A teacher from Vietnam’s Mekong Delta has been doing a side job as an emcee for over 40 years. The income from this work is dedicated to needy students in his area.
Ngo Hong Khiem is the principal of Hong Bang Elementary School in Rach Gia City under Kien Giang Province, located in the Mekong Delta region.
For over four decades, he has worked part-time as an emcee for wedding parties and events in his local area to generate a fund for financially struggling students.
He was given the ‘Outstanding Teacher’ title according to the national standard.
The fundraiser and seeker of supplies
Based on Khiem’s account, he came from a poverty-stricken family and began supporting his parents as early as the age of 11.
He started by selling fruits to pay for his own tuition fees and living costs.
“I am grateful to all the teachers here," said Le Thi Thu Ba, grandmother of Tuong Vi – one of the benefactors of Khiem's personal fund.
"Thanks to his support, my grandchild gets proper medical insurance to continue her schooling. I wish him the best of health so that he can help even more students."
Khiem's teaching career started in 1982 in Rach Gia City.
Even in his early days, the man empathized with the rough lives that his students were going through.
"I was at a loss how to support the poor students," Khiem said.
"Besides the verbal encouragement, I set aside a bit of my salary [which was VND34 per month according to the nation’s currency policy before 1985] to offer them notebooks, textbooks, and pens."
At that time, a tael of gold was priced at around VND2,400, equivalent to about US$0.09 as per the exchange rate nowadays.
Ten years later, Khiem was appointed principal of Vinh La 1 Elementary School.
The premise was in a bad state as Khiem took office, with the schoolyard filled with sand, mud, and pebbles and prone to flooding under torrential rains.
Students walked with their pants rolled up in such weather conditions. Many tripped and fell, soaking their clothes and stationery.
Khiem ran a campaign in his neighborhood, asking philanthropists for supplies to renew the school facilities.
With the sand, cement, and other materials collected, the elementary school soon had a fresher look and was free from the grip of floods.
"We also got help from the authorities, but to make it quick, I ran the campaign myself," he said.
"It was a difficult time, so I was thrilled at whatever it was that people offered, be it some rocks or a bag of sand.
"The schoolyard was completely rebuilt in 1996 and the flooding issues disappeared. The students quite enjoyed themselves and the teachers were happy to see it."
An amateur compère
In those years, restaurants were mushrooming in the area, prompting Khiem to take up a part-time job as an event host primarily for wedding parties.
He managed his available time and made some minor income from this side job, some of which was given to the poor students in his area.
His initial payment was VND20,000 ($0.8) for every event, then it increased to VND30,000 ($1.2) and VND50,000 ($2.01).
The remuneration in later years rose to VND300,000 ($12.1) for every event.
Part of this was spent on the medical insurance, rice, clothing and school supplies, gifted to students in the form of non-monetary scholarships as an attempt to encourage their interest in education.
Khiem acknowledged his negative feelings at the job of being an event host, but he pressed on thinking of his needy students.
"They're poor and they need me. I simply kept my ears shut away from others' comments," he said.
"As long as the kids get to study, I would say that is enough."
Nguyen Ngoc Tuong Vi, a fifth grader at Hong Bang Elementary School, received financial support from Khiem and other teachers.
"My mother passed away due to COVID-19, and my father is now married to another woman. He seldom visits me," she said.
"I'm living with my grandma, but she can't cover my school fees anymore. The teachers at school helped me out."
"I would have dropped out without their aid."
Saving a student's eyes
Tran Thanh Duc was another fifth grader in this school.
According to Nguyen Kim Phung, a teacher at Hong Bang Elementary School, he lives with his stepfather.
At the beginning of his fifth year at school, his eyes began to falter.
His family noticed Phung struggling, but they could not buy him a pair of prescription glasses.
As things escalated, Duc was taken to a hospital in Ho Chi Minh City for thorough analysis.
"One of his eyes was not functioning anymore, based on the doctor's diagnosis," said Phung.
"Khiem immediately raised a fund for this poor boy, with both his own personal savings and the money from others.
"The fund amounted to VND187 million [$7,500] and got the boy's eyes back in the nick of time.
"Without Khiem, I believe Duc would be living life as a blind person now. Other students have also received a great deal of help from Khiem.
"The teachers and parents at our school much appreciate the love that Khiem has for his students."