A class for disabled children gives youngsters vocational skills while they receive medical treatment.
The students suffer from cerebral palsy, autism, speech and hearing impairments, and other conditions, some of which due to the effects of exposure to Agent Orange.
Some of them have spent five years learning how to write, while others have learned simple addition and subtraction.
But they’re determined to learn more and their teachers are commited helping them.
The class in the northern town of Nam Dinh is run by the Center for Disabled Children Assistance, which provides children of all ages with an education, vocational training and even job-search help so that they can one day become independent.
Many of the kids are there for medical treatment and physical therapy, but the two senior teachers tasked with running the class ensure that they leave the center not only physically better, but also having learned more about the world.
On Monday morning, teacher Le Vu Dao, 83, starts his class with a basic writing lesson for first-graders.
Seven-year-old Quynh Anh, who suffers from hydrocephalus, an abnormal amount of fluid in the brain, which had made her right leg weak and her mental functions slow, tries to stand on her tiptoes to hand her notebook to her teacher.
“Please write the lesson for me,” she says. Anh used to study at a regular public school, but her parents had her transferred to the center after she fell behind.
Next to Anh are 17-year-old Le Phi Huynh, who has a brain disorder, and 19-year-old Dam Thanh Trung, who is deaf. The two boys, who are known for having the best handwriting in class, are carefully writing letters stroke by stroke.
Trinh Hong Trinh, an 18-year-old Agent Orange victim, and 25-year-old Nguyen Thi Thuy, who has a brain disorder, have been studying for five years but still cannot write. Trinh has both mentally and physical conditions related to exposure to the dioxin-laden defoliant used by the US military in Vietnam.
Other students including 10-year-old Vu Thuy An, who suffers from speech and hearing impairments, has been in first-grade for three years.
Twenty-three-year-old Oanh, who has Down syndrome, has attended the class since 1999 but could not read and write fluently until recently. Every day the girl comes to class early and stays late to help her teacher.
As the students have varying ages and impairments, the teachers have to compose the academic programs by themselves, says 71-year-old teacher Vu Ngoc Ha, who has taught at the center since 2005.
“We mainly teach them to read and write. Many students take two years of study to learn to write.”
Ha says all the students are all keen to learn and get good scores. They can be very disappointed by low scores, and some have even torn up their notebooks after receiving poor marks.
“We have to consider grading them with scores that are good enough to encourage them. But sometimes we have to be strict so that they try harder,” he said.
Dao, who has been teaching at the center since the classes began in 1996, said his method was to make his students enjoy their studies, and instruct them as clearly and simply as possible.
He says encouragement is one of his main methods. Dao has taught more than 100 students over the past 13 years and has seen the center’s education program grow from one to two classes.
After mastering reading and writing skills, the students move on to attend a sewing class taught by teacher Nguyen Ngoc Hung.
“The students easily forget what they learn only a day or two after class,” says Hung who teaches some 300 students from Dao and Ha’s class. “Some have to spend the whole year understanding and remembering one idea.”
When the students graduate, Hung asks local garment companies to employ his students and has managed to get jobs for most of them. Many have become skilled workers with monthly incomes of VND800,000-2 million (US$46.77-116.92), Hung said.
‘Don’t blame them’
Tran Hai, 73, the center’s director, says he opened the classes because he realized that “the children can’t broaden their knowledge and integrate into the community after treatment, if they are illiterate.”
The first class was held in 1996 in a VND1-million ($58.46) house with canvas patching leaks in the roof, Hai remembers, saying the first two years were the most difficult when teachers, doctors and nurses had to sell watermelons in the street to raise money for the class.
Despite all the difficulties, almost no students have dropped out of the classes.
Dao’s compassionate teaching has won the hearts of his students and colleagues alike.
“People must have deep love like Dao to stay with these classes,” says vice director Tran Trong Nghiem.
Nghiem tells a story about when Dao urged sympathy for two students who had gotten in a violent fight in Dao’s class.
“Dao didn’t blame them,” says Nghiem.