Three teen sisters in southern Vietnam have braved precarious roads and a raging river to journey to school for the past decade.
Such unfavorable conditions have left many students in Don Chau Commune, Duyen Hai District, Tra Vinh Province dropping out of school.
Quach Thi Linh Dan, in 11th grade, and her two younger sisters, Linh Kieu, a 10th grader, and Linh Thao, a 5th grader, remain undaunted, however.
The trio cover nearly 10km from home to school every day, including three kilometers of tortuous, slippery dirt road and a river which can turn wrathful at times.
After school dismissed on a recent afternoon, Kieu hurriedly cycled home before dusk.
She said twilight makes her daily journey in pursuit of knowledge even more perilous, as she may easily tumble into shrimp farms near the less taken small road in the dark.
Worse still, the 3km stretch of dirt road, which is hardly wide enough for two motorbikes to cross at the same time, is riddled with bumps and gets precariously slippery in the rainy weather.
“In the rainy season, I leave my bike at a house on the asphalt road and wade home on foot with the flaps of my uniform ao dai [traditional long dress] tucked inside my jacket,” the girl shared.
Unlike her peers, Kieu and her two sisters have never wasted any moments loitering around for fun after school.
Dan revealed they were all scared taking the roads where few houses are on at dawn or dusk.
Once she had to show up at school at 5:30 am, which was a simple thing for her peers but gave her one nerve-racking hour.
“I left home in the small hours. My father escorted me on the dirt road before I traversed the asphalt path alone. I heaved a big sigh of relief when I reached school,” Dan recalled.
The sisters’ tumbledown house is located on an isolated mound, which causes them to even reach their neighbors on a sampan.
The river can turn swollen and perilous in torrential rains.
There were cases when sampans capsized while carrying people.
Against all odds, the idea of dropping out of school has never crossed the three sisters’ minds.
The girls’ fortitude is engraved in the minds of teachers and students at their school.
Dan is the class monitor and is always among the top three of outstanding students in her class, while her sisters also boast good academic results.
The three sisters credit their parents with sustaining their will in pursuing a decent education.
Their father, Quach Van Quyet, a small-scale shrimp farmer, has kept ignoring others’ advice to let his daughters quit school.
For the past 11 years, he has painstakingly taken his daughters to school and back home before and after they take the treacherous roads in at least eight rides a day.
“Daunted by the precarious journeys, many have let their children quit school. I’m also worried about my daughters’ and my own safety, but I’m determined to provide them with proper schooling,” Quyet said.
He added there were also times when the river got too shallow for the sampan to reach the banks, forcing the father and daughters to wade in the mud for dozens of meters.
Quyet or his wife would wait anxiously at one end of the dirt road for his daughters to come home at dusk on rainy days.
The couple also took out loans in bad years to pay their daughters’ tuition and other fees.
Si Co, a kind-hearted neighbor, often keeps the sisters’ bikes at her home overnight before they cross the river or give them temporary shelter and food while waiting for their father to pick them up.