|Labour of love: Dac Thi Tam teaches blind students to write, going to each one, holding their hands and patiently instructing them how to write, one letter at a time.— VNA/VNS Photo|
by Luong Thu Huong
Upon meeting Dac Thi Tam for the first time, one can hardly believe that this small slender woman can possess the strong will and determination that is needed to overcome life's struggles.
In both jobs, as a teacher of blind students and as Chairwoman of the Quoc Oai Blind Association, Tam overcomes all obstacles and fulfils her duties successfully, which is particularly heroic because Tam is blind herself.
The youngest of six children from a poor family in Quoc Oai, Ha Noi, Tam suffered from many disadvantages beginning in early childhood because of her innate low vision.
Like other children her age, Tam was anxious to go to school. Her vague image of the teacher delivering lectures from the platform left such a strong impression on Tam's mind that from the age of eight, she began nurturing the dream of becoming a teacher.
"At that young age, I admired my teachers so much, because they taught me so many interesting and useful things. I wanted to be as knowledgeable as my teachers and to be able to share my knowledge with my beloved students," Tam says.
Unfortunately, Tam believed her dreams were shattered when she lost all of her eyesight during the second term of third grade. Because of their poverty, Tam's family could not afford the price to save her eyes.
"The first days living in total darkness were difficult for me, because I felt lonely and frustrated when I had to stay at home while my friends went to school," Tam says.
However, the burning wish of becoming a teacher continued to smoulder in Tam's mind. Not allowing herself to surrender to fate, Tam decided to study Braille and graduated from the Nguyen Dinh Chieu high school for the sight-impaired people in 1997. She continued to pursue her teacher studies at the Centre for Function Rehabilitation for the Disabled in Ha Noi.
"My ‘fairy-tale' days began after I finished the nine-month course and became a teacher at the Ha Noi Blind Association. When I look back, I have no idea how I had such strong will," Tam confides.
Teaching is not an easy career even for a normal person, but the difficulties facing a teacher are multiplied when both teacher and students are blind.
Tam's first students were children ranging from six to 15 years old. In normal classes, the students can look at what is written on the board and listen to the teacher lecture from the platform. However, Tam had to teach her blind students by going individually to each one, holding their hands and patiently instructing them how to write one letter of the alphabet at a time, which was very arduous and time-consuming.
"I used to teach my students in two groups: groups who had already learned the alphabet and groups who were illiterate. Helping the students in the second group to memorise the entire alphabet was a much harder process," Tam says.
In addition to her dedicated work as a teacher, Tam also played the role of a caring elder sister to the young children.
"Some of my small students cried a lot because they felt homesick and overwhelmed. I used to console them by hugging them and telling them fairy tales to alleviate their sadness," she says.
One of Tam's biggest difficulties as a teacher was finding textbooks because learning materials for the blind were very rare. So, she took responsibility for compiling suitable teaching materials. At times, Tam was forced to stay up late at night to properly prepare for the next day's lessons.
Despite all the difficulties, Tam still found great happiness in teaching. She says her students were all well-behaved and obedient. Whenever she was sick and unable to teach, they would visit her and took great care of her, which made her realise how honourable and wonderful it was to be a teacher.
"I'll never forget the day one of my students was making his great effort to spell a word again and again. It's very encouraging for me to do my best to pass on knowledge to my beloved students," Tam says.
Tam's love for teaching has paid off and hundreds of her blind students having escaped illiteracy to find stable jobs. On special occasions such as Teacher's Day, Tam's house is full of flowers from those who want to express gratitude to their dear teacher.
In 2008, after more than ten years of deep attachment to teaching blind students, Tam was assigned a new role: Chairwoman of the Quoc Oai Blind Association.
It was a tough decision for Tam at that time to leave teaching; however, knowing that as chairwoman of the blind association in her hometown she would be able to do more to help the blind, Tam agreed to take on the new challenge.
Thanks to two years of significant effort by Tam, literacy courses as well as career training classes for the blind such as massage, acupuncture, toothpick sharpening, and broom making have been opened, offering more career opportunities for the blind in her hometown.
"Even though my new role demands much more effort, I still like it a lot because I can help other blind people like myself," Tam says.
Despite being busy with her new leadership role, Tam never wants to stop studying. Any spare time she has is spent on learning computing and English, "because I don't want to be backward in this era of globalisation", she says smiling.
"When I have the time and my English has improved, I want to enrol in an in-service course on economic law. After finishing the course, I will continue to pass my knowledge on to my students," says Tam about her plans for the future.
With such strong determination, Tam has really set an inspiring example of how to overcome disadvantages and becoming successful in life. — VNS