“It took me an hour to walk here, but I’m happy. I usually visit the school every two weeks.”
– Giang Thi Seo, H’Mong woman.
I met with Giang Thi Seo during my recent visit to a school in Ta Mung commune, where CWS is partnering with local government workers to improve education in this remote community. I first noticed her unusual height and striking H’Mong dress from among people watching and listening to a student music group. I followed her gaze to see that she was most attentively watching, and fondly smiling at, a boy in white shirt.
When I first entered the school grounds, I followed the melodious tune of local flute (khèn) music until I came upon a group of 20 musicians, mostly boys, sitting around a teacher from the school and a man from a nearby village who helped them practice playing their khèns, which he is an expert in. I saw that the single or multiple-bamboo flute looked rather simple to play – though it did not seem so easy for the boys. And, they were so focused on their playing that they did not know I was watching.
After listening to the boys for a while, I approached the woman I had noticed and learned that her name is Giang Thi Seo; she is 39 and the mother of the boy she was proudly watching. She has another child at the school, too. The khèn playing son is Mua A De, who is in Grade 9. His sister, Mua Thi Ly Do just joined the school earlier this year and is in Grade 6. As their village is far from the school, both children live in the school dormitories and, after a while, Seo told me, “I miss the children very much, especially since when my daughter joined her brother so far away at the school.” Signaling their shared support for their children’s education, Seo continued, “In fact, my husband and I are both visiting the school today. It took us an hour or so to walk down the hill and it will take even more time on the way back, but we are happy to see the children. While our son is learning to play the khèn, our daughter is nearby learning some gardening. My husband is there with our daughter.”
After my chat with Seo, I spoke with Bui Duy Nam, the Head Teacher of this lower secondary school, and he noted that he has 395 students ages 11 to 15 in grades 6 to 9. As villages are scattered all around the school, to make it easier for students to be here, the school has dormitories for 280 children. With so many youngsters around all the time Teacher Nam noted the importance of CWS support for student interest groups like the khèn group and for improved gardening opportunities too. He said, “We encourage students to voluntarily join groups according to their interests, and to improve their life skills – as with the gardening, and to simply have fun – as with the music group.” In addition to helping students get experience in gardening, which they will definitely do back home, the garden also yields a variety of vegetables that help these young people diversify and improve their diets as well. It is good for them to learn about the importance of good nutrition, which the gardens help them do. In having musical groups, CWS supports the students to carry on some of their folk traditions, too, which is important to them when they are away from their parents, grandparents and other older villagers who know the traditions.
One essential part of the work that CWS supports in Vietnam is ensuring that school infrastructure as well as teaching methods promote positive classroom education for basic literacy and numeracy among young ethnic minority group members. Additionally, New Integrated Development for Essential Action (NEW IDEA) is designed to strengthen parents’ engagement and strong teacher-parent-student relations among ethnic minority communities, where education is often undervalued and not pursued. So, seeing Mua A De’s and Mua Thi Ly Do’s mother and father visiting the school made me feel proud that we are reaching our aim to strengthen education by supporting safe and child-friendly classrooms, dormitories, latrines and kitchens, while also engendering life skills through NEW IDEA.
Ngo Quoc Dung is Vietnam Country Representative.
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