|Overcoming adversity: Teacher Bui Thanh Hai and his wife prepare lesson plans for pupils at Ta Mung Secondary School. — VNS Photo Viet Hoang
Despite being born with malformed hands, Bui Thanh Hai, 29, from Lai Chau, managed to shine at school. He now helps disadvantaged mountainous children get ahead in life. Viet Hoang
Bui Thanh Hai, 29, from the town of Than Uyen in the northern province of Lai Chau, is the perfect example of somebody determined to overcome physical disadvantages.
In the past two years, Hai has worked as a teacher at Ta Mung Secondary School, realising his dream of educating the children in his hometown.
Despite being born into a well-to-do family, Hai's body was never like the children he grew up with. He was born with both hands deformed, causing him great difficulty when dealing with everyday actions. His disability may indeed be related to the effects of dioxin his father encountered during the war.
When he reached school age, like many children, Hai was excited to start school, but many schoolmates looked at him strangely and some even bullied him. Everytime Hai went to the blackboard to write something down, his classmates would laugh if he accidentally dropped the chalk.
Returning from school feeling depressed, he was often consoled by his mother. His parents didn't know what to do, except wipe his tears and encourage him: "Don't care about what your friends are saying, you should try to study hard, and gradually other people will understand and sympathise with you."
Following his parents' advice, Hai shrugged off what others thought about him and tried to study hard. His efforts eventually paid off, and Hai won accolades as an excellent student every year, winning also the affection of his teachers and peers.
Talking about her son, Nguyen Thi Hue, Hai's mother, says, with tear-filled eyes: "I used to spend many a sleepless night thinking about whether or not to let him attend school, and then when he did go, how to make everything as easy as possible for him."
But even Hai's parents didn't expect their son to dream of becoming a teacher for the poor children of his hometown.
"Mountain children are much more disadvantaged than those in the lowlands – their access to education is limited and if they're allowed to attend school, they tend to quit school early to work, or get married. So I wanted to become a teacher to contribute a small part to raising the intellectual standards of my poor hometown," Hai says.
In 2002, after graduating from high school, Hai sat the entrance exam for the University of Social Sciences and Humanities and Tay Bac University, the following year. Unfortunately he failed both tests. However, these failures didn't discourage him, and instead pushed him to try harder.
In 2005, Hai gained admittance to the Literature Department of Lao Cai Teachers' College, and although pleased, his parents were worried about how he would go. He began to take the first steps to realising his dream, but how could he take care of himself while living so far away from home?
Hai says smiling: "I was full of doubt in those days, wondering whether I could adapt to the this new, independent life, but I still tried to encourage my parents to believe in me. I knew that the path I had chosen would be full of difficulties, but whenever I imagined myself teaching in front of a blackboard, my motivation grew."
After three years studying at university, Hai graduated with a degree, and suddenly realised his dream was much closer.
Hai had to prepare many things before starting his teaching career, even the most trivial things like learning how to drive a motorbike and how to hold chalk. He even had to prepare for the curious eyes his students would no doubt cast at him, by telling himself one day they would understand and sympathise with him.
In August 2008, Hai was assigned to work at Ta Hua Primary School and the following year, Muong Mit Secondary School. Since last year, Hai and his fianceùe, who is now his wife, have taught at the same school, Ta Mung Secondary School.
During those first days teaching at Ta Mung School, Hai became concerned with the poor learning facilities, and grew increasingly frustrated as the blackboard remained in a constant state of repair.
During the freezing cold winters in his hometown, Hai and other teachers often launched campaigns appealing to kind-hearted people to donate old clothes for their students.
Hai even successfully helped Giang A Thai, a student who dropped out of school for an extended period, to return to his studies. He would often visit Thai's family and talk with them, and to Thai¸, to persuade him to go back to school. After learning about Hai's plight, and the difficulties he overcame to become a teacher, Thai felt great admiration for his teacher, which motivated him to return.
"Even though he has taught at Ta Mung School for only one year, Hai has patiently learnt from other teachers' experience how best to do his duty. He is a great example for other teachers and students to follow," says Nguyen Tan Dung, principal of Ta Mung School.
Hai's dream of becoming a teacher in his cherished mountain hometown has finally been realised, and he has also found joy after meeting and marrying his wife and welcoming a beautiful son into the world. Thanks to his wife's affection and care, Hai has more motivation to work and cannot be without the caring hands of his beloved wife.
The optimism, self-motivation and support of family members are such normal instincts, but they are also a precious remedy for people like Hai to summon the strength to dream and seek a fulfilling life. — VNS