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4 am start in Vietnam

The 4am start did little to help my jetlag. I managed to hit snooze twice, leaving myself a whole eight minutes to get up and dressed before my taxi arrived. Possibly a personal best.

The drive to the airport was pretty interesting – Hanoi is a great city and is buzzing even at 4.30 in the morning. We drove past an amazing flower market with loads of street vendors carrying bundles of sunflowers and orchids.

I arrived in Da Nang, Vietnam met up with other members of the emergencies team and headed out on the assessment. First stop a briefing meeting with the provincial people’s committee. They were very pleased to welcome us and provided an overview of the damage in the region. Da Nang is one of the most accessible of the affected regions and a couple of other NGOs were with us in order to co-ordinate efforts. We split up into different teams and I joined the child protection and education group to head out into the field.

Second stop, another meeting with the local government at commune level in Hoa Vang. The biggest problem they identified was shelter, and then schools – more than half of the schools in the community were damaged. We spent the day meeting families and asking them how they have been affected by the Typhoon.

I met 18 year old Kieu who was drying her books outside her house. The roof had been blown off during the storm and many of the family’s belongings had been damaged. Kieu was obviously a good student, the certificates her dad had framed and hung on the wall were testament to that. She spoke to me in English and apologised for having to leave because she didn’t want to be late for school.

I’m reminded of another sad-but-true rule from my journalism training. The closer to home the story the more newsworthy it is. If a roof was blown off a house in Southern England, it could be front page news, if 100 roofs were blown of in a town in Europe it might make a nib on page 11, a thousand roofs in Vietnam is a much harder story to sell.

Back to the hotel for a debrief – it seems some of the other teams in Quang Tri, another province, have seen villages that were much more badly affected. They have been travelling up through mountainous regions along roads that were impassable due to landslides. Poor ethnic minority families live up in those regions and they have lost everything.

I have a chat with Gia who led the assessment in Quang Tri and his story is very strong. “Families are just glad to be alive,” he said. “The floods came in the middle of the night so they fled from their homes to higher ground and when they returned there was nothing left. They’ve escaped with their lives but now they face a struggle to survive.”

I multi-task with both a laptop and dinner balanced on a restaurant table and manage to get a press release out before bedtime.

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