and find her own students, so she narrowed it down to beginners.

“I learned a tip from marketing classes: non-users always outnumber users, so I wanted to target those who were entirely new to yoga,” she said.

She has come to better understand the perspective of beginners and their concern about injuries. The focus on props allows beginners to gain similar benefits from the different poses, with the goal being to later discard the props.

EASY AS 1, 2, 3: Three different stages are presented via simple illustrations for students to get into the Warrior 3 pose. Photo Hà My Yoga

The yoga market in developed countries like Sweden has now become saturated, and it’s hard to stand out. In Việt Nam, which is still a relatively new market, she feels more helpful and appreciated.

“I enjoy teaching in Vietnamese as I understand the nuances and the mindsets of Vietnamese people,” she said. “It makes giving instructions and explanations a lot simpler. And since I understand Vietnamese body structures so well, I think I want to teach Vietnamese people more.”

Hà My actually had the idea for an online video archive before COVID-19 pandemic struck.

“Online classes allow me to retain and share the same information, and so many more people can access it compared to the naturally limited number of students in a studio,” she explained. “So I systemised my knowledge into a comprehensive online class.”

Her online classess were originally targeted towards customers in Sweden. Vietnamese people also expressed interest so she made a version in Vietnamese.

PERSONAL TOUCH: Hà My also teaches yoga to the Vietnamese community in Sweden. Photo Hà My Yoga

Filming and completing full classes online wasn’t so easy for a one-person business.

“There are so many mishaps with cameras and mics,” she said. “Each class is an hour long, so if something goes wrong I have to re-record the entire class. It’s a lot harder than it seems, with filming and editing.”

While some people believe beginners should start practising in a studio, Hà My believes she can instruct them much better via her videos. Her instructions clearly explain what people often do wrong, so students can easily get into the right pose. The only difficulty is for students to practise in their own time, as it’s easy to slacken off without an official schedule.

Learning how to run her business on multiple platforms has meant acquiring a lot of new knowledge.

“Everything I did looked so amateurish early on,” she recalled. “But along the way, I figured out how to cut costs and attract more customers. It’s been hard, but I just need to keep going, because finishing it is better than perfecting it.”

Right now, Hà My is working on more videos for people who have completed her 42-hour class package. She is also teaming up with another teacher to create an online yoga platform.

Her goal for this year is to receive more help instead of doing it all by herself, to make the entire process more efficient. – VNS


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