Viet Nam News
BÌNH ĐỊNH — A handicapped man in the central province of Bình Định has been giving extra classes for disadvantaged children in his hometown for the last 30 years, totally free of charge.
The ‘special teacher,’ as the locals call him, is Lê Quốc Hưng, 52, a resident of Tuân Lễ village, Phước Hiệp Commune, Tuy Phước District.
Born to a poor farming household, Hưng was ‘haunted’ from a very young age by the rare terminal diseases that local villagers contracted but did not have the money to treat. His dream was to go to Huế Medical School, become a good doctor and help his villagers.
But his dream was forever dashed in a cruel twist of fate, when he was in the 12th grade, just a year from the university entrance examinations. He began develop symptoms of ankylosing spondylitis – an inflammatory arthritis that gradually cause the vertebrae in the spine to ‘fuse’ – making him unable to sit properly.
It started with a numbing ache in the limbs, then swollen joints, and he struggled to move. Hưng’s parents were devastated, but without losing hope, they spent every last penny of their savings to find a cure. It proved futile.
After 5 years of treatment with no hope of recovery, from an energetic, robust young man, Hưng became miserable, withdrawn and avoided everyone.
“Sometimes, I just wanted to die, relieving my family of the burden that I had become. It pained me no end when my old parents had to take care of me when I was already a grown man. My life was bound by four walls,” he said, recounting the dark days to the Nông thôn ngày nay (Countryside Today) newspaper. “I felt useless. No dreams, no friends, no love.”
Roused to action
And then, one day, seeing children in the village so happy just to be able to go to school, despite their hungry stomachs and lack of basic things, something in Hưng snapped.
He realised that he could only wallow in self-pity for so long. “This is it,” he thought, “It’s time that I get up and start doing something useful.”
At 23, the age that Hưng could have graduated from the medical school if the spine disease had spared him, he opened extra classes for poor children in the village right at home.
He started his little project by borrowing textbooks from local children to figure out what is being taught in schools, and how best to convey his knowledge to them.
“At first, there were only a few children who came. The house had just one bed, so I bought a mat in place of real desks.
At first, he only taught the poor children who didn’t have enough money to go to school, but gradually, his classroom was joined by an increasing number of students who wanted to understand better what they’d been taught at school.
It was not easy.
“It’s hard to have to constantly stand, but somehow I had to withstand the pain as I tried to teach.”
Over 30 years, after hearing of him through word of mouth, generations students have ‘graduated’ from his makeshift classes without having to pay a single cent.
As for the teacher himself, he lived humbly on the State allowance of VNĐ400,000 (US$17.6) a month, and on the free meals that his neighbours gave him as a sign of appreciation.
In the room that is barely 20sq.m, three times a week, his class is packed with students as early as eight in the morning.
It is very difficult to Hưng to move around, but pays individual attention to every student, helping them to write property, spell correctly, and make accurate calculations.
Lê Hoàng Liêm, a 5th grade student of Tuân Lễ village, said studying with Hưng was “a lot of fun,” so he could absorb the knowledge faster and more naturally.
“I can ask Teacher Hưng problems and questions I can’t ask teachers in schools,” Liêm said.
Students who live as far as 10 kilometres away from his home, have no hesitation to cover the long distance to study with the ‘special teacher.’
Nguyễn Tấn Định, vice chairman of the Phước Hiệp Commune, has nothing but the highest praise for the dedicated special teacher.
“Lê Quốc Hưng is a brilliant example of extraordinary willpower to overcome hardship. Despite his unfortunate condition, he has brought joy and knowledge to generations of students. He’s truly someone worth looking up to,” Định said.
Teacher Hưng’s only wish for now is to remain healthy enough to be able teach for at least a few dozens of years more.
“My study was unfortunately cut short, so I want to dedicate my life to be a teacher to these children. Now, my unfulfilled dream would be vicariously achieved by them.
“There are students who have graduated from colleges, got a job and started families. Sometimes they return to visit me and they still call me ‘teacher,’ and that really makes me happy.” — VNS