"Accompany with Border Dormitory" to support Dan Lai ethnic students in Nghe An
|Lieutenant Commander Phan Van Tham and Dan Lai children at dining table. (Photo: Courtesy)
Dan Lai is one among 11 ethnic minorities with the least population in Vietnam, living only in Nghe An province. In pursuing education, Dai Lai children still face many difficulties due to the poverty and long distance from their home to school.
Going door to door to persuade students to school
After the summer break, when many schools across the country starting new school year, Major Phan Van Tham, member of the Mon Son Border Guard Station’s Mass Mobilization Team, and his teammates still went to Dan Lai families in the two poorest villages of the Mon Son border area, namely Bung and Co Phat villages, to persuade families with children finishing primary school to let their children enroll in secondary school in the new school year.
Major Phan Van Tham said: “Since parents are partly afraid that their children who just finished fifth grade are still young and afraid of being away from home, many people don't send their children to school. Furthermore, some parents don't want their children to go to school; because according to local customs in the past, Dan Lai children from 7-8 years old and older followed their parents go into forest or river to fish for a living. Therefore, there are families we had to persuade many times and make every effort so that on the first day of the new school year, all the children went to school."
Lieutenant Colonel Nguyen Tien Hanh, Political Commissar, cum Deputy Head of the Mon Son Border Guard Station said: "In the area under the management of the Mon Son Border Guard Station, the population has 80% of Thai ethnicity, 8% of Kinh ethnicity and 12% of Dan Lai ethnicity.
Some Dan Lai ethnic people still keep ancient customs such as bury the dead wrapped in blankets and mats without using coffins for the deceased; have child marriage, consanguine marriage and maintain isolated life, far from modern civilization.
Women often get married early, have children and depend on their husbands. Men often drink alcohol and make a living by cutting trees, harnessing forests and catching bees, thereby living a very poor life."
Since 2002, the Prime Minister has issued Project 280 on the conservation and development of the Dan Lai ethnic group in the core area of Mon Son Commune National Park. In the 2004-2005 school year, the Mon Son Border Guard Station persuaded 11 children from Dan Lai ethnic group to go to secondary school. The number of students studying in secondary schools has increased every year.
As their families live in Bung and Co Phat villages, there are classes for primary school in their villages. However, for going to secondary school, they have to go to the commune center for a distance of 15-20 km, mainly on steep mountain passes, or some of them have to take a boat to cross the Giang River. Therefore, to stay boarding is a necessity.
In 2018, Mon Son Border Guard Station coordinated with localities and some organizations to build a "Border Dormitory" for providing Dan Lai students with a more stable facility for their study.
In the 2022-2023 school year, Mon Son Secondary School has 72 Dan Lai students, among them, there are 30 male students and the rest are female ones.
As Mon Son Secondary School is not an Ethnic Boarding School, teachers and school administrators face many difficulties in organizing and managing the number of students staying at the "Border Dormitory".
To overcome this situation, on November 14, 2022, in coordination with Mon Son Commune People's Committee and the school, Mon Son Border Guard Station introduced the model "Accompanying with border dormitory" at Mon Son Secondary School. The Station dispatched a special working group from the Mass Mobilization Team to carry out the task of "supporting school" at the boarding area.
|Mon Son border guards officer and Dan Lai students in their dormitory. (Photo: Courtesy)
Meaningful activities of a “school support team”
Officers and soldiers of Mon Son Border Guard Station have helped Dan Lai students soon get acquainted and integrated into the school community; experience life, living, and studying closer to the military environment; make a healthy cultural and spiritual life, support and improve life skills for students.
Mr. Phan Van Tham said: “We consider Dan Lai students as our children. Every day, we take care of them in various activities such as cutting hair, instructing them to keep personal hygiene, gardening, washing clothes, and especially looking after them whenever they get sick."
With the model "Accompanying the border dormitory", female students are outnumbered male ones, which have the advantage that female students are more obedient and discipline.
However, the "school support team" also faces difficulties because they are all men, while, at the middle school age, female students begin to show clear gender changes. Fortunately, Mon Son Border Guard Station has a female border guard officer, Lieutenant Colonel Nguyen Thi Tran Thanh, who has coordinated with teachers in the school to support and advice female students thoroughly about gender-related issues.
Lieutenant Colonel Tran Thanh confided: "Almost all children aged from 11 and 12 years old, staying away from their parents for the first time, hadn't adapted to a new, unfamiliar environment, therefore, they often skipped school to go home. My teammates and I talk with them every day, advising female students on life skills. I also have a daughter, so I understand the psycho and physiology of teenage children. I teach them how to bathe, wash their hair, braid their hair, take care of their psycho and physiological health, and make themselves beautiful."
Since the day they have been guided, loved and comforted by "border guard mother Thanh", the Dan Lai girls have voluntarily studied, learned personal hygiene, and no longer skipped school to play out or go home.
Every day, Mon Son Secondary School follows the Border Guard Team's alarm at 5:30 a.m. in the summer, 6:00 a.m. or 6:15 a.m. in the winter so that students can wake up to do exercise and personal hygiene, have their breakfast and go to class on time.
|A morning exercise of Dan Lai ethnic students with officers and soldiers of Mon Son Border Guard Station. (Photo:baodantoc.vn)
At the end of the day, the bedtime alarm rings at 9:00 p.m. every night, along with the roll call of the border guards.
Mr. Phan Van Tham said: “The number of female students is large, especially those in grade eight and ninth, who could easily fall in love. According to old customs, children at this age usually fall in love or even get married early.
However, now they have to go to school, so every day we convince them to avoid child marriage, as they are not old enough to build a family or become mothers, and encourage them to focus on studying, going to work in the future so that their lives will not be so hard and poor as their parents".
Having just accepted work at a new school, Mr. Le Duy Thuan, former Principal of Mon Son Secondary School, said: "This year, I will work in another place, but my affection for the border guards, who always help and support teachers and students of Mon Son Secondary School, will last forever. Previously, it was extremely hard to maintain the number of students going to class, but now these students regularly come to school, live in dormitories with sufficient amenities, full with blankets and mats, have food and healthy routines, therefore, they do not skip school for going home anymore".
Mr. Thuan shared proudly: “Previously, they stayed home, got married or went to work far away once finishing ninth grade. Now, most of them have gone to high school or vocational institution. In the last school year, two Dan Lai students won the Second and Consolation prizes in the district’s excellent student contest. This is unprecedented."