by Phuong Mai
|Hands on: Muoi and a teacher check studies of a student in a classroom at a local centre. She has sought funding to support her charity and has used her own money for class materials. — VNS Photo|
Lu Thi Huyen Nuong, also known as Mrs Muoi, is recognised by residents of Tan Thuan Tay Ward in HCM City for her efforts to help street children. Her round face, friendly smile and warm voice are comforting to the disadvantaged youngsters who take part in her education programme.
Muoi was nearly 60 years old in 2002 when she saw students from the charity Tuong Lai (Future) programme teaching groups of homeless children on a District 7 pavement.
Scrawny, untidy children were distracted from the lecture by the busy street noise. The compassion inside her rose up, and the idea of finding a better classroom for these children was born.
She shared her concerns with her husband, who was also retired. Fortunately, her husband sympathised with her idea and encouraged her to take care of the street children. So the old couple's little house became the children's first classroom.
Muoi searched for a group of homeless children and young beggars and opened her class. Her frequent searches for street children to take part in her charity classes didn't go unnoticed. People in the district became familiar with the old lady riding an old bicycle in search of kids who needed help.
Thanks to her encouragement, a lot of children have joined the class over the years. At its height, the class hosted 60 students. These numbers were not only a measure of success but also posed a new challenge. Her little house was too small for so many students. Muoi eventually had to borrow a room from a population group to hold all of her students. Finally, she started using an abandoned warehouse as her classroom.
After all her worthy efforts, a public study centre opened just after this year's Tet (Lunar New Year) holiday. "Mrs Muoi's class" moved to the centre.
|Comforting presence: Mrs Muoi encourages a poor student from her charity class. — VNS Photo|
Although the centre is fairly small, with a sagging roof, old walls and peeling paint, Muoi and the children are completely elated. In the classroom, the sunlight makes the roof look broken and curved. There are not enough electric fans so the classroom is sweltering. But despite the discomforts, the teachers and students passionately teach and study. It seems that nothing can keep them from absorbing knowledge.
"There are a lot of challenges to overcome but many children want to study here even before I ask them to do so. Many children say studying is their passion," she says, as her face beams brightly.
"This endeavour has proven that it's good to give street children food, but it's even better to give them the tool of knowledge so they can make their own money," Muoi says with a happy smile. Although they study in difficult conditions, most of her students work hard. They even take the initiative to study on their own time.
The students differ in age and situation, but share similar disadvantaged destinies. Their hard lives make these children seem older than their years.
Most of the children are not accustomed to following rules so some decide to drop out when they are disciplined by the teacher. Muoi has been forced to spend time looking for the drop outs to convince them to return to class.
"When I saw that a number of students were absent, I called Muoi to let her know. Although she was busy, she stopped everything to look for the students and persuaded them to return to class," says teacher Nguyen Ngoc Nga.
Muoi has volunteered her time for the last 11 years, and has made a lot of efforts to seek funding and other support from locals to maintain her charity.
However, difficulties still await her and the children in the future.
In addition to finding students, Muoi has to find enthusiastic teachers to teach the children for little financial compensation. Although the teachers don't mention it, she still pays each of them VND600,000 ($31.2) per month. There are currently three teachers at the centre who take turns teaching twice per day.
With many other expenses, Muoi's pension and her husband's were not enough to keep the class running. She has to sell rice to earn some of the extra money the class needs. But in the end, she only makes about half of what is required. The rest still depends on donors. The money hasn't exactly poured into the class, but Muoi is humble about her work and says that others in her shoes would do the same.
The centre's director, Lam Thu Hue, says: "In the past few years, Mrs Muoi has done magical things that other staff could not do. Though her family is not rich, she is fairly old and her health is declining, she has helped equip many underprivileged children with the knowledge they need in life."
Looking at the class, it's easy to see all of the efforts she has made in the past eight years. Although the centre is poor, street children still have access to Muoi's classes. Her only concern at the moment is how to help the children learn enough to secure a job and earn a living. — VNS