Ex-vendor helps to eliminate illiteracy
|Hello Sa Pa: Tan Thi Su (Second row from front, first from right) and foreign volunteers pose with students. — VNS Photos Xuan Cuong
|Spreading the word: A Western volunteer teaches English to students at Su's centre.
Tan Thi Su was born into poverty and didn't go to school. Two years ago, she set up the Centre for Education and Community Development in Lao Cai to teach poor local children to read and write both English and Vietnamese. Xuan Cuong
During a trip to Sa Pa in the northern mountainous province of Lao Cai, we visited a class at the Centre for Education and Community Development established by ethnic Mong woman Tan Thi Su two years ago.
Su was born and grew up in a poor Mong family in Sa Pa District's Lao Chai Commune. Poverty prevented her from going to school, so she became a street vendor. Su overcame this by teaching herself how to speak and write Vietnamese and English fluently. This helped her to find a new job, and for the past 16 years, the 27-year-old has been working as a tour guide.
According to Su, learning to read and write played an important role in helping her to communicate with people, and helped her to find a better life. Hardships endured during her early years motivated her to open the centre to help children from similar backgrounds. Having lived through the experience herself, she understands the difficulties and disadvantage that boys and girls face when they cannot attend school.
The centre, called Sa Pa O Chau (Hello Sa Pa) in the Mong language, is situated on Hoang Lien Street. There were only 10 students to start with, but word quickly spread, and now 80 students are enrolled.
Students learn English under the instruction of foreign volunteers in the morning, and are taught Vietnamese by unpaid teachers from nearby schools in the evening.
Tran Tuyet Hanh is a teacher at a primary school 10km from Sa Pa, but she still spends her evenings helping children at the centre. "Teaching them is not difficult and I also give them lessons on living skills to help them integrate into the community. To make them understand easily, teachers need to know some of their ethnic language. Sometimes, students who sell souvenirs to tourists are more fluent in English than they are in Vietnamese," she says.
After learning how to read and write, they will move to vocational schools to study a trade. Su wants to open a coffee store to help them apply their knowledge and communication skills while earning money.
Funding for the centre comes from a variety of benefactors, including tourists. "Many tourists send money to the centre after hearing about what we do here and how hard the students work. Lots of international volunteers come here to teach and help the centre. There are also NGOs that support us, like SNV of the Netherlands," she says.
"Most of them are very poor so I have to find funding to support them. All students are provided free tuition, food and accommodation. The classes are so crowded now that we are struggling to make ends meet."
Su's proficiency in English and understanding of culture and social knowledge lead the majority of people to believe that she must have gone to a good school.
To Su, happiness in life is helping as many people as she can. In the future, she intends to establish a social enterprise to provide vocational training for ethnic children. — VNS