by Xuan Hiep
An 81-year-old woman in Hue has been a source of help to poor students from elsewhere who come to the central city to study.
For the last 23 years "Mother" Huynh Thi Diep has been housing, and often feeding, students by the thousands, mostly from the poor central and highlands provinces of Nghe An, Quang Binh, Quang Nam, Kon Tum, Dak Lak and Gia Lai.
Her little house on Pham Thi Lien Street is always filled with their sounds.
Diep, herself born in a poor family with many children, worked hard right from childhood to help her parents.
At 28 an accident left her without sight in her left eye.
She stayed single and took care of her parents. After they died she lived on her own until 1990 when she invited some university students to stay with her.
"Seeing many poor students who were determined to get an advanced education, I decided to help," she says.
"I just want to provide them a shelter to study better, and hope they would get a good job after graduation."
She usually has eight to 10 lodgers at a time, though the number goes up to 25-30 during university entrance-exam season.
There are not enough beds but she provides them sleeping mats to place on the floor.
With word of mouth taking her fame far and wide, she gets more and more students every year.
Ho Thi Huong of Nghe An Province, a student at the Hue Pedagogy University, has lived with Diep for nearly two years.
"We live far from home, so when we feel homesick or sick, Mother Diep always stays by our side to take care of us," she says.
"I am really grateful to her."
Nguyen Hoang, a fourth-year student at the Hue Economics University, came to stay with Diep when he was in the first year.
He says: "My family is poor. I am the oldest in my family of many children.
"This is my second home."
Diep uses her monthly government allowance of VND270,000 to buy rice in case any of the youngsters are broke and have nothing to eat at the end of the month.
She cannot remember how many students, whom she also calls sons and daughters, have come to stay with her. But she knows many of them have graduated and got jobs.
Many of them have even got master's degrees and doctorates and are teaching at universities.
Sometimes they come to visit her and bring gifts. Some of those living nearby visit her often and take care of her when she is ill.
She is always excited when an entrance-exam season approaches despite her worsening eyesight and weakening legs.
Diep wishes for good health so that she can help more people.
"Without her help, we would not have been like this," Nguyen Van Cuong, who is now staying in her house, says. — VNS