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DEN THANG: Teardrops on my cheeks.

Posted on 01 November, 2012 in Links, Reads/ Writes, Thoughts

 Pushing the door open, we were astonished to see over twenty little ones quietly huddling themselves up in a corner, inadequately dressed in such cold weather. Their skin were pale and slightly purple; their bodies were trembling.

 All of them crossed their arms in front of their chest. Not because they were about to greet us, but because it could keep them a bit warmer.

Without any socks, when it was only 3-4 Celsius degrees outside.

Mai Thanh Hai: The main campus of kindergarten school Den Thang (Bat Xat rural district, Lao Cai) was half-way up the path from Muong Hum to the Y Ty Peak. This path was always deeply covered with fog and clouds.

The closer it was to noon, the colder it got. Rain has been pouring down hard since the morning, helping the cold air to freeze raindrops on the leaves into tiny droplets of ice.

Sitting in the car with the heat on and covered in lots of layers, we were still shivering. The thermometer showed 3 degrees Celsius (37.4 degrees Fahrenheit), no wonder it was so cold. We stopped at the main campus right when the last of the series of shower started and drenched everyone.

It was almost noon, yet all three classrooms’ doors were tightly shut. Peeking in from a chink in the door, it looked not much different from a grain barn, since all light bulbs were burned out. The only thing that distinguished this classroom from a grain barn was the voice of the children repeating after, and singing along with the shaky hand claps of the teachers.

We entered the classroom – it was divided into two parts by a blue piece of cloth. One part was the classroom itself, the other part served as a meeting/ working place of the school administrators. Pushing the door open, we were astonished to see over twenty little ones quietly huddling themselves up in a corner, inadequately dressed in such cold weather. Their skin were pale and slightly purple; their bodies were trembling.

All of them crossed their arms in front of their chest. Not because they were about to greet us, but because it could keep them a bit warmer.

Arms crossed to stay warmer.

It was 3-4 degrees Celsius.  Even the ceramic floor released some cold air. I had a pair of thick socks on, yet I could still feel the cold air piercing through the socks, to the sole of the feet. All these kids, however, were barefoot. Only a few had socks and warm clothes on – I heard they are the children of some local administrators.

The teacher said: “Only a few have boots or sandals, the rest always walk barefoot from their homes to the school.” We pointed to the rubber mats in the corner: “Why don’t you put this on the floor to keep the feet a bit warmer?” She stumbled over her words “Well, those were sponsored by Only Rice Is Not Enough. But we want them to last for a long time, so we only use them when the children go to sleep to keep their backs warm…”

Put the mats on the floor to warm up the little feet.

Oh dear, the teachers being this thrifty was definitely a backfire to our sponsoring! Please, please, get the mats out, all of them! Put them down on the floor, we’ll replace them if they break. We acted as we were speaking: all people in the group brought the rubber mats out on the floor, and put the children in positions such that their feet rest on the mats, and they sat shoulder-to-shoulder to share the heat with one another.

Slowly and mindlessly, I touched the shoulders of the trembling children, and suddenly drew back my hand when it got to a little girl. Her wet hair was sticking on her face; her lips were completely pale.  She was as wet as a drowned rat!

I ran to our car and searched in my backpack for the only clean piece of clothing left. The little girl put it on, instead of her thin top which was completely soaked. She got a bit warmer but her teeth were still chattering. My top was a short-sleeved, thin shirt to wear inside the house; of course it wouldn’t be warm enough!

Tears were welling up in my eyes when I suddenly felt a relief: someone wrapped around her a purple big scarf. It was big enough to serve as a mini blanket, covering the tiny body.

I turned and looked behind my shoulder: Lana, the scarf’s owner, was bursting into tears in a corner.

The teacher at Den Thang told us that the little girl was Sung Thi Sua, five years old. She lives about two hills away from the school. Even in decent weather condition, it would still take an adult about an hour to cross that distance. In these days, little Sua has to wake up early and starts for school since 6 AM. When it rains, she would have no shelter to hide, and has no other options other than just keep walking to school. And that was how she got soaking wet like that.

Sung Thi Sua (first from the right), now warmer with some extra layers.

