|Child patients are tutored by volunteer teachers. — VNA/VNS Photo Thuỳ Giang|
HCM CITY — It was two o’clock on a Friday afternoon when 13-year-old Lê Văn Tiến stepped into a tiny classroom behind the Pediatrics Department at HCM City Hospital of Oncology.
Through his hand, intravenous fluid was still being administered.
It had been five months since Tiến’s last lesson at school.
“After being diagnosed with leukemia, I had to postpone my studies to receive treatment,” he said. “Chemotherapy and bone marrow exchange sessions knocked me down. I learned about the class three months ago but could not make it until now.”
When his condition stablised, Tiến enrolled in this special class.
In the 25sq.m room, 10 little students were focusing on their own lessons. Tiến was being instructed by a university student on how to solve eighth-grade math problems.
“I was shy at first about studying with other friends; some were younger than me,” he said.
But Tiến’s desire for knowledge overruled his initial doubts, helping him overcome his physical pains.
Tiến has also become an assistant to Jessica, a foreign volunteer teaching English, and his help is appreciated by the younger patients.
To the hospital’s doctors, Tiến is a bridge with the other patients.
Born in the southern province of Bình Dương to poor migrant workers from Ninh Thuận and Quảng Nam provinces, Tiến used to be a brilliant student.
But Tiến’s life turned onto a new path on a summer day last year when he was hospitalised after a prolonged high fever.
Having been transferred between a number of medical facilities in HCM City, he finally settled at the Institute of Hematology and Blood Transfusion.
“He had to quit school for treatment,” said Lê Thị Hường, Tiến’s mother. “My world just fell apart.”
On their darkest days, Tiến, however, brought his parents hope.
Having received four chemotherapy sessions out of nine so far, Tiến expects his body can handle the treatments and he can soon return to school.
“He cried a lot, not because of pains but because hair kept falling out,” said Hường. “He felt ashamed with his friends and was upset not being able to study.”
“Recently, as the dose is lighter and his hair grows again, Tiến is regaining his confidence,” she said.
The special classroom was established more than decade ago by Đinh Thị Kim Phấn, a local teacher.
Not just a place to study, the classroom is where young patients seek inspiration and hope through the most painful period of their lives.
In 2007, Phấn was voluntarily teaching school-age patients.
Two years later, the hospital’s board of directors decided to open a free learning space for children right inside the pediatrics department.
Ten teachers and some 40 volunteers are now in charge of teaching mathematics, literature and English to the special students.
Since 2009, nearly a thousand patients have studied in the classroom. Some 700 student notebooks are kept in its archive.
“Tiến is smart and humble,” said Phấn. “I hope he can overcome the disease and continue pursuing his study.”
The desire to learn has become the fuel for these little cancer warriors to fight against their unimaginable pain.
And at the end of the dark tunnel, the classroom helps them see light.
“I want to be an architect to help my parents,” Tiến said. “If I had a wish, it would be to recover so that I can come back to school soon.” — VNS