For the past couple of years, a young man has been ‘paying it forward’ by hosting tuition-free lessons for children of migrant workers in District 7, Ho Chi Minh City.
Danh Tuan Anh’s classes, held in a 20-square-meter studio snuggled in a poor neighborhood at the foot of Rach Ong Bridge, is home to a soundtrack of children chanting every night.
Over the past four years, Anh, 25, has been pushing himself through adversity to keep the classes running, so that his young students, children of migrant working families, can grow well versed in words and numbers, as well as manners, and secure a brighter future ahead.
In the tiny room, the children’s faces brighten up at the young teacher’s words as he gives lessons on Vietnamese, math, and English on different days of the week.
The children also learn Korean with a native speaker.
The classes run for two hours starting at 6.30 on Monday through Friday nights.
“The kids are bouncing with energy and naughty yet willing to obey rules,” Anh said with a smile.
|Danh Tuan Anh teaches one of his young students how to write in his tuition-free classes held in District 7, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Photo: Dieu Qui / Tuoi Tre|
Not without setbacks
During his visit to the slum four years ago, his heart sank at the sight of most school-age children idling their days away or doing odd jobs around the ramshackle neighborhood, a far cry from the imposing, flashy buildings opposite their neighborhood, instead of going to school.
"I feel urged to do something to help," Anh shared.
The reality spurred Anh to seek permission from local authorities to run complimentary classes for the needy kids.
He was met with an enthusiastic "Yes!" and was also allowed the use of a warehouse which he later revamped into a classroom.
With monthly utility bills covered by the ward and the desks donated by an elementary school nearby, Anh's class was ready to welcome its first batch of students.
“Admittedly the room didn’t look much of a classroom from its opening until nearly one year later, when a philanthropist came over and the donation covered floor tiling and painting, which gave the venue a more kempt look,” Anh recalled.
But even with the class running, stumbling blocks were far from over, as he faced objections from his own loved ones and potential students’ families.
“My parents were worried I would burn myself out,” Anh recounted.
The young man painstakingly went from door to door to talk the migrant workers in the neighborhood into letting their children join his classes.
Some were concerned Anh was an indecent man who would set a bad example to their children while others opposed the idea of education, considering it an unfruitful distraction from daily work.
As Anh befriended the local residents, he slowly pushed the importance of a proper education and was able to convince many of them to reconsider their children’s future by providing the students with free meals in the first few months.
However, things have not always been as easy as offering food.
A few weeks after the school’s opening, many of Anh’s students did not make it to class.
Again, Anh found himself knocking on every single door, only to find out that some students had moved to other places with their parents, while others were forced to quit as their parents were holding a misconception that being basically literate is enough for their children.
Anh did not give up, further stressing the need for a proper education to the parents.
The workload of running a small business at the same time to provide for his own family was also a big problem.
“There were times when I shouldered the entire workload myself for several months, as my friends were too busy to help then,” he said.
The challenges were so overwhelming that he was pushed to the point of giving up at times.
“But I thought if I gave up on the kids, they and their own children would never see a brighter future,” Anh stressed.
Undaunted, the young man bounced back from these setbacks, and his persistence finally paid off.
Marveling at their children’s progress in both literacy and manners, the parents became more willing to send their children to Anh’s classes and even recommended the classes to other needy people.
|A volunteer teaches a young girl life skills in Danh Tuan Anh’s tuition-free classes held in District 7, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Photo: Dieu Qui / Tuoi Tre|
Around 30 students, compared to less than 20 at the start, attend his regular classes on average at any one time, the oldest being 14 and the youngest six years old.
Anh and his two friends began by teaching Vietnamese language and math to help with basic literacy before moving on to English and Korean later.
The young man shared that working with children has transformed him into a more patient, tolerant person.
“The classes are packed with fun. The lessons are easily understandable. I feel free to ask the teachers to explain things again and again whenever I’m at a loss,” Le Thi Tuong Vy, 13, said.
Anh revealed part of his strategy is tailoring his lessons to the students’ different abilities and integration, boosting teacher-student interaction and being empathetic to any family issues they might have.
He conducts a test every two months to assess his students’ improvement, with weaker ones receiving one-on-one attention and tutoring to help them keep up with their peers.
Apart from the lessons, designed in accordance with the national elementary curriculum delivered by Anh, his friends and volunteering students, the children are also armed with necessary life skills to protect themselves from sex predators, drugs, and domestic violence. The children can get a realistic view of the issues and are trained in some tricks and skills by martial arts teachers.
His efforts have been highly appreciated and his students let him know.
Anh shared he was deeply moved when he was gifted a portrait drawn by one of his students on Vietnamese Teachers’ Day (November 20) last year.
“After the extended break induced by the COVID-19 pandemic, most of my current students have got back to class. Some older newcomers, who are returnees from Cambodia, however, pose us a great challenge, as they are completely illiterate,” Anh revealed.
“We’ll give our best shot no matter how hard it is,” he underlined.
“The teachers here are really nice. I’m thrilled at my child’s progress and eagerness for learning. Without the classes, we could never afford to send her to school,” Pham Thi Yen Nhi, mother of Le Ngoc Phuong Quyen, one of the students, remarked.