At the class for 5-year-old children, my attention kept being drawn to the pair of brother and sister Trang A Chao (born in 2004) and Trang Thi Lan (born in 2006). They both had round faces, completely resembled each other.  There was always a sad look in their eyes as if they were about to cry anytime. And it would be totally understandable if they wanted to cry. Their mother, after going to China to work in a factory, passed away a month ago (December 2011). Their father, after weeks of mourning over his wife’s death, continued her path: he also went to China to work in a factory, hoping to make enough money to raise his children up.

Therefore, during these days, the two siblings walked from one house to another in the village, asking for a place to sleep and a bite to eat. They tried to survive day by day, like swaying shadows of candles in the wind. Thus, the older brother, Trang A Chao, should have been in first grade, but the teachers had to let him stay for an extra year in Kindergarten, so he could take care of his sister all day.

Brother Trang A Chao (front) and younger sister Trang Thi Lan (first left).

I read the list of students and saw that the little girl Trang Thi Lan shared the same birthday with me(October 23rd). I couldn’t help calling home, asking for some clothes to be prepared to send for her.

Getting back inside the classroom, I saw Khanh – a volunteer with Only Rice is Not Enough, currently working for WHO in Vietnam – counting some money to give the principal. She wanted to buy a pair of socks for each kid. 260 kids, 260 pairs of socks, a total of 1,620,000 VND (~ 81 USD).

Right when I was about to thank Khanh, my phone rang again. Dr. Le Viet Duc, who lived in Sweden, just came back to Hanoi for a short visit. He asked: “It’s freezing cold in Hanoi, 9 Celsius degrees (48.2 Fahrenheit degrees). All students get a day off. Do students there get today off as well?” Choked with emotions, I told him about the children’s bare feet and their lack of winter clothing. On the other side of the phone line, Dr. Le’s voice suddenly became hoarse: “I’m flying back to Sweden tomorrow. Please let me chip in 4,000,000 VND (200 USD) to buy them each a pair of boots, okay?”

I walked back out of the door. My cheeks were all wet.  Was it from the freezing rain? No, I don’t think so. My tears fell down for the sad plight of these poor children, and also from the warmth that my friends spread to these kids of this remote area named Den Thang.

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Original post by Mai Thanh Hai: Đã bật khóc, ngay tại Dền Thàng. Translated by Nghi Nguyen.

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ONLY RICE IS NOT ENOUGH is a charity program that raises funds to provide food and cooking services in elementary schools of poor highland mountain regions. The children in these areas usually have only plain rice and salt everyday without any other sources of nutrition. Together with supplying food, the program also aims to expand its activities by aiding more basic needs, such as clean water, hygiene, books and learning tools.

“A Dime For A Meal to the little kid. Not much, but everyday.”

For more information, please visit:

Vietnamese page: http://www.facebook.com/Comcothit.Unitedstates                  http://www.trandangtuan.com

English page: http://www.facebook.com/OnlyRiceIsNotEnough

Xin cám ơn Tình Yêu – Han Nguyen Thach

Posted on 30 October, 2012 in Reads/ Writes, Thoughts

Đã đọc bài này nhiều lần từ khi anh Minh gửi cho cái link, vẫn thấy cảm động như lần đầu tiên. Đêm hôm qua ngồi nhà cùng những lo âu bão Sandy đến, mình tranh thủ dùng máy tính lúc còn có điện, hí hoáy ngồi dịch sang tiếng Anh bản thô. Vừa dịch vừa rơm rớm nước mắt. Những cô giáo trên vùng cao này chỉ xấp xỉ tuổi mình, có cô còn trẻ hơn. Sống trong khó khăn, khổ sở, thời tiết lạnh, thiếu thốn đủ thứ, xa gia đình, đường đi lầy lội và đối diện với nguy hiểm mỗi ngày, tất cả vì tình yêu con trẻ. Tặng các bạn bài viết rất cảm động này của blogger Han Nguyen Thach (link bản tiếng Việt gốc ở cuối bài, bạn kéo xuống sẽ thấy). Đây là những ghi chép rất thật về những trái tim ấp ám của những giáo viên không quản ngại khó khăn, cắm chốt ở bản xa….

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The late cooking fire.

