Hmongdom: innovative technology for rural development

Report from Seb Rumsby, 2018 ASEAS(UK) Research Impact Award Recipient

2tourism
Documentary video still | Image Credit: © Seb Rumsby

Hmongdom is an ongoing peer-to-peer development project which aims to empower, encourage and equip Hmong farmers with various opportunities to enhance their livelihood. The ASEAS(UK) funding was reserved for a two-week trip to Vietnam in December 2018 to publicly launch the initiative. The majority of the time was spent in Hanoi, where I arranged meetings with various Hmong student groups and then hosted a number of presentation meetings along with my Thailand-based Hmong partner, who also came to Hanoi for a few days. During the meetings we shared the project vision and objectives, as well as recruiting Hmong students as volunteers to disseminate Hmongdom materials online and offline. Students were identified as a key target audience for promoting Hmongdom, since they are easy to reach (living in cities), have internet access via smartphones, and regularly return to their home villages where they can share online content with those who may not have internet access. In addition, we travelled to Vietnam’s northwest highlands for a few days in order to promote the initiative in areas within which I had contacts. Finally, I spent a few days in Ho Chi Minh City to arrange one last presentation meeting with another Hmong student group.

The results of the trip were very successful: over the four presentation meetings, we engaged with over 50 Hmong students whose home villages are located across almost all of the Hmong-inhabited highland provinces of Vietnam. We had a very positive reception from most of the participants who expressed willingness to get involved and join the online Hmongdom community. As a result, the  Facebook group (launched December 2018) had 81 members by January 2019 and the documentary videos have received hundreds of views. Furthermore, we received valuable feedback which alerted us to unaddressed problems and possible areas for improvement. For instance, many people told us that Hmong farmers in remote locations would be worried that even if they could grow new, more profitable crops, they would not have anywhere nearby to sell it or anyone to sell it to. Therefore we are now encouraging more Hmong people to become middlemen and will soon make a documentary episode about this profession. There is plenty of scope for further development, including filming in other Hmong areas, creating more diverse resources and promoting further afield, which will require further funding from other sources. Nevertheless, we are extremely grateful to ASEAS(UK) for kickstarting the project in Vietnam.