Nguyễn Thị Ngọc Tâm instructs students in her special class in Yên Quang Commune, Ý Yên District, Nam Định Province. VNA/VNS Photo Nguyễn Lành
NAM ĐỊNH — Nguyễn Thị Ngọc Tâm may not have finished high school, but that doesn't stop her teaching children in Yên Quang Commune, Ý Yên District, Nam Định Province.
Suffering from brittle bone disease (osteogenesis imperfecta), Tâm has overcome difficulties to fulfil her dream of becoming a teacher.
At the age of 30, she weighs 15kg and is confined to a wheelchair but sets a bright example for people with disabilities with a "down but not out" spirit.
Osteogenesis imperfecta (OI) is a genetic disorder meaning a person's bones break easily. People with OI also have weak muscles and bone deformities.
Tâm can't remember how many times she's broken a bone, as just a change in posture can break one of her bones.
As she has aged, her health problems have multiplied to include heart, lung and stomach problems.
Due to her illness, Tâm started the first grade when she was 8.
Tâm still vividly remembers her first days at the primary school when she couldn't do anything but sit and listen to her teacher.
Seeing his daughter struggle to study every day, Tâm's father decided to help her learn and after only two days, she could memorise the alphabet. Since then, with an extraordinary will, she has been an outstanding student.
Despite her eagerness to study, Tâm was forced to drop out of education after graduating from secondary school as her family couldn’t afford a motorbike to bring her to the high school that was 15km away from home. In the meantime, her health was worsening.
Undeterred, Tâm decided to fulfil her dream in her own way – opening a free classroom to tutor students from the first to eighth grade who live nearby or anyone who needs her help.
"Working as a teacher is difficult for normal people, but it is 10 times harder for people with disability like Tâm," said Nguyễn Thanh Sự, Tâm's mother.
Sự said she felt sorry for her daughter after seeing how hard she worked.
Over the past 16 years, hundreds of students have been taught by Tâm. As her reputation spread, people from more than 20km away started to come to her classroom – a class with five 'nos' (no chalk, no blackboard, no podium, no lesson plan and no fee). However, it is always full of love.
To enrich her knowledge, Tâm has bought many books and learned teaching techniques. Her family also gives a helping hand by preparing lunch for those who live far away.
Nguyễn Thành Nam, a local student, said he goes to Tâm's class twice a week.
"I find it interesting. We have a lot of fun," he told VTV.
Nguyễn Vũ Long, another student, said although the way Tâm taught was quite different from other teachers with no blackboard, he liked learning in her class, adding that it was easier for him to understand.
A lot of memories of her students fill her mind but one stands out.
“It was early 2018, a child with mental problems was admitted to my class. The student could not recognise or memorise the alphabet.
“Knowing that the child liked drawing, I thought of ways to associate letters with pictures of animals,” she said. And it worked.
After learning with Tâm, the child is now able to read and write.
When asked whether it is difficult to keep going without collecting a fee from the students, Tâm said: “Actually I think if we think it is difficult then it will be difficult … As long as my health is strong enough and the students still love me, I will continue my journey.”
To help disadvantaged students, Tâm has set up a study encouragement fund.
Although the gifts are just humble books and pens, they encourage students to strive academically.
The funding mainly comes from her online work, writing poems and short stories for newspapers.
Her efforts have paid off as many students from her class have enrolled in universities in Hà Nội.
Tâm loves reading as much as learning and teaching and she often asks for old books from others.
Besides tutoring the students, writing poems is also one of Nguyễn Thị Ngọc Tâm's hobby. Photo courtesy of Nguyễn Thị Ngọc Tâm
She now has a small library with more than 1,500 books of different fields ranging from textbooks to comics.
"I live in a rural area, so I understand the importance of a library to people here. I hope that students can grasp more knowledge beyond school textbooks."
"Books are a treasure trove of knowledge," Tâm said.
Each student in her class is guided to choose books that were suitable for their age.
Tâm has also worked with private libraries to exchange books to diversify the selection for readers.
Nguyễn Thị Hoan, chairwoman of Yên Quang Commune's Women Association, said despite having difficulties in daily life, Tâm managed to improve knowledge for local students.
"Tâm does not only give them more knowledge in learning but also how to behave with other people to make them more perfect and become useful people for society," she said.
Despite her poor health, Tâm is still active in charitable activities and takes part in exchange programmes, calling on other people to overcome their difficulties and do good deeds for society.
As she said: “It does not matter how long we live, it is important that we lead a life of value, bringing happiness to others”. — VNS