by Chi Lan
The scenes were hectic and familiar, but there were some important differences.
This year marked the first time that the university entrance exam and the high school graduation exam were combined. It was also the first time in 40 years that the mercury topped 40 degrees Celsius in the capital city.
These conditions made the work done by student volunteers during the four days of entrance exams all the more remarkable. The eagerness, enthusiasm and sincerity with which they helped high school students chase their dreams of a university education was very much in evidence.
The deep blue shirts of volunteers were seen all over the place – at school gates, bus and train stations, houses renting rooms for students, cheap eateries. With unfailing politeness and patience, they helped the students as well as their parents, many of whom were setting foot in Ha Noi for the first time. They showed the visitors where the exams would be held, helped them find accommodation, and gave them free water and meals that they, the volunteers, had cooked early in the morning.
They even went as far as lining up as a living separator in the middle of major streets to ensure that traffic jams would not prevent students from getting to their examination centres on time.
Sweat running freely down their faces, the dedicated volunteers either held hands or held a rope to divide two lanes on the roads, helping maintain order as the large number of candidates and their parents descended on a centre at the same time.
Nguyen Thi Phuong, a candidate from Nam Dinh Province told the Tri Thuc Tre (Young Intellectuals) online newspaper that the volunteers were very dedicated and helped her a lot.
"Though it was extremely hot, they (the volunteers) still stood on the road to maintain the traffic rules, which I am deeply grateful for," she said.
Yet, when photographs of the students as traffic separators went viral on the news networks and social networks like Facebook, there was some criticism.
Tran Kim Chi, who's daughter was a candidate, said her heart broke when she saw the students, just a few years older than her own child, standing in the middle of the road under the blazing sun.
"I was sitting in the shadow of a tree and it was unbearably hot. The organisers should have found better measures than having these kids standing in 45 degree (Celsius) heat. Their health should be a top priority," Chi said.
I think Chi has made a valid point.
Though the volunteers themselves said they were very happy to help despite the exhaustion, we need to ask very seriously if that sacrifice was necessary.
There is no question that the measure was effective in directing traffic and keeping it flowing, but couldn't temporary dividers have done the trick?
Deputy Secretary of the Ha Noi Party Committee, Nguyen Khanh Binh, did not see anything amiss.
"Iron barriers and trees would not be as effective as a line of volunteers. A ‘living separator' is very effective in maintaining traffic order," he told the told Dan Viet (Vietnamese Folks) paper.
I cannot claim any expertise in traffic management, but I do believe that there are always better ways of doing things, and we should keep an eye out for them.
We can and should celebrate our young volunteers and be grateful for the uncomplaining spirit with which they have worked so hard, but we should not stop there.
"Working hard and working smart sometimes can be two different things," former US Senator Byron Dorgan once said.
The Ho Chi Minh Youth Union, which organised the volunteers, has done a good job, but it should not pat itself for a job well done. It can, and should do better. It can work a bit harder at working smarter. — VNS