President Michael D Higgins visited a historic bridge over Vietnam's Ben Hai River that once formed the wartime border between north and south and has been built as part of an Irish infrastructure investment programme.
The bridge, funded by Irish Aid’s Programme 135, is located in Vinh O commune, where ethnic minorities account for more than 97 per cent of the population, mainly from the Van Kieu ethnic group.
The President and Sabina Higgins also visited a clinic and a road in a rural area built with Irish funding.
“If you wanted an example of the importance of an aid programme impacting on the ground, this is a very good example,” said Mr Higgins, pointing out how more than 82 per cent of people in the area live on less than US$1 a day.
Crowds of villagers gathered in the rain waving Vietnamese and Irish flags to greet the presidential cavalcade, which made its way through tricky terrain to get to the isolated commune.
The project covers eight villages, but representatives from just three were able to be present because the other five were cut off by recent floods.
“We’ve just come from the clinic - there has been a reduction in infant mortality because of the availability of the clinic and midwife services,” said Mr Higgins.
“The women here breastfeed which is another advantage, as it deals with the issue of clean water. We’ve been looking at the market, which enables the small produce to be exchanged in a limited way.”
Vinh Linh is the north central coastal region of Vietnam in Quang Tri province, and was the site of the Seventeenth parallel, the temporary borderline between North Vietnam and South Vietnam during the Vietnam War.
Locals fought for the North Vietnamese, and after the war all changed their surname to Ho in honour of revolutionary leader Ho Chi Minh. Now everyone in the commune is surnamed Ho.
The US dropped three times more high explosives on Vietnam than on Germany and Japan combined in the second World War, and Quang Tri was the most heavily bombed part of the country.
It is still the most contaminated with ordnance and the President visited the Mine Action Visitor Centre and also observed a demonstration by the Cluster Munition Remnant Survey, facilities which are also part-funded by Ireland.
“I think one of the most important parts of this is that on our way here through the forests, you see a big issue, and that is that people have the right to be assisted in a way that takes account of the culture and that takes account of their relationship to the land.
“What you are seeing here are the very positive things that have been established,” President Higgins said.