Three sisters of us met together at 7am and took the Phuong Trang bus from the address of 272 Đề Thám, 1st District directing straight to Đồng Nai. Sister Hồng had well prepared drinks and newspapers for our refreshment during the trip. The bus departed at 7.30am, sister Hồng was kidding: "I give myself to both of you for doing whatever you like". We replied: "OK no worry, you can fall in sleep until open your eyes you will see Cambodia..."
All passengers on the bus had fallen in deep sleep as they were going a long way to Phan Thiết. I dared not to close eyes for sleeping because we'd been told to get off half way at stopping point of Căn Cứ 3 market, Long Thuận parish. We also told the bus driver where to stop but he was not aware of exact location so that's why I should keep awake, otherwise we would be straight driven to Phan Thiết beach.
How slow the bus was running ! I wondered, maybe it ran at the speed of 100 "banana trees" per hour as Linh said, ah..I remembered that we had seen a sign when getting on the bus "For safe driving our Phương Trang driver always keep exact permitted speed. Please empathise for us". We'd expected to come there within 2.5 hours if it runs at speed of 120km/hr, but at such slow speed our plan would be burnt-out for sure...
At 10.45am, the tourist guide came to us saying that the bus was going to stop at the Căn Cứ 3 market we should prepare to leave. I looked up to the sky, it was sunny, clear and blue in the morning but now it's so cloudy and already rained heavily....After getting down from the bus I looked the market address at other side of the street: it belongs to Xuân Lộc district. As having doubt about location where we must come was Xuân Hưng, so I asked a motor-bike driver: "Could I ask you please if this is Căn Cứ 3 market?" He replied: "This is Căn Cứ 2 market, you should go 9km further for the Căn Cứ 3 market".....Hurryingly thanked the motor-bike driver three of us rushed back to the bus, it's so luckily still there. The rainfall increased after we'd got on the bus that was our good luck by God blessing, otherwise we would die for sure if walking for 9km under such a wet weather...
We're either happy as not getting off at wrong stop or worried as the rain was so heavy that we could not clearly see the address at the right place, however we lef it to the God. Meanwhile, a female passenger who was looking at my unstable gesture said to me: "Don't worry mate, I know the Căn Cứ 3 market when it arrives there I will call you..".
It's increasingly rainning, the bus driver prepared to stop at the Căn Cứ 3 market but I told him to help us drive a little longer for about 5-minute walking and on the left side of the street we could see Long Thuận parish that we'd been showed by miss Tứ who is an acquaintance of Father Thông. The bus driver was easy, he slowly drove the bus for us so we could observe the other street side. There, Long Thuận parish was ! Three of us got off the bus after saluting the driver and every passenger and ran into balcony of a nearest house to avoid raining.
I took the phone to ring uncle Thục who is a council member of Long Thuận parish, he said he would come straight away. God really blessed us, meanwhile 3 sisters were not ensuring how to walk, the rain gradually decreased and drizzled and uncle Thục arrived...Then after we walked along with uncle Thục passing the street, going on a number of muddy paths and finally reached to the loved class.
At there, we were surprised with a thing in front of our eyes that was a wretchedly pitiful house used as classroom with wall and table created by joins of used toles and wooden pieces, while other solidly concrete and brick-built houses on the highway 1 have distanced just few hundred meters away from the class..
Due to coming late we did not meet some students who already went home, the rest of class was about 10 children staying back to get notes and homework from miss Hương. When seeing us at the first time they looked so hesitated but when being told by the teacher about us they quickly rushed out to us greeting, asking and holding our hands and legs.......
