An inspiring journey unfolds in the serene landscapes of Quảng Nam province, merging cultural heritage with renewable energy aspirations. Within the Katu ethnic community, the type of dwelling known as Duông house is a testament to Vietnam's rich architectural lineage. Its walls have whispered tales of generations of families, traditions, and a way of life rooted deep within the earth. The recent project is a story of innovation and sustainability, where youth-driven initiative blends the Katu people's traditional house with the pulse of modern renewable energy. Under the initiative titled Duông House and Energy Transition in Katu Ethnic Minority Community in Quang Nam Province, sponsored by the Green Youth Labs and the International Climate Initiative (IKI) of Germany, Trương Minh Đến, coordinator and leader of the Vietnam Environment team, and other volunteers embark on expeditions to specific Duông houses, delve deep into the history and traditions of the Katu people, while also exploring the potentials of sustainable energy.
The Duông house, with its rich history, stands as an emblem of tradition and sustenance for the people of Katu. In the past, almost every family lived in a Duông house. Crafted meticulously using natural materials sourced directly from the forests, such as palm and bamboo, these houses served as places of rest as well as storerooms for the grains and produce harvested from the woods. Duông houses often lie deep in the mountains, secluded from villages.
The Duông House and Energy Transition initiative began as a vision in 2018-2019, driven by a passionate team that recognized the unserved energy needs of the community, a group of collaborators called Vietnam Environment(Môi trường Việt Nam). "Duông houses are very secluded, they are unable to access the grid," project representative Đến reflects. This barrier motivated the group, which now consists of 15 collaborators, to turn to solar power. LED bulbs powered by solar panels on the roofs can provide households with sustainable illumination. Since the beginning, the group has focused not only on sharing information on sustainable energy with the Katu ethnic communities but also on installing LED bulbs in houses that the national grid can reach. In 2021, through the Green Youth Labs, the initiative received support from the IKI to carry out many more activities. Their vision remains bold and boundless; with hundreds of Duông houses across the region, they aspire to illuminate each one with sustainable solar light, ensuring that no dwelling remains in darkness, no matter how remote.
Under the initiative, two trips were carried out to visit Duông houses in Dhami and Arec villages, respectively. In October 2022, the first group of 20 children and the team of Volunteers for Environment of Central Vietnam undertook a long journey deep into nature to reach the village of Dhami. Within the walls of the Duông houses, abundance reigned; homes were self-sufficient, properties teeming with various crops, as well as livestock such as cattle, pigs, chickens, ducks, and naturally cultivated forests. In this journey, the team met and talked with an elderly couple who have spent more than 30 years in their Duông house, the second generation in that house. Following in their footsteps are their children and grandchildren, the third and fourth generations. The elders enchanted the team with stories of their romance under the Duông house roof and traditional melodies of the Katu people. Their tales spoke of the sun, the wood, the streams, and the forest – elements integral to their way of life.
In November 2022, more than 30 children and volunteers embarked on a journey, walking for nearly an hour over gurgling streams, through cinnamon forests and past towering rubber trees, to visit the 30-year-old Duông house of Ating Duôn, a member of the local Katu community, nestled in the verdant heart of Arec village, in the commune of A Vương. It was a cool sunny day, and with a cheerful attitude the long journey felt like a breeze. At the house, the children listened to the history of the Duông house, and music from traditional instruments; they played in the stream and drew pictures of the forest. After resting, the team of Vietnam Environment talked with local communities about the sustainable energy initiatives and marvelled at the daily life intricacies that have flourished within these Duông house after decades.
The team installed a LED light bulb connected to a battery and a rooftop photovoltaic panel at each Duông house they visited. Đến tells of the excitement when the light was turned on, from the bright smiles of young children to the elated expression of the adults. Under the light of the newly installed solar-powered LED bulb, people gathered and discussed the meaning and importance of light in everyday life.
"The morning I came home to the Duông house, I fell in love,” exclaimed Đinh Phú Lộc, a boy who joined the first trip to Dhami village. “Everything was really beautiful; the air was fresh and cool. Cold spring water and big rocks are just like the mountains and forests of my hometown. I really like going to the Duông house."
Nowadays, kids do not visit Duông houses very often. The number of Duông houses is decreasing quickly due to its inaccessibility to modern convenience. Through these trips, Đến and the team at Vietnam Environment wish to reconnect the youth with their cultural roots and promote the beauty and meaning of Duông houses in Quang Nam.
On November 15th, 2022, the project collaborated with the local commune and village during the annual Great National Unity Day (Ngày hội Đại đoàn kết Toàn dân tộc) with the participation of hundreds of villagers, the village People’s Committee, and local government representatives. Pictures drawn by the children, along with photos of various sustainable energy models, were showcased during the event. The team introduced energy-efficient LED lights, rooftop solar lights, streetlights, improved wood stoves (bếp củi cải tiến), and solar-powered water heaters. The Committee was greatly impressed by the team's presentation and emphasized the importance and necessity of events like this to promote sustainable energy models that improve the living condition of the local villagers.
However, applying new technologies to villagers' lives has been challenging. Đến admits that the number of households using sustainable energy is still very low. The first reason is the expensive cost of the equipment and installation. Secondly, villagers may find old habits and practices difficult to change, while the new technology takes a long time to get used to. The reality is that people in Dong Giang and Tay Giang districts still often use fluorescent tubes and incandescent bulbs for illumination, which comsume more electricity and have a shorter lifespan. The short-term goal is to encourage and to support them to switch to LED lights. Vietnam Environment hopes that, along with LED lights, other sustainable energy models will slowly be introduced and applied to all villages. This is why the team of Vietnamese Environment continues to reach out, promote, and share their knowledge of sustainable energy with people in the province.
The journey to the Duông houses and the subsequent initiatives there represent a harmonious blend of cultural preservation, community involvement, and sustainable progression. Through its endeavours, the initiative highlighted the rich history and traditions embedded in the Duông house and showcased the immense potential of sustainable energy solutions tailored to local needs. The trip also reconnected local children with nature and with their heritage. As the participants explored the intricacies of the traditional dwelling, the marvel of seeing the newly installed solar-powered light bulb seamlessly integrated into such a space evoked reaction of astonishment.
"I'm so excited to see so much inside here [the Duông house]!" one child exclaimed.
"I am very happy to participate in the activity going to Duông house,” another child said. “And I have learned that Duông house and the ethnic sound played by the village chief are very beautiful and meaningful."
Their visits to Duông houses symbolized more than just a trek through nature; it was a vivid testament to the balance of respecting age-old traditions while embracing the innovations of today. The gleam of the solar lights was not merely a reflection of renewable energy but also mirrored the enlightened perspectives that the children and volunteers took with them as they left the Duông house, carrying forward a message of sustainable progress.
About the author:
Ngoc Linh Tran is a freelance researcher, focusing on advocating for vulnerable and minority communities. She holds a Master of Science degree from the University College of London. She previously assisisted the Climate Change Project at FES Vietnam.
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