Viet Nam News
HÒA BÌNH — Around 10pm in the mist and cold of a winter night, Ngần Quốc Việt and Phùng Bá Thanh - teachers at the Tân Dân secondary school in Hòa Bình Province - wore headlamps around their foreheads, wrapped themselves in coats and took cautious steps on a steep, slippery slope that led to the Đà River.
Breath came out of their mouths while beads of sweat ran down their foreheads. They collected fish in their net then put them in their baskets.
Located on a small, arid hill in Mai Châu District too far from local markets, Tân Dân secondary school can hardly provide its 60 boarding students with fresh food.
Coming from poor families and visiting home only on weekends, the one-week portion of food that these students bring to school often runs out by midweek.
Feeling a tug at their heartstrings watching their students get by with only rice, the school’s teachers decided to purchase a fishing lift net to catch fish from the Đà River to improve student meals.
They often place the lift net in the river at 4-4:30am in the summer and 5am in the winter and collect the fish at 9-10pm of the same day.
“On average we catch 5-7kg per night, 10-15kg if we’re lucky,” teacher Thanh said.
“Unlike professional fishermen, we can only catch small fish, like anchovies that are the size of two fingers,” he added.
Residing near the school, Thanh has experienced the difficulty of getting fresh food and vegetables. Sometimes his wife has to cook the leaves of their papaya tree or wild green apple eggplants that grow in the nearby forests, he said.
Sometimes his students asked for the papaya leaves or noodle seasoning to mix with rice, Thanh added.
“I bought them raw fish and fresh vegetables a few times from local markets, but my teaching salary couldn’t keep up,” he said.
With over 108 students, many of whom come from financially challenged households of the Mường and Tày ethnic minorities, worries abound. The school’s principal Hà Mạnh Quyết expressed concerns towards the students who do well in school but faced indigent family circumstances that put their education in jeopardy.
The most recent case was Đinh Văn An, whose father passed away from cancer when he was little. He quit school after finishing the 9th grade to support his mother, even though he was doing well at all subjects and was on the school’s advanced math team.
Parents of Đinh Văn Nam, a 7th grader in the school’s advanced English team, are both having kidney issues. His father has moved to Đà Nẵng City to find work, leaving Nam at home with his mother and grandmother.
Even though Nam’s house is only 6km away from school, the school still allows him to join the boarding students and stay at school so that he can focus on studying, principal Quyết said.
Teaching a diverse body of students is a challenge, especially when it comes to teaching students who were born out of consanguineous marriages, said teacher Ngần Quốc Việt.
“We have several inbred students who tend to take longer to learn,” Việt said. “There are some 6th graders who are yet to read fluently, requiring extra teaching time and attention from teachers,” he said.
Teachers of the school take care of their students at their best efforts, said principal Quyết. They taught extra classes at night without getting paid and asked their acquaintances to donate used clothes and old textbooks for their students, he said.
“We want to create the best studying environment for our students, but I think we can only do so much,” he added. — VNS