Viet Nam News
HÀ GIANG — Hầu Thị Cá, a three-year-old ethnic Mông girl, lives in Thào Chư Phìn Village and it takes her two hours of climbing up and down mountains to go to school.
In this new school year, Cá’s parents took her and her five-year-old brother to the Thào Chư Phìn School and told two teachers, “If you want them to go to school, you must feed them and bring them up.”
Like Cá’s parents, many other ethnic Dao minorities take their children, often aged between three and five years old, to school, leave them there all week and return home.
At first, two teachers Chu Thị Nhì and Nguyễn Thị Hồng were discouraged.
“I feel tired when looking after my five-year-old child, but now I have 14 students, like 14 children. The smallest is too small to speak fluently, and cried whenever she sees the teacher,” said Hồng.
During the first month of the school year, Nhì and Hồng took turns to lie besides the smallest student so that she would think they were her mother. Nhì and Hồng also had to bathe and feed the student.
“We work from 6am to 11pm. When we return home at the weekend, we have dark rings under our eyes,” Hồng told Thanh Niên newspaper.
Nhì added, “When a small student cries at night, we must hold them, and ask older ones to translate what they say.”
Nhì remembered that by the beginning of November last year, four-year-old Hầu Thị Chúa had a bellyache and vomited at night. Nhì and Hồng had to travel through the forest, climbed up and down mountains for two hours to a communal medical station. At dawn, the two teachers returned to school with scratched faces.
“We held each other and cried. Fortunately, the student was safe,” said Nhì.
Students of the Thào Chư Phìn School take a nap after lunch. — Photo thanhnien.vn
Carrying food up the mountain
On Sunday afternoon, Nhì and Hồng drove an old motorbike to transport vegetables, meat, fish sauce and salt, traveling for more than 40km from their house in Tam Sơn Town to Bát Đại Sơn Commune. They leave the motorbike, and then carry the food up the Bát Đại Sơn Mountain to reach the school.
“The mountain is full of obstacles and we can easily fall down if we are not careful,” said Nhì.
It takes them two hours to crawl up the mountain.
Reaching the school, Hồng lights up an oil lamp whereas Nhì slices and roasts pork to prepare food for their students. When they run out of pork, they will have chicken and roasted peanuts.
The two teachers go to bed early, because it is the most peaceful night for them during the week. The next day, they will look after 33 students in the day and 14 ones at night. The 14 are between the age of three and five.
Chu Thị Nhì, 39, has two sons. Her first son studied far from home, and the second son is five years old. All of her family work is done by her husband Mai Đức Trung, who is deputy chairman of Bát Đại Sơn Commune.
“I intended to take my second son to my school, but the mountain was too high and I cannot carry him,” she said.
Nguyễn Thị Hồng, 28, also has two sons. Seeing Hồng work hard at school, her husband Lẻo Đức Trung gave up work for a year to help.
As Bát Đại Sơn Commune is a remote area, local residents worry that the two teachers could be kidnapped, so they assigned Hầu Mí Lùng, 50, to look after the two teachers, and help them in taking care of the students.
Cứ Mí Say, a local resident, also came to help. Say, 35, is blind and not married.
“If the two teachers do not come here, the village will be very sad,” said Say.
All people in the village love the teachers. They share their pork, chicken and all their specialities such as maize powder and maize liquor.
Every afternoon, local residents help Nhì and Hồng cook meals so they have a little free time.
Hồng said, “Choosing the job of teacher in a poor remote area, I accept difficulties and hard work. I have a rest when I feel tired, and everything will be all right gradually.”
The 33 students of the Thào Chư Phìn School receive an allowance of VNĐ139,000 (US$6) per student per month. For the 14 students who stay at the school all week, their parents hand in VNĐ30,000 ($1.3) per month. — VNS