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Schoolkids pay high price for hydro-power

Update: August, 05/2014 - 09:47
The new road that is hoped to link Dong Mam Village with the centre of Son Hai Commune. The remaining 5km of the road is yet to be completed. — VNA/VNS Photo Minh Chien

by Thu Van

BAC GIANG (VNS) — Nine-year-old Giap Van Dat and many other children from Dong Mam Village in northern Bac Giang Province don't play games going to school. Just getting there wears them out - twice a day.

Every day, Dat gets up at 5am so that he can be at school on time. Putting a bag of cooked rice and some fried eggs in his schoolbag, he gets on a small row boat on the edge of a huge hydro-power lake – and paddles like hell.

He and a friend take an average of 50 minutes to cross the lake, paddling like fury when the wind blows and the waves start lapping his tiny craft. Dat, a waif of a boy, stands at an end the boat, his little hands holding on to the paddle, which he swings like a pro. From a distance, he looks like an athlete trying to win a kayak race.

When he reaches the land, Dat and his schoolmate have to run for another 15 minutes to get to class on time at Son Hai Primary school in Son Hai Commune.

The Cam Son hydro-power reservoir, separated the rural valley commune into five separate villages. Dong Mam Village is isolated like all the rest. To get to school, 27 children from the village have to paddle or row to school by boat. Those living farthest away take up to two hours hours to get to school.

And, despite the physical strain and hardship, the children never drop a class. Nguyen Thi Hoi, Dat's mother, said going to school was the only way her son could escape a life of poverty. While making sure her little boy keeps going to class, Hoi still is deeply worried about him when the weather turns bad. "On rainy days, I'm really scared," she said, her eyes becoming moist.

But little Dat is more mature than his age would indicate. "My parents have to work, so I go to class by myself. I've got used to it," he said. "But I'm afraid of rainy and stormy days. It's scary to bump around in a boat on such days. And it's super cold in the winter."

Nguyen Thi Thao, principal of the Son Hai Primary school, said what she and other teachers want most is a road for students to travel to class safe and sound. "When the wind blows hard, the boats are really unsafe, and the children get drenched. Even we adults are scared," she said.

Road of hope

Because local authorities lack funds to build a road, Thao and other teachers have started their own fund-raising campaign. They plan to build a 16 km road will link the village with the school, making the dangerous boat rides unnecessary.

Thanks to private benefactors, about 11 km of rough road has already been built. Funding is still needed for the last 5km and to finish off the whole road surface.

While the road will not be completed by the time the new school year starts in a few weeks, Thao hopes it can be finished sooner. "I wish that my students didn't have to experience so much hardship just to get to school," she said. — VNS

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