Our car got bogged down in the mud when the trip ahead was still long, so the kindergarten teachers gave us a good two rooms with beddings – how nice! While waiting for the rice to be cooked, we all gathered around the fire and told one another about random things: our childhood memories, the potatoes and cassavas we always had for meals as kids, about the traditional Tet sticky rice cakes, about the childish pranks we pulled. The warm fire brought us – the Only Rice Is Not Enough team members – closer together in just one day.

It was muddy everywhere, no wonder our car got bogged down. I felt guilty looking at the recently cleaned floor, now dirtied with muddy footprints no matter how gently we tried to step. Tomorrow, the teachers probably would have to spend twice as much time to clean the floor.

Meal time. Bowls of rice were passed along the tables, smiles and handshakes exchanged. Our hands were freezing cold – so what? Our hearts and minds were still warm. Stories after stories were told back and forth, revealing the hardships the teachers had to face every day.

They were all very young. The principals and vice-principals were born in 1986, 1987. Some were born in 1990, 1991, so young yet they were willing to go to the furthest, most isolated places to teach. “Staying here for half a year and we’re like men already. While pregnant, we still ride the scooters like crazy. But after giving birth, it actually scared me a little bit.” – one said.

Despite their big bellies during the last months of pregnancy, these teachers still went to class to teach and also cooked for the children every day. I attempted to ride the scooter on the muddy road. Result: I fell several, several times. And every day, these teachers had to ride on this road – sometimes even in the dark, following the talus piles closely and slowly. If they fell, they would fall towards the mountain. Well, it would definitely hurt, but would also keep them alive. On the other side of the road, a dark abyss was waiting in the menacing silence.

One teacher, while going back to visit her children, got into an accident and passed away. “We have children probably only for their grandparents!”  The joke was told with a smile, yet it felt like a punch straight to the heart.

A teacher’s room at Ta Ngai Cho, Muong Khuong, Lao Cai. On the wall was a drawing of her own son.

A border patrol got married to a teacher, and he was assigned to a position all the way in Tinh Bien, An Giang – over a thousand miles away. All his money was saved up for the trips to visit his wife. Both were very young, and they were still childless after several such trips. At the teachers’ living quarters, every room’s wall was filled with babies’ photos, chubby and adorable.

Along the border, only teachers at a commune with border defense post are eligible for a supplemental allowance of 50% of their salary – although a border commune is always a border commune, with or without a defense post.

 

A corner of the teachers’ living quarter.

 

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–          How come you feed the children so late today?

–          Ah, if they eat too early, they’ll be hungry too soon!

It was colder than usual, some students didn’t go to class, and so the portion looked better. Each kid held tightly the bowl in the left hand, spoon in the right hand, scooped every last bit out of the bowl of rice and meat in a blink of an eye. Who even needed to be tempted to eat?

Tomorrow it would be even colder. The teachers, as usual, would follow that zigzag road which was as slippery as an ice patch, to reach the furthest places, to bring each and every kindergarten kid to class.

 

 

The Kindergarten school Sin Co, last year.

Ms. Chuyen, Ms. Thuyet,Ms. Huyen, and 13 little hopes for the future, at Sin Co Kindergarten.

About 30% of the teachers who were assigned to teach at such remote places would go back to the city right away. Another rather large percentage would take the job, teach for half a day, and go home in the evening. Only those with the biggest hearts, with the greatest love for the children here would stay.

For one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten years, and even more. Who knows?

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Written by Han Nguyen Thach. Original post: Xin cám ơn tình yêu Translated by Nghi Nguyen. 

 

Because to give is to receive.

Posted on 26 October, 2012 in Links, Thoughts

[…]

An academic year has passed by, and now I can – on behalf of my friends – tell all the donators these simple words: The money you sent, we tried our best to make the most out of it.

Thanks to that money, the Suoi Giang kids (and not only these kids) have gained weight very quickly at the surprise of the teachers.

Thanks to that money, the kids at Lao Chai elementary school didn’t have to cook for themselves, then pass from hand to hand (the hands blackened with smoke and coal dust) the rice spatula every meal. Now they have a kitchen, a dining area, and meals with meat and vegetables.

[…]

Thanks to that money, many mothers at Muong Nha didn’t have to suppress their self-pity and embarrassment when they dropped their kids very far from the kindergarten, letting the kids running to school on their own. Those mothers were afraid of being seen by the kindergarten teachers, of being asked why they hadn’t paid the fees for food yet. Now, they can take the kids directly to the kindergarten teachers without feeling the shame and guilt like they did before.

