Viet Nam News
by Phượng Vũ
The normal working day starts at 8am, but for teacher Hoàng Thị Hương in Rào Tre Village in the central province of Hà Tĩnh, the day begins three hours earlier. Not only does she reach school early to prepare her lessons, but she also visits the children’s homes to get them ready for school.
Born into a poor family in Hương Liên Commune in Hà Tĩnh, the teacher thoroughly empathises with the disadvantages of children in remote areas.
During her school days, Hương nurtured a dream of helping the youth in her hometown, which was later realised when she was assigned to work at the kindergarten in Rào Tre at the age of 20.
The village is home to 37 families comprising 134 people, all of the Chứt ethnic minority. Due to the village’s remote location and marriages among cousins, locals here suffer from a lack of awareness and poor living conditions, leaving them with a poor education, especially for children.
“There were no children on the first day I arrived at the kindergarten,” Hương recalled. “Later on, I learnt the teachers here have to go to the children’s houses and take them to school. But it is not easy. The parents might stop us because we are strangers. If they do allow us, the children themselves may not want to go.”
Hương decided to ask village patriarch Hồ Púc to help her take the children to school and bring them home after the lesson.
But it took nearly two years for parents to familiarise themselves with the teacher and for Hương to be able to take the children to school.
Now, in the morning, she enters the children’s bedrooms to wake them up and get them ready for school.
“Many people feel sorry for me when they learn I attend to the ethnic children’s personal hygiene, because the Chứt people have limited awareness on this issue. The first days were the toughest, because many children had not bathed for a long time; some of them even suffered from scabies. But, instead of being afraid, I only felt great pity for them. I have to be close to them, so if I do not take care of their personal hygiene, who will?” Hương said.
A newly built bridge has connected the remote village to the outside world, but earlier, before the bridge was built, access to the village was a huge challenge for the teachers.
For nearly 10 years, as a young teacher, Hương would swim across the swift-flowing Ngàn Sâu River to the village, using only one hand; in the other, she held her clothes.
“Summer was less severe. The most difficult time of the year for me was winter when the water level was high. One day, I slipped and fell into the gushing water but fortunately saved myself by holding onto a bush by the river,” Hương said.
Ever since her first day at the Rào Tre kindergarten, she has been using part of her meagre salary to purchase more educational tools and textbooks for the children.
Some children had still not gotten used to school, so she also bought candy to "attract" them, and rice to supplement their meals, she said.
“Children aged 3-5 years receive monthly support of VNĐ120,000 (US$6) each from the state budget, but some two-year-olds do not get any support because they are not covered under the compulsory education system. However, in order to familiarise them with school, we teachers pick them up early. That is why we have to spend our own money to support them but only partially,” she said.
Hương travels back and forth between the school and the children’s homes four times a day. At noon, she voluntarily cooks meals for them and then takes them home. In the early afternoon, after a quick lunch and tidying up her home, she returns to the children’s houses and takes them back to school.
In order to communicate with the local people more easily, Hương uses her spare time to learn the Chứt language and can now converse with the Chứt people fluently.
Despite all these difficulties, she has never complained, nor mentioned any intention of working in any other place.
“The managers of the kindergarten have suggested several times that she could change her job location, but she is determined to stay because of her attachment to the local lifestyle. In addition, new teachers have come, but no one else has been as successful in getting the students to school,” Nguyễn Thị Hoa, headmistresses of the kindergarten, said.
When asked about her current aspiration, Hương said she had no wishes for herself.
“The children have been studying at the village clubhouse, instead of a proper classroom, for such a long time. I hope there will be more investment in building new classes for better local education. Besides this, it is a bit inconvenient for me to work both as a teacher and as a cook for the children, so I also hope there will be more teachers arriving to support me.”
Hương’s immense dedication to local education was honoured last year with a certificate of merit from the Minister of Education and Training, to further encourage her efforts to help educate disadvantaged children. — VNS