Perilous river crossing makes first day at school nerve-racking in northern Vietnam

By Ngoc Thanh   September 5, 2017 | 10:00 am GMT+7
The image is a stark reminder of the massive gap in education opportunities and insufficient support for children. 

Nearly 150 students and teachers walked and sailed up to 40 kilometers (25 miles) for the start of the new school year at Pa My Elementary and Secondary School in Muong Nhe District, Dien Bien Province on Tuesday morning. More than 22 million other children across Vietnam also marked the start of the new school year the same morning; and while most were greeted by balloons and clowns, students in Pa Ma just wanted to get to school dry and alive.


Lo Van Viet, a teacher at the school, helps his students across the stream himself. “I have to do it myself or I’d feel worried,” he said. The stream is around five meters deep and 40 meters wide during the monsoon.


Viet swims alongside a raft as two men paddle it across the stream with his students on board. The raft is made from bamboo and can only hold up to six people at a time, he said. People have drowned and motorbikes have been lost in the stream.


A student tries to balance on the raft. This is actually not an uncommon sight in Vietnam, where many people in rural and remote areas are still risking their lives every day to go about their daily business. However, on a day when children across the country are both eager and anxious to start the new school year, the image is a stark reminder of the massive gap in education opportunities and insufficient support for children. Somehow, a kid sitting on the back of a motorbike in Hanoi's choking air 600 kilometers away is ironically a happy one.


Two girls make it to school at 6 a.m.


Many boys arrive in bare feet with their trousers rolled up high.


A boy receives help with his red scarf.


The school, which is very close to the Laos border, has around 500 students, most of whom belong to the ethnic Dao and Mong groups.


Mong girls dressed up for a musical performance at the ceremony.


The new school has been damaged by landslides following heavy downpours in recent weeks.

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