Chung has been closely attached to Thuan Mang Primary School for four years to look after and take care of his two children: Binh – grade 2, and Cuong – grade 4. He confided that: “I have been living a hard life, I can’t go to school to find a stable job, so no matter how difficult problems are, I will never give up trying to make things work to give the children a good education”.
His village is about only 5-6 kilometres far away from the Commune People’s Committee but getting to the school takes nearly an hour due to steep slopes and rocky hillsides. There are currently 23 kids from his village studying at the school, and they are required to stay from Monday through Friday. Due to the shortage of infrastructures such as boarding rooms, kitchen, and cafeteria cooks, parents of students must take turn staying with their children to provide food and clothing while their children are at school.
Every year, the village’s parents of school-aged children came together to appoint somebody to stay with and care for the school’s students following a weekly schedule.
Currently, the school has mobilized socialization efforts and constructed a temporary kitchen on a 10-square-meter site for parents to assist in daily childcare preparations. The kitchen is relatively small and equipped with minimal cooking utensils; Every week, parents bring rice, vegetables, meat, and eggs to cook for the children.
Chung preparing lunch for the students
Chung said: “Every Friday afternoon, I take the children home from school and prepare the food so that I can bring it to school with my children on Sunday afternoon. My house is classified as a poor household. Normally, both the husband and the wife go to work together for money, so they don’t have to worry about food; however, since I’m here for a week, there is a loss of labor and my family occasionally goes hungry. When running out of money, I will borrow from people in the village. After that, every year when I receive the children’s boarding pension, I will reimburse everyone”.
During our conversation, the school bell rang. The schoolyard was alive with the sound of children playing. Binh runs to his father to be brought to lunch with friends in the village. 23 students and Chung gathered around the table. The students prepared their own rice bowls. Today’s meal consisted of rice, some minced meat, and garlic-sauteed greens.
Students gather around the lunch table
Chung took the time to clean up and continued the conversation while the students take a nap. “How can you look after 23 students here by yourself?”, we asked. He explained: “I can only look after them some of the time, for example when providing their meals, or managing the children after school since I also have to look after my two children at night; the other children will learn to look after themselves. Whenever they require assistance, they will inform me; If I am able to support them, I will do so; if not, they will take care of themselves. When it comes to other parents’ turn, they will take care of the children in the same way that I did.”
According to Ms. Anh, Principal of Thuan Mang High School, the school is now unable to organize semi-boarding work due to a lack of infrastructure investment. Parents will appoint a person to supervise their children. This also makes it harder for the school’s administration to ensure that children are learning and being managed properly.
Students in their boarding room
In January 2022, project VN03-042 “Safe and Supportive Semi-boarding Schools for students in Bac Kan and Cao Bang (SBS)” handed over and put into use the semi-boarding room and kitchen at Thuan Mang Primary School in order to meet students’ needs to effectively study at school such as accommodation and support when they are boarding. The project has provided more than 30 students semi-boarding rooms fully equipped to support school activities. Currently, the children are supervised by teachers, with a cafeteria cook ensuring that they eat and sleep properly.