Plan's Safer Cities Project

Welcome To Hanoi

Bi sits in her cramped Hanoi home..

When asked to describe herself, Bi comes up with three words: “Smart, different, and crazy.”

Dressed in a black hoodie, a pair of jeggings, and a pair moccasins, Bi is a very stylish girl. However, many would be surprised to learn that Bi’s appearance does not match her life – she has lived under a pier in one of the biggest slums in Hanoi for eighteen years. Surrounded by drug addicts, violence, rubbish, and floods, she lives with her parents and two little sisters in a 150 square-foot house. The house is so close to the river bank that it floods during the rainy season.

“I still remember the last flood when the water reached halfway up our house. We couldn’t do anything but stay towards the top of our house as the boats couldn’t get through the alley,” Bi’s father recalls. A smooth talker, Bi’s father spends most of his time away from the house, gambling.

Surprisingly, it is her mother who is the bread winner of the family. Each day, she alternates between housecleaning jobs. The work is not permanent, but she has made a decent living which puts food on the table.

Late Nights

Bi is smart, but after failing her college entrance exams, she soon found a job as waitress in a small bar in the old quarter of the capital. Each day, she began work at 6pm and then walked home at 1am the following morning. Despite the late hours, she enjoyed her job.

“I had no problem with the abnormal working hours. I could earn money. I could learn about life and I could practice my English with foreigners who came from different countries,” she says.

As an eighteen year-old, Bi was not afraid to walk home–even if it meant walking through the slums at one in the morning.

When reflecting upon her experience, she adds: “I’m bull-headed. I’m usually teased by guys on the way home, but I do not care. Only the weak are bullied.”

A few months ago, Bi decided to quit her job at the bar in order to achieve her dream of becoming a tour guide.

“Tourism is right for me and right for my passion. I can visit different places, meet different people, and face different challenges.”

In order to nurture her plan, Bi enrolled in online classes and now has a part-time job working as a volunteer at a travel agency where she conducts online surveys.

“Even though I’m not paid, I’m still happy. I’ve learned a lot from the company. It’s worth it,” she says.

Making A Difference

Bi’s hard work was recently awarded when her community nominated her to participate in Plan’s ‘Safe Cities for Girls’ project.

A collaboration between Plan, Women in Cities International (WICI), and UN-Habitat, the ‘Safe Cities for Girls’ project aims to build safe, accountable, and inclusive cities for girls . The project will be carried out in the five cities of Hanoi, Kampala, Cairo, Delhi, and Lima.

The urban program seeks to promote the active and meaningful participation of girls in urban development and governance. “This is an endeavor to engage girls in five cities around the world in making their cities gender inclusive and safe,” said Tanushree Soni, Regional Gender Program Specialist, Plan Asia.

In order to gather information, Bi and thirty-six other girls who live in her community, map out the places they visit, the routes taken, and the experiences they encounter during their commutes.

“Investing in girls as part of this process will not only benefit girls themselves, keeping them safe and building their assets and skills, but will ensure their contribution to building a better world for us all,” said Dr. Aisa Kirabo Kacyira, Deputy Executive Director, UN-Habitat.

In 2012, all five cities will conduct baseline researchfor the BIAAG Urban Program. By 2013, the BIAAG Urban Program will be implemented through strategic partnerships with local partners to make cities safer for girls, including city governments, civil society organizations, and adolescent girls themselves.