|Master of his class: Teacher Blup Du and his ethnic minority students take part in a lesson.
|Food for thought: Teacher Blup Du visits the children's cafeteria. — VNSPhotos Huynh Van My
A Ta Rieng man has devoted his whole life to bringing new cultural practices to local ethnic minorities. Huynh Van My
On a rainy afternoon in the central province of Quang Nam, I come to visit an old house on stilts of the Ta Rieng ethnic minority people in Dac Ooc Village.
The house looks like a Tay Nguyen (the Central Highlands) rong (communal house). Its owner is educator Blup Du, who has been called as a legendary teacher in this border mountainous Nam Giang District.
Du is a member of the Ta Rieng people who migrated to Viet Nam from Laos. In the province, there are only several thousand Ta Rieng people living amongst the indigenous Co Tu people.
Du looks much younger than his 60 years.
He invited me to share a few cups of ta vat, a popular brew of the Co Tu that the locals make from juice of fruits of ta vat tree. Du says: "In 1963, I was selected along with 30 other Co Tu and Ta Rieng people to take a Co Tu language course. When we finished the class, I became a teacher of Co Tu scripts for the Co Tu and Ta Rieng in this commune. I worked as a teacher until I retired in 1991."
The Co Tu written language was romanised by some revolutionary fighters who operated in the surrounding mountains.
In those first days, they lacked many things. Du and his villagers used bamboo to make tents, burned bamboo to have light, split bamboo to make "paper" and used charcoal as writing implements.
This was the first time many of Du's students encountered writing and literature, and they were overjoyed.
The young teacher was also very happy to bring these important aspects of culture to the villagers.
During the American War, Du and his students worked their own fields and also helped transport supplies for liberation fighters.
In 1968, Du slipped in the rain while carrying cargo and broke his leg. After that he had much more time to devote to teaching.
Du still teaches many Co Tu language classes to indigenous people in the vast La Dee forest area.
"Written culture exposed our people to many new and useful things. The Co Tu and Ta Rieng understood each other better, as well as the significance of learning," he recalls.
Guiding me to visit the newly built schools in La Dee and to meet his Ta Rieng and Co Tu pupils, Du says it was only after the unification of Viet Nam in 1975 that he could sit in an official classroom with a proper curriculum.
After 1976, he began teaching Vietnamese to ethnic minority adults at night in addition to his classes at the communal school.
Du walked to each village to encourage parents to send their children to school and to keep them enrolled longer. He helped them build houses for boarders and supply food to boarding students.
In his soot-blackened house, the old teacher's precious boxes of documents and souvenirs from his lifetime of teaching sit alongside baskets of rice.
Villagers, especially his former students, often visited Du. They often ask him to show them his medals and merit certificates.
Du was recognised by the State as an Excellent Teacher in 1989.
Du has taught thousands of Co Tu and Ta Rieng students, both men and women, young and old. Du can't remember all their names, but they all remember him and call him "Teacher".
Many of his students have succeeded and now hold high social positions. His own children also graduated from university.
Brao Thi Thiec, Youth Union secretary of La Dee Commune, talked about his contributions: "Teacher Du is a bright example for young people of Co Tu and Ta Rieng in this region to follow. Every time I talk with students I mention him as a good example of how to learn hard lessons and live in good ways."
Teacher Nguyen Van Hoanh, deputy principal of La Dee Primary School, talked about Du with special respect: "Although teacher Du is retired, he still helps the educational cause in our region as an advisor."
"Thanks to his reputation and whole-hearted work, difficulties in education in the region have been quickly solved." — VNS