Seventy-five-year-old Nguyen Tien Minh, a retired teacher dedicated to helping poor students attend school, tells Bui Quynh Hoa that his happiness does not depend on people's appreciation or merit certificates, but on his students' success in learning and in life.
Inner Sanctum: Could you tell us something about your teaching career?
I was born in 1941 to a poor family in the central province of Ha Tinh's Huong Son District. Due to my difficult circumstances, I went to school very late, at the age of 11, five years later than my friends of the same age. After graduating from high school, I joined the Viet Nam People's Army for 13 years. When the south was liberated in 1975, I returned home. At that time, it was said that it was challenging for a demob like me to take the university examination. But I did and graduated from the Teachers Training University's history department in Vinh City at the age of 40.
The path to my teaching career was hard. But if I look at it from another angle, it helped me to become more energetic, and I had a good opportunity to understand my students more. I'm proud to say that I'm a successful teacher. Students were happy to listen to my history lessons. To me, that was the best way they expressed their gratitude to me. Many of them won major prizes at national and provincial-level contests.
Inner Sanctum: Encouraging students to study brings hope and a bright future for poor students and those in difficult circumstances. It's significant, but also hard work to find financial support for them. What have you done in this regard? What were the results?
I have been participating in the society's activities since 2002. Thirteen years of working here means that for 13 years, I've gone to every household in the district to learn about their difficulties, to film and post clips about their circumstances on the Internet, and to find financial sources to support poor but good students overcome their problems and go to school.
The period spent in encouraging students to study has created a favourable environment for me to co-operate with other members in the society, as well as individuals and organisations nationwide and abroad, to raise funds for our poor students.
We raised several million dong in 2002, more than VND6 billion (about US$300,000) in 2014 and VND2.6 billion ($130,000) in the first six months of this year.
Thanks to this, many students have achieved high results. One of them is Le Minh Cuong, a boy who used to catch birds in the forest to get enough money to be able to go to school. Supported by the society, Cuong received a VND180-million scholarship at the Quoc Van Private High School for his study and accommodation over three years. He became the first laureate of the HCM City Teachers' Training University.
Nguyen Chinh Thuy was another poor boy who received a scholarship with the society's help, and became the runner-up of the national physics contest. He is one of those competing in physics in the international arena.
Many others have graduated from colleges and universities and have stable jobs.
Several campaigns have been implemented in the district too, such as "One day per week without coffee", "Saving VND2,000 each month" or "Raising pigs for Spratly Islands ".
Inner Sanctum: Does your family support your work? It's said 'do-gooders should know that charity begins at home.'
At first, my family and neighbours did not support me and looked at me as a "strange" one. But their attitude changed gradually, after seeing the significance of my work and the results it brought to the poor children.
Inner Sanctum: At the age of 75, do you face any challenges while using applications such as Facebook, Zalo or Viber in your work?
You're right to say old people are not comfortable with advanced technology. The initial days are always difficult. I faced lots of difficulties in making acquaintance with and using Facebook, Zalo or Viber skillfully in my work at first. But now, it's okay. I can do it.
In my opinion, I should be able do things that people know too.
Inner Sanctum: How do you feel about your work?
I think I'm a happy guy, though life is hard.
To me, happiness is not about how many certificates of merit I have or people's applause. It is about my students' success in learning and life. — VNS