I really wanted to see the class wall that was built by father Thông and our friends, so Ms. Hương took me outside to watch it. She said she very appreciated the father and everyone for the wal building, before it had been done she was not able to conduct the class due to a very bad smell around. When asking why we were told that the next door before was a pig cage where people had used pork to fake wild boar meat (who likes wild boar meat should be careful...) and discharged to here all wastes including soaking and washing fluids used for meat processing ( as uncle Thuc said...) so the smell badly had rised all day. The odour has been reduced by the established wall...Ms. Hương was sharing: "The new wall has been built up here only and left some bricks over due to our fund runing out. If having financial condition we will concrete all around the back yard where it's now fenced by B40 net.."
pig cage is next to the wall
the finished wall
... and unfinished part
Ms. Hương also invited us to see the back of the house. When stepping inside, a smell of a burning smoke from wooden wall corners made me to remember ethnics' houses I visited before: Inside of the ethnics house, they'd used to made fire in the house center and hung meat of hunted wild animal over the fire from which the meat would absorb the smoke that was useful for keeping the meat long time without damages, so for that reason the smell of smoke has always been around. The ethnics' house is nicer and more solid than Ms. Hương's house if closely viewing.
with the children
I followed Ms. Hương to go out seeing sister Linh she was making friend and talking to some children. The children liked to talk and take photos with her. One of them showed: "I have 2 cousins here. The teacher loves us very much, she taught reading, writing and musics as well. Due to having no money for tuition we can not go to pubic school..."
Ms. Hương is teaching the children how to write
The children must go home at lunch time, so sister Linh took some candies to distribute to them, they made a line for receiving and politely thanked us. They said in English too; Thank you, Goodbye, See you again...and some common sentences they learned from Ms. Hương...
Later on, on behalf of OBV I handed out to Ms. Hương a sum of $100 (approx. 1.900.000 VNĐ). I told Ms. Hương that "This is the money from Mrs. Lê Thị Quế and Mrs. Tuyết Minh who asked Father Thông to deliver their money to you for support and contribution to the children education after hearing about your loved class and the risk of the children if having no cares and education from their parents...". Ms. Hương was very emotional sharing with us: "The children here are very miserable, they have no money for public school, so I have to gather them together to teach them temporarily how to read and write. Then after that, if any of them have opportuntiy I'll send them to school." She stated a condition that each one of them should pay her 2000đ for every time coming class aiming to help them perceive and respect what they learned from the class, but in fact none of them has been able to pay that amount and finally exempted as well as not obliged to pay by the teacher.
The parents have not cared for the children education just asked them to bring home at least 5000đ without knowing whatever they could do to earn money: stealing, burglarising, recycled- material trading, hiring themself out, or begging...If bringing no money home they would be beaten. Attending this class the children have been supplied notebooks and pens from Ms.Huong. She has regulated that notebooks will be given out when the current one being completely used, not supplied in advance as they would lose it at home...Therefore, the children are passionate in learning to get new notebooks. With the money from benefactors Ms. Hương has planned to do many things from which the first one is to register birth certificates for 2 students who will be able to go to school later. The rest of money can be used for purchases of fan, notebooks, pens....and many others that she's not had condition to complete yet.
Donation from Mrs. Lê Thị Quế and Mrs. Tuyết Minh
In nearly-teared eyes she said she had not known what to do to thank Father and all benefactors but only could additionally pray for them...
We made farewell to Ms. Hương and her devoted class. It's love and because of love she can give out her total time, energy and efforts to care for the future of the pitiful children with all her capabilities.
Good bye, the innocent children...
Getting out up to Highway 1A, three of us walked for a quite long distance then entered a Phở cuisine, when ordering we had instant noodle as no more phở left. During awaiting for noodle cooking, I saw 3 students who were in steady clothings with plies on new shirts coming to entice the cuisine owner's child to go to school, I recalled the children I had met in the class: 2000đ to buy words and knowledge that was so cheap but even so they've had none to buy, comparing with children in the city who have paid more thousand times than that money for studies in international private schools....Talking about children in Saigon was so far, right here when comparing 3 students in front of me with children from few hundreds meters away, I was just feeling with love for those children...
There are so many contrary situations in life but which would change if many people have good heartedness...At that time, there would be no longer "2000đ class" and no more unfortunate lives. However, all of my possibilities are to contribute with my small efforts and much more praying words....!
Xuân Hưng, August 2010
Translated by Tam Duyen Hua. The original version in Vietnamese entitled "Lớp học 2000 đồng"