Teachers join hands to take care of orphaned students in mountainous province

By Quynh Nguyen   March 22, 2024 | 07:51 pm PT
Upon learning that a student wanted to quit school to take care of her younger brother and ill grandmother, a group of teachers in the northern mountainous Dien Bien Province decided to foster the children.

Lo Thi Nguyet, 16, Lo Thi Tuyet, 11, and Lo Duc Khai, 4, have been living with their grandmother for over two years after their mother left and their drug addict father was nowhere to be found.

Tuyet and Nguyet used to attend boarding school and came home in Na Su Village, Tia Dinh Commune, Dien Bien Dong District on the weekends.

Their younger brother went to a kindergarten in the village.

The family usually received support from neighbors and relatives, but their daily meals still mainly consisted of vegetables. The children rarely had meat to eat, but they were content as they got each other.

Nearly two months into the 2023-2024 school year, Tuyet, then a 6th grade student at Tia Dinh Semi-boarding Ethnic Minority Primary and Secondary School, asked the homeroom teacher to let her withdraw from school.

The girl said she wanted to continue going to school, but circumstances did not allow it because her grandmother was in poor health and her younger brother was too little. Tuyet did not want her older sister to quit school, knowing she was about to graduate from high school.

"Once grandma recovers and Khai enters first grade, I will return to school. I never planned to give up my study," Tuyet said, choking.

Thầy Khương Cao Quyền cùng chị em Lò Thị Tuyết, Lò Đức Khải, chiều 23.2. Ảnh: Quỳnh Nguyễn

Teacher Khuong Cao Quyen (R), Lo Thi Tuyet (L) and her brother Lo Duc Khai in Dien Bien Dong District, Dien Bien Province, Feb. 23, 2024. Photo by Quynh Nguyen

Learning about his student's circumstance, principal Khuong Cao Quyen came up with the idea of caring for Tuyet and her siblings, lifting some weight off the family's burden. His idea was soon approved by the district Department of Education, the School Administrator and the Party Secretary of Na Su Village.

However, Tuyet's grandmother objected to the idea as she did not want to stay away from her grandchildren.

"Tuyet and Nguyet would have had to quit their study otherwise. Once they quit, the chance of them returning to school is slim since they would be busy making a living. That’s why I had to visit the village time after time to persuade their family," Quyen said.

To reassure their 70-year-old grandmother, Quyen proposed to take Tuyet and Khai to school and arrange a separate living space for them at his home. At the end of the week, the teachers would take the two children back to the village to visit their grandmother, and pick them up for school on Monday. Eldest sister Lo Thi Nguyet continues to go to school herself. Their grandmother has been taken care of by relatives and villagers.

Seeing that her three grandchildren were going to school and enjoying three full meals a day, the 70-year-old grandmother has been relieved. "I don't want to be away from my grandchildren, but I'm glad they can attend school," she said.

Thầy cô giáo tại trường Phổ thông dân tộc bán trú Trung học cơ sở Tìa Dình đến gia đình Tuyết ở bản Na Su để thuyết phục bà nội, họ hàng và dân bản cho đón hai chị em xuống trường, tháng 10/2023. Ảnh: Phạm Doãn

Teachers from Tia Dinh Semi-boarding Ethnic Minority Secondary School visit Tuyet's family in Na Su village in October 2023. Photo by Pham Doan

The 20-square-meter room in the teacher's dormitory, 200 m away from the school, was renovated, with additional beds and desks, to serve as accommodation for Tuyet and her brother. At the same time, Quyen completed the procedures to transfer Khai to a preschool in the commune center. All of their food, clothing, and personal expenses were paid for by more than 20 teachers. Quyen would take care of any additional expenses.

At the beginning, the teachers took turns taking care of Tuyet and Khai's meals and sleep to make them get familiar with the situation. Every morning, the 4-year-old boy had breakfast prepared by the teachers, taken to his kindergarten, and brought back in the evening with his sister for dinner. The 11-year-old girl bathed her younger brother, cleaned the house, and washed clothes in her own time. After Khai fell asleep, Tuyet reviewed her school lessons.

In early 2024, Tuyet's grandmother passed away, and the two children returned to the village for the funeral. The teachers visited the children after the Lunar New Year in February to bring them back to school.

Since her grandmother’s passing, Tuyet and her siblings have rarely returned to the village on weekends. Afraid that his students would feel sad, Quyen often brought them to have dinner with his family. Quyen’s wife often prepared new clothes, snacks, and a room for the siblings.

"Staying with the teachers has been great, I feel like I was with my parents," Tuyet said.

She and her brother and sister planned to return to the village together in the summer to clean up the house and visit their grandmother’s grave before starting the new school year.

On the school side, taking on the responsibility of raising two children also warranted many difficulties, but Quyen said that if everyong is committed, anything would be possible. The initial plan was that teachers would take care of Tuyet and Khai's education until they finish grade 9. However, if they wish to continue to high school or vocational education, the school would attend to it, he said.

"So long as the students are dutiful and determined, we will try our best to support them."

Chị em Tuyết, Khải chụp cùng các thầy cô tại trường Phổ thông dân tộc bán trú Trung học cơ sở Tìa Dình - những người đồng lòng chung sức nuôi hai chị em ăn học. Ảnh: Phạm Doãn

Lo Thi Tuyet, her brother Lo Duc Khai and teachers of Tia Dinh Semi-boarding Ethnic Minority Primary and Secondary School in Dien Bien Province, March 1, 2024. Photo by Pham Doan

Nguyen Thi Huong, Deputy Head of the Education Department of Dien Bien Dong District, said that before taking in the siblings, the school leaders had consulted the department.

"As our biggest wish is for the children to be able to attend school, everyone decided to chip in. This is the only school in the district with teachers taking students in difficult circumstances under their wings," Huong said.

To improve educational opportunities for students in the mountainous areas, the 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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