Teacher in mountainous province juggles between sick child and class far from home

By Quynh Nguyen    March 29, 2024 | 03:00 pm PT
Right after Luong Thi Tham brought her child home from a hospital in Hanoi at dawn, she drove more than 40 km to class.

That is a normal day now for the 40-year-old teacher in the northern mountainous province of Dien Bien, as she refused to abandon her students even after her daughter suffered a serious disease that required prolonged treatment.

Tham has been working at Nong U Kindergarten, Nong U Commune, Dien Bien Dong District for 18 years. Before 2019, she stayed at the school from Monday to Friday, only returning home on weekends, due to long distance and poor roads.

According to Tham, in favorable weather conditions, it would take her roughly three hours from home to school. Otherwise, it would take her half a day. Her husband, Ca Van Lien, solely took on the responsibility of childrearing at their home in Dien Bien City.

"No one wants to be away from their loved ones, but it is my mission to encourage children to go to school and teach them to read and write. This has been my dream job since childhood," Tham said.

Giáo viên Lường Thị Thắm tại trường Mầm non Nong U, Xã Nong U, huyện Điện Biên Đông, tháng 2/2024. Ảnh: Quỳnh Nguyễn

Luong Thi Tham teaching at Nong U Kindergarten, Nong U Commune, Dien Bien Dong District, Dien Bien Province, February 2024. Photo by Quynh Nguyen

In December 2019, Ca Ngoc Tam Dan, Tham's youngest daughter, then nearly two years old, started to lose her appetite and displayed signs of jaundice. Her body weakened to the point of exhaustion. After taking their child to Dien Bien Provincial General Hospital without any results, the couple was directed to the Central Institute of Hematology and Blood Transfusion in Hanoi for further examination. First time having come to Hanoi, around 400 km from her home, the Thai ethnic woman said that she was scared all round, but the hope to find a cure for her child’s unknown disease prevailed.

Dan, after undergoing numerous lab tests, was diagnosed with congenital hemolysis, an incurable chronic disease which significantly reduces life expectancy.

Tham was dumbfounded. However, after receiving words of encouragement from doctors, friends and relatives, she wiped away her tears, began to learn about the disease, preparing to fight it with her child.

Cô bé Tâm Đan điều trị tại Bệnh viện Huyết học truyền máu Trung ương năm 2023. Ảnh: Nhân vật cung cấp

Ca Ngoc Tam Dan is treated at the National Institute of Hematology and Blood Transfusion in Hanoi, 2023. Photo courtesy of Luong Thi Tham

When Dan was hospitalized, the couple took turns requesting leaves of absence. Tham said she was fortunate to have understanding school leaders and colleagues who created a supportive environment so she could feel secure in stay with her child during treatment. After a while, the doctor informed the family of abnormal and autoimmune antibodies found in Dan's body, which rendered her blood type hard to match. Before each blood transfusion, she had to be injected with high dose of shock resistance.

When Covid-19 broke out in 2021, Tham brought her child back to Dien Bien General Hospital for treatment due to social distancing and suspended bus services. The provincial hospital did not have anti-shock medicine available, so Dan suffered from anaphylactic shock anytime she received blood transfusion.

After the epidemic was over, Tham was responsible for taking her child to Hanoi for short treatment sessions while Lien would stand in when longer hospital stays, for blood transfusions and iron chelation, were required.

Each ambulance ride to Hanoi cost the family about VND10 million (US$400). Since they were still burdened with an unpaid bank debt of over VND100 million that they borrowed to build a house years ago, they had to rely on relatives' loans to cover the cost of treatment and travel to hospital.

Having learnt about the family's situation, the social work department at the National Institute of Hematology and Blood Transfusion reached out to zero-dong buses for support. Since then, Tham and her daughter were able to visit Hanoi once a month for treatment without having to pay the fare. Tham and her husband's monthly salary of more than VND10 million was only enough to cover bank interests and medicine for their child.

Ever since Dan began her treatment, Tham has come home every day, meaning traveling 80 km every day back and to school. She said commuting was taxing, but she got used to it. Tham couldn't neglect her students, nor could she leave her two small children at home and push all responsibilities to her husband. Busy with work from dusk till dawn, but she never complained nor thought about quitting. She said that the students were like her children, so she had to do everything in her power to keep them at school.

"Everyone has their own struggles. If I back out when things get tough, then where will the children's future go? Choosing this teaching career means that no matter how hard it gets, I will not give up," the teacher said.

According to a representative of the Dien Bien Dong District Department of Education and Training, Tham is one of the teachers who, despite difficult circumstances, is committed to the cause of bringing education to more and more students.

To improve educational opportunities for students in Vietnam's mountainous regions, Hope Foundation continues to accept donations for the Schools of Sunshine program. Each contribution from the community means another ray of light sent to future generations of the country. Click here for further information on the program.

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