Special teachers take disabled children under their wings

By Trong Quoc, Pham Linh   June 24, 2020 | 11:04 pm PT
A group of retired teachers in central Vietnam refused to stand by and watch disabled kids not attending school.

It is Monday morning and a class in Quang Ngai Province begins to receive students like at any other school in Vietnam.

The only difference is that this class at the center for community activities in Tinh Giang Commune, Son Tinh District, only has retired teachers and the students all have physical or intellectual disability.

After she retired as a teacher, Pham Kim Tuyen, 61, began to visit local families with disabled children who did not attend school. Touched by their situation, two years ago she decided to start a special class for such children.

She asked some other retired teachers to join her, saying "we can still make a contribution." Eventually there was a group of six teachers.

Commune authorities backed them and gave them use of a room at the community center, desks and chairs.

Pham Thi Kim Tuyen shows a student how to write a letter. Photo by VnExpress/Trong Quoc

Pham Kim Tuyen shows a student how to write a letter. Photo by VnExpress/Trong Quoc.

The class began in September 2018.

It has 15 students. Tuyen says, "There were 15 in the beginning, but one died of Down syndrome and then another came from a neighboring commune."

The class functions on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Besides literature and mathematics, the children also learn other basic skills.

They have various disabilities such as having crooked arms, lack of speech and limitations in intellectual and adaptive behaviors.

They range in age from eight to 28.

The teachers stand beside them and tell them what to do step by step.

Pham Nhat Duy is the youngest in the class. He has cerebral palsy and could not walk or hold anything in his hand.

After two years in the class, with the teachers also paying attention to his basic motor skills, he is now able to hold a carton of milk or a bowl of rice and even write. He has also become more articulate.

He says: "My name is Duy. I wish to become a factory worker. My father works in a clearing in the mountain forest, my mother cooks, and my grandfather cuts grass to feed the cows."

Asked if he loves his teacher, Duy replies immediately that he adores Tuyen.

Pham Nhat Duy is carried by his mother when he is about to leave the class. Photo by VnExpress/Trong Quoc

Pham Nhat Duy with his mother and a teacher (L) at the special class. Photo by VnExpress/Trong Quoc.

Nguyen Kim Huong, 64, says she has seen many disabled students who could not get along with other children or cope with lessons at school.

"There are cases of students with disabilities having to drop out of school, but at home they do not receive the care they need because their parents are busy working. This class is where they have a chance to study and improve."

Knowing each student and being fully aware of their family situations, Tuyen and the other teachers do not wish for dramatic improvements or for the children to instantly become excellent students. All they expect is gradual progress.

When they first attended the class two years ago, some of the students were scared and even cried. Most were shy and did not talk much. But now everything has changed. They greet the teachers when arriving and leaving, and do the same to their parents at home. They no longer pick food from the floor and eat, and know about personal hygiene.

Nguyen Hoai Linh, 17, has bent limbs caused by muscular dystrophy but is clever and diligent. From not being able to hold a carton of milk properly, he can now write a little.

"What is special about these students is their love for music and dancing," Tuyen reveals.

A scene at the class designed particularly for students with disabilities by retired teachers. Photo by VnExpress/Trong Quoc

A scene at the class designed particularly for students with disabilities by retired teachers. Photo by VnExpress/Trong Quoc.

The teachers work for free. But the class needs books and other equipment, and has to have occasional parties and give the students small gifts to cheer them up.

For all this they have received some donations from benefactors and charity organizations.

Sometimes Tuyen has to ask for help like she did recently, calling a benefactor and asking for an air conditioner since the weather has been very hot and uncomfortable for the students.

Vo Van Tam, chairman of Tinh Giang Commune, said the class has been receiving assistance from people across the country.

Asked for how long she and the other teachers would keep going, Tuyen said the class will remain open until no more students show up.

"We really wish to see our students make progress, learn more and more, integrate with the community and feel less isolated and lonely."

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