Going above and beyond their job descriptions, teachers in Vietnam’s typhoon-hit provinces are heeding the call of duty, doing everything they can to rebuild their communities and help their students return to school.
Several provinces in north-central Vietnam, particularly Ha Tinh and Quang Binh, are slowly but surely rebuilding in the wake of the downpours, floods, and typhoons that have ravaged their towns and villages over the last few years.
Most recently, a pair of typhoons rocked the area in October, leading to loss of lives, displacement of families, and property damage stretching into the trillions of dong.
Exacerbating the issue are landslides and floods that have devoured large sections of road, isolating villages and destroying homes and schools.
Despite such tremendous adversity, teachers in these hard-hit locales are refusing to let nature get in their way of reaching students.
At Bo Trach Boarding High School for Ethnic Minority Students in Thuong Trach Commune, Bo Trach District, Quang Binh Province, the 30-member teaching staff has been working around the clock clearing up mud and garbage from the school grounds, tidying classrooms, and ferrying meals through floodwaters on makeshift rafts to feed the school’s student body.
Floods no match for the strength of a teacher
Hoang Duc Hoa, principal of Bo Trach School, shared that keeping the school running despite being nearly cut off from the outside world has been nothing short of challenging.
When the floodwaters receded, he and six of his teachers rushed to Truong Son (Annamite Range) Forest to collect supplies from colleagues who had been taking shelter from the storm.
After traveling 40 kilometers through the forest by motorbike to meet their colleagues, the group was halted by a landslide that had completely blocked the road.
They were then forced to take a detour through the forest, wading through mud and braving falling rocks, until reaching the other side of the blocked road where their colleagues were waiting.
The meeting was brief – just long enough for the group of teachers to load their bikes with relief supplies.
At that point, some of the teachers returned home while others came back to the school to be with their students.
Despite its isolation, the school remained open, with teachers sharing the burden of cooking for students, clearing debris from the campus, and making supply runs on makeshift rafts.
“We were rowing on what are normally streets, not rivers. The water was about four to 10 meters deep,” Hoa shared.
|Teachers at Bo Trach Boarding High School for Ethnic Minority Students in Bo Trach District, Quang Binh Province in north-central Vietnam carry relief supplies near a landslide site in this photo provided by Hoang Duc Hoa, the school’s headmaster.|
Lessons from the heart
Teachers in Can Loc District, Ha Tinh Province, approximately 152 kilometers from Quang Binh Province, have also been doing their part to rebuild the community and help their students return to school.
Nguyen Quoc Hiep, a teacher at My Loc Elementary School and vice-director of the district’s Quang Loc Commune Community Learning Center, is one such teacher.
After hearing about the devastation in his district, Hiep ignored his doctor’s orders and left a hospital where he had been undergoing treatment.
He felt it was his calling to aid his fellow residents, students, and colleagues in rebuilding the area.
As the schools in Can Loc that had not been flooded were serving as shelters for local residents, teachers had their hands full cleaning, preparing meals for displaced residents, and checking in on locals who were trapped at home.
“Many teachers lost homes and property, but were still pitching in to help clean up the mess at school and reach out to students and locals,” Hiep said.
Some also volunteered to walk dozens of kilometers to other schools and colleagues’ homes to help clear drains and move debris.
Nguyen Thi Thanh Nga, head of Thach Ha District's Education and Training Bureau in Ha Tinh Province, shared Hiep’s sense of duty.
Nga has spent the days since the typhoon rowing a boat through the district to visit schools, teachers, and students in need.
“Teachers here have a tough life. New graduates earn just VND2-3 million [US$86-130] per month while seasoned teachers make just VND5-6 million [$215-259] each month,” Nga revealed, adding that many teachers in the area supplement their income by farming.
Unfortunately, the recent flooding and typhoons have damaged crops, which has led to many teachers losing vital sources of income.
“Some burst into tears when they saw me. All I could do was try and keep their spirits up,” Nga admitted.
Despite the hardship, Nga said no teachers have asked to resign.
“What keeps them on the job is their passion for teaching, their bonds with colleagues, and their dedication to students,” Nga underlined.
Even with so much on their plates, many of the area’s teachers worry their students will drop out of school once the flooding recedes, inspiring many to make personal visits to students’ homes to appeal for them to return.
Many teachers have also been willing to donate money so that semi-boarding school students are able to eat when classes resume.
All of these struggles seem to have strengthened teachers’ resolve to stay on the job.
“Switch jobs? Never!” is Hiep’s resolute answer, one echoed by many of his colleagues in disaster-struck areas.