No fish, no school: 1,000 students forced to stay at home in central Vietnam

By Duc Hung   September 5, 2016 | 10:39 pm PT
Fishermen are demanding authorities pay school fees after mass fish deaths.

Nearly 1,000 children from Ky Anh Town in the central coastal province of Ha Tinh were forced to stay at home while their peers from all over the country were attending the new school year opening ceremony on September 5.

Local authorities said that only a third of students, around 550, attended ceremonies held at kindergartens, primary and middle schools in the town.

The reason behind this is an environmental disaster caused by a Taiwanese steel plant Formosa, which killed off tons of fish along a 200 kilometer stretch of Vietnam’s central coast.

Nguyen Thi Huong from Ky Ha Commune told VnExpress that catching fish and producing salt are the only means of making a living in the area. Since the incident, salt farms have been left abandoned while fishing boats lie quietly on the sandy shores.

“I have four children who should be in school, but now they have to stay at home due to financial difficulties,” Huong said, adding that she will only be able to send them back to school if authorities cover all their tuition and other fees.

Ky Ha Commune is one of 54 communities in Ha Tinh Province worst-hit by the disaster.

Locals say that it’s hard for them to pay school fees as they can’t sell fish and salt at the moment, and switching to another job is difficult too.

“I was very excited to see my friends heading off to the opening ceremony of the new school year. For months, many parents haven’t sailed out to catch fish, so I don’t have money to buy books,” a student said.

Children play on the beach as they cant go to school. Photo by VnExpress/Duc Hung

Children play on the beach as they can’t go to school. Photo by VnExpress/Duc Hung

The fact that so many students have to stay at home rather than go to school has resulted in feelings of insecurity among teachers and disrupted their teaching schedules, according to Tran Minh Duc, principal of Ky Ha Primary School.

“Our advice is for students to return to their schools, but introducing policies to support them is the government’s responsibility.”

In an interview with VnExpress, Ky Anh Commune official Phan Duy Vinh said that fishermen are keeping their children at home to put pressure on authorities.

Vinh quoted local people as saying that the environmental disaster has cost them dearly so they want their children to be exempt from tuition fees. In response, authorities have sent a request to Ha Tinh People's Committee, pending a final decision on September 24.

Vinh added that many fishermen have demanded to be exempt from paying for school maintenance costs, and granted money to buy books and new clothes for their children. However, they have so far only been offered a 33 percent discount.

The official said that they are trying hard to persuade parents to change their minds as going to school is a child's fundamental right.

In early April, waste water from the Vietnamese unit of Taiwanese conglomerate Formosa Plastics Group killed off tons of fish in four central coastal provinces, taking its toll on 41,000 fishermen and over 176,000 people dependent on the industry.

Four months have passed but the government remains non-committal about whether it is safe to catch and eat fish yet.

Related news:

> Vietnamese fishermen remain beached 4 months after toxic disaster

> Formosa's toxic disaster: are fish safe to eat now in central Vietnam?

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