Today we went to a Lasallian Christian Brothers’ school which is run by Brother Peter. The students at the school come from very poor families and many are orphans or have parents in prison. Students have to pay to go to the public schools in Vietnam, including fees for books and uniforms. Since Vietnam is a Communist country, I was very surprised that the government did not make education free at all levels. I expected there to be more public works projects than I have seen thus far. At the Christian Brother’s school, everything is free for the students. They are even given a lunch everyday. While the children may come from poor families, they were rich in enthusiasm and joy at our visit.
The children were extremely excited to meet us when we arrived. Even though they did not speak much English, they were coming up to us right away and interacting with us.
During the morning session, my classmate Nicole and I were in two different classrooms without any teachers. We lead the classes and worked on teaching them English. Needless to say, it took a while for the two of us to figure out a way to keep the children in check as they had a great deal of energy and enjoyed climbing on desks and fighting each other.
The second session Nicole and I taught was very rewarding because the students responded very well to the activities we planned. They loved solving the math problems and could not even stay seated because they wanted to be called on so badly. We also had this group of students draw pictures of their families. Hardly any of the children drew a picture with a mother or father. The majority of the students drew photos of a brother or a sister. It is very possible that this group consisted of a large number of orphans or their parents are not in the picture. It made me feel very grateful for my parents and three siblings who I am lucky enough to have close relationships with.
Something that really stood out to me was how polite the students
were to their teachers. When they walked by the teachers to leave to their classrooms, they would all bow their heads in respect. During the classroom observations, I noticed that when the children would go to the front of the classroom to speak, they would first bow their heads towards their teacher. All of the students would stand up from their chair to speak when they were answering questions. When Nicole and I first entered the classroom, all of the students stood up and greeted us. They continued to stand until we gave them permission to sit down. In the book The Sacred Willow which we read in preparation for coming to Vietnam, we saw how the author’s family lived by the five Confucius principles. One of the main ideas in Confucianism is that younger people show respect for their elders. I wonder if part of the reason the students are so polite towards their teachers relates back to Confucius and the ideal society he envisioned.
Today I encountered a great deal of poverty. In order to get to the school, we walked through a neighbourhood where the streets were dirt and there was trash everywhere. We walked by a large pond giving off a foul smell with pills of garbage on the bank. As we walked by, I saw
that many of the houses were in very poor condition and seemed to be made crudely. Again, I wondered in a Communist country how the government helped these people who were clearly very poor and what programs may be available for them. It also made me reflect on the wealth that surrounds me back in the United States and how much of it is taken for granted. Here, people are resourceful and do not waste because they cannot afford to. I hope that when I go back to the United States I take with me a deeper appreciation for everything in my life and the privilege I have been born into.
The day at the Christian Brothers’ school was both challenging and very rewarding. We are not accustomed to over ninety degree weather with humidity at this time of the year and were operating with less sleep than usual. It is extremely rewarding being there though because the children were so happy to be around us, and since they have so little, it is
wonderful to give back in this small way. The school is a wonderful charity because they are helping children who without the school would probably not receive an education. One of the great parts of going to St. Mary’s is that we are connected with Lasallian schools all over the world that are helping people in need get the education they deserve.