Jumbo Shrimp … and no, that’s not an oxymoron.

 Duang Thi Anh Tuyet is a tiny slip of a woman—beautiful like a butterfly but in constant motion like a bumblebee.

The mother of two boys she has severe stomach problems and can’t work, but like most moms “not working” in developing countries, (or developed ones, for that matter) she does more before breakfast than most folks do all day.

Mrs. Tuyet at the edge of her shrimp pond.

Tuyet is part of a Self-Help Group that Heifer started in 2008 in her small village of Duc Tan in the Mekong Delta … and she’s made the very most of every opportunity presented to her. She got her first cow four years ago, and in record time had her first calf, passed it on to another needy family, then had another female calf.

Tuyet’s very photogenic (and curious) calf.

With the $100 in revolving loans that Heifer offers each family, she then bought 7 Muscovy ducks, 20 chickens, and a sow that is about a week away from having her third litter (and the piglets sell for $50/each). She repaid that loan, too.

An embarrassment of riches: the third litter is due in 10 days!

Not content with all that fecundity, Tuyet and her husband (who works in a rice-polishing factory for $4 – $6/day), dug a pond on their single acre of land and bought 50,000 black tiger shrimp larvae to raise in the dry season, when the salt water rises up from the sea through the Mekong River and floods their pond. The shrimp will feed for four months on plankton left behind by their saline-resistant rice crop, get bulked up for a few weeks with commercial feed, and then sell for about $3,300 – or $400 net profit.

Checking the size of her Black Tiger shrimp.

Tuyet’s beautiful 17-year old son.

With all the work she does with her animals, don’t think for a minute Tuyet is overlooking her sons. Her 17-year old is looking at universities and her 6th grader is tops in his class and earning a full scholarship – despite the fact that the family’s thatched roof house collapsed a year ago, and was only rebuilt to its current concrete sturdiness with a hand from Heifer’s Self-Help Group and its friends in government agencies.

Unfortunately, in Duc Tan, the majority of Heifer beneficiaries who got cows have sold them for easier-to-raise pigs and chickens (a faster way of earning income but subject to greater price fluctuations in the market, and diseases) but Tuyet wisely hedged her bets and raises all the above: cows, pigs, chickens and shrimp.

The final product … yummmm!

When I asked her group leader, Nguyen Van Hong, what Tuyet was doing that made her so successful with all her animals, he said, “Tuyet works very hard, harder than others. She takes care of her animals very well and knows exactly what they eat and what they need – from the good food she raises, to the vaccines she gives at the right time. She’s very precise.”

One precisely beautiful farmer

When I asked Tuyet the secret to her success, she replied, “I believe that if you try really hard, have good trainings, and are motivated, you can pull yourself out of poverty. That’s my goal.”

Tuyet is small… but she is mighty. I hope all her big dreams come true.

Categories: Animals, Farming, Heifer International, Inspiration, Photography, Travel, Vietnam, Women | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 27 Comments

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27 thoughts on “Jumbo Shrimp … and no, that’s not an oxymoron.

  1. The Vietnamese have such amazing work ethics. We Americans have much to learn from them. But, wow–what great-looking shrimp! Amazing! And I must add, Betty, that your final photo is stunning. Surely the blossom in mud deserves an award.

    • I really was so impressed with Tuyet — not least because she had a lot of health issues, but she was an absolute fireball of energy and determination – and you could tell that nothing was going to stand in her way, despite all the muddy trials she has had. That blossom was right in her yard, amidst all the ducks and chickens — and it just delighted me. Thanks for loving it, too!

  2. Judy Clements

    I love these Heifer stories! Thanks Betty.

  3. I agree n that is to be my first thought…the bright floweri in the dull mud is very cool! It must be need and want and have and the balance of these three. However our technology makes us privilege to convenience. So I don’t think it’s our fault but we must find balance and help others and maybe all of us will find the middle in this fast world. I think we can :)! Thank you Betty for informing me of real people n their struggles.

  4. Susannah

    Good story. Love shrimp. Like the flower in the mud. Your photos are always good.

