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​In Vietnam, retired teacher turns selfless ‘mother’ of underprivileged children

Monday, December 25, 2017, 18:25 GMT+7

A boy with Down syndrome cannot hold and pees right in the classroom

No colorful pens, books or clothes but several students with special needs have improved in a class run by a retired school teacher in Vietnam.

Truong Thi Thu Cuc, 64, has run the class in Nghia Hanh District, Quang Ngai Province, for the past three years.

The class, held on three afternoons each week, consists of 11 children with Down syndrome and mental retardation who come from a poor background, cannot afford schooling or cannot fit in at other schools.

Despite Cuc’s repeated instructions, the students tend to give the wrong answers.

“The kids are slow in digesting knowledge but it’s heartening that they learn a little each day,” Cuc said with a gentle smile.

As the class was going on, Nguyen Huu Phat, who suffers Down syndrome, said in front of his classmates: “Madam, I wanna go to the restroom.”

No sooner had Cuc given her nod than the teenager urinated right in the classroom.

The veteran teacher hurriedly cleared the mess, which emitted a foul odor.

Cuc said she was undaunted by such incidents, which was not uncommon in her class, but was more concerned about the children quitting her class.

“It was a challenge talking Phat’s parents into sending him to school,” she recalled, adding she carried the boy home after class in the beginning.

“Being a teacher to underprivileged children is a demanding job not so many people are willing to do,” Cuc said.

Like Phat, the other 10 students suffer mental disabilities and come from poor families in which their parents generally work far from home and left them to the care of their grandchildren.

Such conditions deprived them of special education elsewhere.

Twins Nguyen Thi Hong Vang and Nguyen Thi Hong Diem both suffer intellectual deficiency.

Both seventh graders, Diem fared better than her sister, Vang, who still failed to spell, read or do simple calculations and fell far behind in school.

Vang thus receives private tutoring with a tailored coursebook designed by Cuc. 

Meanwhile, Tieu Van Lich, who dropped out of school for failing to finish seventh grade, is among Cuc’s students.

“I’m in class to learn how to read, write and do calculations so that I will become a worker in the future,” the motherless boy said innocently.

Though struggling with schoolwork, the kids display good manners and never argue or fight with one another.

Their favorite time is the break at 3:00 pm during which the boys and girls enjoy themselves with childish games.

Cuc keeps a close watch nearby to stop the youngsters from frolicking on slippery ground, and even join in their games.

“While playing with the kids, I also try to instill in them a sense of discipline, such as putting away their books, toys or slippers,” the seasoned teacher noted.

Cuc also makes it a point to teach life skills to her disadvantaged children to ensure they are safe from swindlers and sexual assailants.

She can easily tell their feelings by merely looking at their facial expressions and immediately comes to their help and solace.

The children confide to their respected teacher all their personal and family issues.

Cuc once visited Lich, who skipped one session as he had nothing to eat, at his home tucked away at the foot of a mountain, and bought rice for his family.

The teachers said she had devoted her youth to teaching in Nghia Hanh District’s remotest, flood-prone areas, but she had never experienced overwhelming challenges as she does with this class.

She patiently taught one lesson over and over again until her students understood it, and tailored her instructions and exercises to their different levels.

The loving ‘mother’ hugged and showered compliments on the students who gave correct answers to her math problems on their own.  

“I’m always flattered and deeply touched by their progress, no matter how insignificant it is, and their simple thankful acts, which are a great motivation for me to keep the class running,” Cuc stressed.

She has called for donations from her former students and philanthropists and sometimes uses her own money to buy books, teaching aids and bicycles for the children.

Shutting out her old age and frailty, Cuc always arrives in class before 1:30 pm to welcome her students.

One year ago, one of the girls roamed astray around 10km from where the classroom was.

“I searched for her frantically in the rain. Fortunately, a couple spotted her and took her back to me. I’ve never been late for my class since,” she recalled.

Around 20 minutes after the class is dismissed, she phones each of the students’ families to make sure they are safely home.

“I would like to extend my sincerest thanks to Cuc for treating our children as her own and shouldering the toughest part for parents like us,” Nguyen Xuan Vinh, Vang and Diem’s father and one of Cuc’s former students, said.

“Cuc’s boundless love and abiding commitment are just indescribable. Honestly, I was not convinced in the first place that she would succeed in educating the kids,” Bui Dinh Thoi, deputy chair of the Nghia Hanh People’s Committee, observed.

“I’m really surprised that the kids bow respectfully every time I visit the class,” he added.

One of Cuc’s wishes is to persuade more retired teachers to join her efforts and help her beloved students make even greater progress.

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