Viet Nam News
by Nguyễn Việt Dũng
HCM CITY — At the end of the school day, the students at The Sacred Heart in HCM City often dash home without taking the time to change their uniforms or even take a shower so they can help their parents sell lottery tickets or cassava.
The charity school, located in Tân Thông Hội Commune in the city’s Củ Chi District, was opened in the 1990s by Vietnamese nuns who belong to the Catholic congregation Sisters of Our Lady of the Mission, which is dedicated to helping poor women and children around the world.
Around 180 primary school students are taught English, maths, literature and arts in addition to Christian values at the school five days a week. Textbooks and clothes are either bought by the school or donated.
The school also pays school fees, books and clothes for 36 students who are now attending public secondary school, and if the students later decide to attend university, Sacred Heart tries to help them find jobs while they study.
Because of a limited budget, the school can provide lunch on only two days of the week.
In the past, some of the children even fainted in class because of hunger. For the past three years, donated milk has been given to students every other morning, which has helped relieve any hunger pains.
However, the school recently ran out of milk and is waiting for more donations.
Many of the children’s families are Vietnamese who were forced to flee from Cambodia where they were living.
The families cannot afford public school in Việt Nam and some of the children are not eligible for public school since their parents cannot get birth certificates for their children. Some of the children’s parents have either separated or divorced.
Because many families are poor and want their children to work, the nuns try to encourage the parents to enroll their children in school.
Sister Nguyễn Thị Hào, who oversees the school’s activities, said: “We work really hard to educate parents about the importance of education, but some of them do not understand. Sometimes we have to support them and give them rice so their kids can go to school.”
“Occasionally parents just force their kids to quit school. Some kids cry when that happens. We feel sad because there’s nothing we can do about it,” she added.
“We try to have meetings with parents to teach them how to raise their kids and encourage their kids to go to school, and give them information about family planning methods.”
Students at The Sacred Heart sing Merry Christmas. – VNS Photo Việt Dũng
Since the school has little publicity, it often relies on word-of-mouth information. Donations are made by the nuns’ friends, outside sources, and past students who are now working stable jobs.
Former students also return to the school and help out with activities such as cooking, fixing electronic equipments and decorations.
Still, without stable sources of donations, the school struggles to provide for all of the children
Some children as old as 12 cannot read. “When I see that these kids don’t know how to read and write, I have to do what I can to teach them these skills and about morals,” Sister Hào said.
Meals at the school are cooked by volunteers who refuse to accept payment, while teachers receive very little salary and often have to work extra jobs.
Trần Thị Kim Sáng, a teacher who has worked at the school for 10 years, said: “I used to work at a supermarket, but when I heard the school was short on teachers, I decided to quit. This school actually pays some teachers to get a higher education so we can return and be better teachers. I’m 50, but I went to university to get my degree.”
“My family fled from Cambodia, too. We moved to Việt Nam when I was five years old. That’s why I sympathise with these kids and I want to give them love and the education they deserve.”
Sister Hào said: “Some people ask us how we can live since we have so little money. It’s because we have very strong faith and we (nuns) pray together for hours. Because we pray a lot, we receive gifts from ‘above’. We also do not misuse donations, so donors have faith in us.” — VNS