  5. Another wonderful column, Betty, great insights, lovely photos.
    Hey! Happy Birthday!

    • Kate — I missed yours!!! So sorry — my calendar is totally screwed up these days but I am thinking of you and it’s LOVELY to hear from you! xoxoxxo b

  6. Deb Morrow Palmer

    Happy Birthday Betty. I love the mud and flower also!! Shrimp has always been a favorite, but the beauty of that little woman, who also battles stomach pain while she is so focused to her work, is the biggest treasure to hear about. Our country definitely needs to understand the value of working hard. All our technology has made us lazy!! I am afraid me included when I think of how hard Tuyet works!

    • Oh, Deb — I felt like the biggest slacker ever when I met Tuyet — she was literally a whirlwind of energy and how beautiful is her smile?? She really made my day!!!

  7. Each of your posts and portraits (of people AND animals!) is more beautiful than the last, Betty.

    • thanks, AA — I always wonder if people are going to get tired of these stories — but I never get tired of writing them because the people are so unique … so universal in their striving, but so unique in their particular strength and beauty!

  8. Hey, I’m in Nova Scotia, I know “Jumbo Shrimp” is not an oxymoron…. now “military intelligence” … THAT’s a good one. 🙂

    The flower in the muddy print is such a metaphor for what Tuyet has done with her life.

    Happy birthday kiddo !

    • Hey Sybil! I love your sense of humor .. and thanks for the kind words on the photo. I didn’t know exactly why I was taking that shot, just as we were leaving Tuyet’s house, but it was such a gray and rainy day and that one little petal was shining as hard as it could and i couldn’t ignore it!

  9. Very touching story! I don’t know what I’ll do when you are done on your year trip. Your writing about Heifer’s work and the people it has touched is amazing and very inspiring. Perhaps you can package it all into a book with your sensational photos? Wow.

    • TEM — I have NO idea what I’m going to do next but to just stay in one place and not meet any of these amazing people all over the globe — that’s going to be kind of depressing! Oh well — one thing leads to another! Thanks a million for your good vibes!!!

      • You and I sound a lot alike! I always get deeply saddened after an amazing experience especially one involving travel and volunteerism. I’m sure you’ll find something wonderful! 🙂

  10. Cindie

    Hi Betty, a few countries again you were discussing cows and their 2 Ms. I mentioned that I had a t-shirt that lists the 7 Ms: Milk, Meat, Money, Muscle, Manure, Materials, and Motivation. The shirts are produced by the Heifer club at the Univ of Alaska. You said you wanted one. Well, I not only got one (for you), but a second one for LuLu. Where shall I send them?

    Cindie Moore

  11. It always comes down to hard work and tenacity, and a little luck once in a while. Every post you do is an eye-opener, Betty, and a helpful slap in the head. This one was no exception.

    Happy Birthday! Was it the 8th?

  12. Yep, it was the 8th but it’s kinda hard to keep track when I’m bouncing back and forth in 12/14 hours ahead… then back, etc. BUT … I just loved Tuyet’s work ethic so much — and I always think it’s worth reminding Americans who are fed a constant diet of “people who just want to get a free handout” — to actually visualize people who are working so SO SO SO hard … just to put food on the table … and to remember that we to whom much has been given … are expected to give back. (but of course, you know this, BB — you were educated by nuns –and despite all the slaps in the head this meant — it also meant that you are AWARE) … thanks for the comment, BB!!

  13. Martha Radatz

    Me, too! She inspires me. What a woman! Thanks for telling her story.

  14. She is a person to look up to and admire. Her work ethic is commendable. And her smile is so genuine and truly from the heart.


  15. You started the post letting us know that Duang Thi Anh Tuyet
    “the mother of two boys has severe stomach problems and can’t work”
    Yet she achieved all this? Sheesh….

    Your photos are wonderful. I love the portraits of Tuyet and the shot you called “Checking the size of her Black Tiger shrimp.”

  16. Anonymous

    I really loved Tuyet’s smile and her energy was contagious — I felt like I should be digging a pond or something productive… she was truly amazing!

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