|Powerful Cactus Flower: Vương Thị Dung and her students in class. — Photo tienphong.vn|
by Mộc Miên
From a beautiful and lively 11th grade teenage girl,Vương Thị Dung, now 25, from Bình Tịnh hamlet, Bình Minh Commune, Thăng Bình District, Quảng Nam Province, became paralyzed overnight, had to leave school and suffered excruciating pain in the hospital. Her poems came into being in that hospital: “The flower that is invulnerable/Dare to get over the sorrow/The highest waves of hardship/I’m grateful for life…”
The lines of her poems touch the hearts of many people, just like her unyielding optimism, love for others and her faith in life. Such a sweet, gregarious woman in the eyes of her family and friends, Dung is now also a special teacher for children in the coastal village.
Amidst the sizzling summer heat in central Việt Nam, amidst the meditative sound of waves breaking on the shore, one can still hear the voices of local kids reviewing and learning their lessons by heart. Sitting on the floor behind the rows of desks neatly arranged on the front porch, they focus on the lesson and listen to their teacher, who sits in a wheelchair while talking and writing on a whiteboard.
“I think life always delivers challenges for all of us. Overcoming them helps us realise and treasure life’s value. Many poor souls out there are even more miserable than I am. The blind cannot see moving objects. The deaf cannot hear and interact with life, etc. So I want to live fully and echo the love I receive from the beloved people around me,” Dung said.
Started in 2009 with only a few of Dung’s neighbours as students, the small learning centre of this special teacher has gradually expanded since then. Now 70 students are divided into different classes. Thanks to the reputation of this dedicated teacher, more parents are signing their kids up for classes.
“In the middle of eleventh grade, my body was paralyzed and I had to stop attending school. But I still had a good grasp of basic knowledge. Later, I researched different subjects and taught myself. Now I’m comfortable and confident teaching kids from primary level to ninth grade,” Dung said.
Children from poor families study for free. Students from families with more money have to pay tuition fees. Dung is a strict teacher who administers reward or punishment whenever needed.
“If someone makes small talk in class, or does not focus on the lesson, the punishment is standing in front of class. In contrast, anyone with good results by the end of the term receives new notebooks,” former student Nguyễn Phước Vương said.
|Volunteer service: Vương Thị Dung instructs citizens to participate in May 2016 General Election.|
Trần Thị Đào, Dung’s mother, said Dung was an active and independent girl when she was small. To support her parents, she spent her summer vacation washing dishes and working for food stalls and cafes in Đà Nẵng. She saved all she earned to support her parents and earned good grades at school.
One morning Dung’s parents found their child with a high fever, her body and limbs paralyzed. Dung was taken to different hospitals in Quảng Nam and Huế, but the doctors couldn’t identify her medical condition. She was finally diagnosed with the myelitis cervicalis. Since then, Dung has grown accustomed to her wheelchair. She practised basic physical therapy exercises like holding, grabbing and moving.
Despite the illness and physical limitations, Dung used her sense of humor to lighten the somber atmosphere in the hospital; doctors and patients grew fond of her. Dung started to practise writing again; swollen fingers from grabbing the pen did not deter her.
With her knowledge and insatiable quest for learning, Dung was trusted and asked by villagers to help write letters, scholarship applications, public documents, etc. Dung is also a member of Bình Minh Commune’s volunteer group, which asks donors to support poor families.
Mother as idol
While Dung’s father went fishing most of the time, Dung and her siblings grew up in the care of their mother, who raised six beautiful kids with her baskets full of fish and seafood. When Dung got sick, her mother quit her job to support her daughter, took Dung to hospitals, supported her daily activities, and more.
Dung was touched and inspired by her mother’s unconditional love and sacrifice. In a writing competition sponsored by Phụ Nữ (Woman) Magazine, Dung wrote:
“Our journey has been 9 years, your legs are now my legs. You hold me in your arms, take care of me -- from each meal and bathing to each physical therapy session. I’m often asked: ’What motivates you to overcome all the hardship?’ The answer is always easy: ’it’s because of you. I’m grateful for having you as my mother. I always try to live my life to its fullest to deserve your unconditional love for me. In this love, I never feel lonely nor unstable.’
"I realize that God chose a different life for me. The poor little students at our fishing village, who compare me to the Powerful Cactus Flower, all crave knowledge. I accept the reality and live happily in the present. Despite my physical condition, I will live a happy and meaningful life, just like everyone else.” — VNS