|Persistence: Vu Thi Tuyen works part time at a clothes shop to meet her student life needs. — VNS Photo Truong Vi
She worked long hours through primary school to support her mother, and when 18-year-old Vu Thi Tuyen finally got to go to university, she showed up with only $10 in her pocket. But she's still making it work. Do Thuy reports.
Passing the university entrance exam is very important to most high school students in Viet Nam.
When this dream comes true, most students' parents help them prepare for the next step into university life. But Vu Thi Tuyen, 18, in the Central province of Ha Tinh, enrolled in university with only VND200,000 (nearly US$10) in her pocket.
I met Tuyen on a slightly cold day. When I arrived at the shop where she works, I was impressed by her friendliness. She smiled at all the customers and helped them choose suitable clothes. But still, her eyes looked quite sad.
After Tuyen was accepted at Viet Nam National Economics University, she started working part-time as a sales representative at a clothes shop to earn money for her student life.
Tuyen's father died of cancer in 2003 when she was 6 years old. The family's burdens were placed on her mother's shoulders.
Her mother, Phan Thi Hien, 42, needed to take care of Tuyen, her brother - now in grade 10 - and her 76-year-old grandmother who was paralysed in one leg and often ill.
Tuyen's mother must work lengthy hours to support the family. Aside from field work, she cooks meals for construction workers and harvests rice for others.
Tuyen had spent her after-school hours helping her mother in domestic work.
"After classes, I often helped my mother with field work such as planting vegetables and harvesting rice," Tuyen said. "In harvest season, my mother and I were employed to harvest rice for people in the village to earn some extra money to support my family."
Despite her poverty and daily difficulties, Tuyen excelled in school. She gained the title of excellent student, and won many prizes at provincial exams in physics. She also received a scholarship from the Viet Nam National Oil and Gas Group for talented students from low-income families and the Ly Tu Trong scholarship for youth union member with outstanding achievements.
"She has attended many of the school's Youth Union activities. She is loved by teachers and friends," said Mai Van Quang, Tuyen's physics teacher at Can Loc High School.
"Tuyen often helps other students in the class to learn better," said Nguyen Thi Hien, Tuyen's friend. "We all love her."
To earn this reputation, Tuyen often studied late at night.
"In the daytime I had to work in the field, so I studied late at night to compensate for that time," Tuyen said. "For example, if I worked two hours in the field, I would study two hours that night."
Her teachers and friends also encouraged her in her studies and life. Her physics teachers lent her books during high school.
"I always wanted to change my life and help my family to have a better life," Tuyen said. "The only way to do that is by studying."
Both Tuyen and her mother wanted her to apply for the Viet Nam People's Police Academy, where she wouldn't have to pay to attend. Her marks weren't high enough for that school, so she chose National Economics University.
When she passed the exam, though, she was overwhelmed by trepidation instead of happiness. How would she make enough money to enroll in the university and pay for her life as a student?
"My mother couldn't afford to pay the enrolment fee," Tuyen said. She advised me to give up my studies."
Tuyen's mother, Hien, said she wanted her daughter to continue her studies. But the family couldn't afford to pay for it.
Tuyen said she decided to obey her mother's wishes, because she knew how difficult it was for her mother to take care of her family. She would not become her mother's burden.
"I didn't dare to convince my mother to let me continue my studies," she said. "It was too hard on my mother taking care of my grandmother and brother."
After making the decision, Tuyen cried often for months, especially as she watched her friends excitedly preparing for their university enrolment.
Finally, Tuyen's mother decided to borrow money for her daughter's studies. She borrowed VND6.9 million ($305) from acquaintances to pay for school.
Tuyen said she was ecstatic and promised her mother that she would find a job to pay for her daily life.
"After paying the fee, I had $10 in my hand," she said. "At that time, I was really worried because with that money I even couldn't share a room for two weeks."
Fortunately, an acquaintance of Tuyen allowed her to stay over for several days while she looked for a job. In the mornings, Tuyen goes to school. Then she works at the clothes shop from 2 pm to 8pm with a salary of VND1.5 million (about $67) per month.
"I use this money for rent and other essentials," she said. "In Ha Noi, food is expensive so I only buy necessary things to save my money. I often eat noodles and eggs, which my mother sends me."
While most students are supported by their families, Tuyen is mostly on her own. Coming back to her rented room at 9pm. after a long day of work, she said she sometimes pitied herself.
"That hardness is my motivation to learn well to have a better life in the future," Tuyen said. — VNS