Vietnam: Buddhists offer free education for poor children

VietNamNet Bridge, Oct 29, 2009

Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam -- Lien Hoa pagoda in HCM City is the place, where hundreds of poor children from the ‘immigration village’ at Nhi Thien Duong bridge pier go to learn.

Like other classes, the class at the Lien Hoa pagoda has a teacher and students. However that is where similarities end.

As the children of rural migrants, students here have neither cash nor “ho khau”  a permanent residential book enabling them to go to local schools.

Each class starts with Buddhist prayers.  The children say “Nam mo a di da Phat” (Glory to Buddha Amitabha) 10 times before each lessons. Nguyen Van Tong, the teacher of the class, says students need to pray to Buddha because they need to learn morality before learning lessons.

Tong, a retired school teacher from a traditional school, is unpaid.

Despite the circumstances the conditions are impressive. They have textbooks, pens and school bags which the Buddhists have donated. There are plastic tables and chairs in the class. However, the tables appear a little small for fourth and fifth grade students. Only recently have they acquired a blackboard.

Monk Thich Thien Quy opened the class in 2006. In that year, Buddhists had to visit each family to persuade parents to allow their children to come to the class. However they found the children eager to learn and he class soon gathered 30 students.

The children here are learning free of charge and most of the teachers are otherwise retired. Teacher Tong is now 66 years old and teacher Nguyen Thi Ngoc Tuyet is 67.

As a result many children have learned to read and write. They go to class in the morning or afternoon, and often spend the rest of the time helping their families to earn a living.

Student Le Thi Kim Ngan, goes to class in the morning and then sells lottery tickets in the afternoon with her father. Despite being only eight years old she helps earn 100,000 dong a day to pay for food.

Hoang Anh Truong Thang, born in 1999, is now living with his great-grandmother, who is 83 years old, because his father passed away and his mother left.

He helps at the pagoda every day, cleaning rooms and gardening. His biggest fear is who will take care of him when his great grandmother dies.

One child suffers anemia and has to be hospitalised every month. Others have problems with their sight.

However, they are all still trying to learn as well as continuing to earn money for food.

Each of them hopes that education will ultimately help them escape poverty.