Viet Nam News
HCM CITY — On a Saturday morning in September, a special first day of school took place in a small room at HCM City’s Tumour Hospital.
What made this first day special was that all the students were patients being treated at the hospital. Children of any age are welcome, and they all suffer from various types of cancer.
As the class started, in a room dedicated by the hospital, music played and the children sang songs.
The parents, watching from behind, couldn’t help but shed a tear as the youngsters smiled and clap their hands to the music. Some even had IV drips attached as they enjoyed themselves.
Đinh Thị Kim Phấn, 60, a retired teacher, has been holding lessons for children at the hospital for the past ten years.
In 2009, when she was still a teacher at Đuốc Sống (Living Torch) Elementary School in HCM City, Phấn volunteered to come and help children at the Tumour Hospital. She felt it would be helpful to provide the young patients with some education during their treatment.
“Most parents of the patients here are poor and can’t even afford medical bills, let alone education. But I see that the children always want to learn,” Phấn said.
At first, the kind teacher visited the patients’ beds, teaching them to read and do maths. When more wanted to learn with her, the hospital leaders offered her a room to hold classes. Phấn would visit every Friday afternoon and Saturday morning to teach and play with the children.
Later on, she got in touch with college students in the city, asking them to come and teach the patients voluntarily.
Nguyễn Đình Bách, a volunteer student, said he was inspired by Phấn and her work.
“Over the past ten years, many students in the class passed away. As each leaves, the pain stays. But Phấn was never brought down by such pain – she kept going to the hospital to spend time with the kids,” he said.
“This spirit was of great help to the sick kids, helping them overcome their pain and enjoy the time in her class,” he said.
Phấn said her purpose was simple – happiness.
“Many people asked me what I was looking for in the kids who mostly have no future due to their conditions. I said what I was looking for only doctors, their parents and they themselves can understand. It’s love, hope and joy for them as long as they live in this world,” Phấn said.
It was not that she was “immune” to loss – she can still recall moments when she received phone calls at night to hear parents saying their kids had gone, or when some kids just stopped showing up in class.
Phấn keeps more than 300 old notebooks in a corner of the classroom. These books represent 300 students that have left the class, never to return. The pages are filled with words and pictures.
“The biggest challenge for me was to fight sorrow and pain, as I often have to say farewell to my beloved students. There were times when I felt it was too much to bear and wanted to quit. But what would the rest of the class think if I stopped coming?” she said.
Unwell children seem to have a stronger desire to learn than healthy ones, she said.
“There was one child who was normally discharged on Thursday every week, but insisted on staying until Friday so he could attend the class. And there’s another who asked to have injections on her legs instead of her arms so she can use her hands to write the next day,” she said.
Such passion keeps her strong.
“I think I can still help giving some joy and some hope to them, and so I continue.”
“Tomorrow is something normal to many kids, but to these children, it’s fragile and unknown – so I want to give them smiles and joy today,” she said.
Ngô Thanh Thuỷ, head of the Paediatrics Department of the hospital, said the hospital leaders appreciated Phấn’s efforts.
“Her class is a ray of hope and faith for the kids. It is an act of pure kindness and humanity,” she said. — VNS