Thanks to that money, this one boarding student at Cat Thinh (Van Chan, Yen Bai) didn’t have to skip class to watch over the crabs he caught at the brook, because those crabs would become his meals later on. Now, together with friends, he can focus on studying knowing that when classes are over, there will be a meal with meat waiting.

Thanks to that money, the kindergarten kids at Y Ty, on nice sunny days, can enjoy their meals with meat right out in the schoolyard, overlooking the valley whose other side is the country border. And the adults in the border area are ten times as happy upon seeing the kids well-fed.

I can’t list all the things that the donated money has done for those distant areas. It’s not only some [essential] nutrition for the kids. It’s also the happy tears of the teachers in mountain areas, the bright smile on the parents’ faces, the relief for the dedicated educators (There are still many such people, and no one is as happy as they are when they see their students can have meals with meat, and see that more students are going to school when Com Co Thit comes to their schools). But overall, the greatest thing it has brought to us is this feeling: We all share the Lac-Hong blood, we all originated from Hong-Bang and Lac-Long-Quan, we have to protect and help one another because we’re all Vietnamese. Vietnam still survives to this day, and will continue to do so, not because of any divine factor, but only because the above rule has not been forgotten in most of the Vietnamese minds.

[…]

From “The Talk Before the School Year” – Tran Dang Tuan, translated by Nghi Nguyen

Full (translated) version at: https://www.facebook.com/notes/only-rice-is-not-enough/the-talk-before-the-schoolyear/368969263188054

Full Vietnamese original version at: : http://trandangtuan.com/2012/07/28/noi-cung-nhautruoc-them-nam-hoc-moi-1/

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ONLY RICE IS NOT ENOUGH is a charity program that raises funds to provide food and cooking services in elementary schools of poor highland mountain regions. The children in these areas have only plain rice and salt everyday without any other sources of nutrition. Together with supplying food, the program also aims to expand its activities by aiding more basic needs, such as clean water, hygiene, books and learning tools.

“A Dime For A Meal to the little kid. Not much, but everyday.”

For more information, please visit:

Vietnamese page: http://www.facebook.com/Comcothit.Unitedstates 

English page: http://www.facebook.com/OnlyRiceIsNotEnough

HOW YOU CAN HELP:

1. Bank account:

– Acct. holder : Yen Pham, Bank of America- Acct. No. 0046-2901-7263- Routing No. 011-000-138- Zip code 02180 (or 00000 if the other one is not accepted)

– Paypal: haiyen1029@gmail.com

2. Check, money order:Yen Pham, Apt.10, 220 Central Street, Stoneham, MA 02180(Write a note: “for Com co thit”)

3. Like our Facebook pages. Share our photos/ notes. Spread the words :).

A Dime For A Meal – Only Rice Is Not Enough – United States

Posted on 22 October, 2012 in Links, Thoughts

“‎In helping others, we shall help ourselves, for whatever good we give out completes the circle and comes back to us.”
🙂

(ignore my awkwardness lol)

CƠM CÓ THỊT (ONLY RICE IS NOT ENOUGH) is a charity program that raises funds to provide food and cooking services in elementary schools of poor highland mountain regions. The children in these areas have only plain rice and salt everyday without any other sources of nutrition. Together with supplying food, the program also aims to expand its activities by aiding more basic needs, such as clean water, hygiene, books and learning tools.

VND 2,000 (equivalent to 10 cents in US dollar) is enough for one meal with nutritious food. Imagine that with only a 6 US dollar donation, you have supported nutritious meals for one child in one month, and with 54 US dollars, you have supported the child for a full academic year.

More about us: http://www.facebook.com/OnlyRiceIsNotEnough
http://trandangtuan.com (Main project page, in Vietnamese)

HOW TO DONATE: 
1. Bank account:
– Acct. holder : Yen Pham, Bank of America
– Acct. No. 0046-2901-7263
– Routing No. 011-000-138
– Zip code 02180 (or 00000 if 02180 is not accepted)
– Paypal: haiyen1029@gmail.com

2. Check, money order:
Yen Pham, Apt.10, 220 Central Street
Stoneham, MA 02180
(Write a note: “for Com co thit”)