Well into her 60s, Ho Thi Dan – from Krong Klang town of Dakrong district in the central Vietnamese province of Quang Tri – has embarked on a brand new adventure: going to school.
The Bru ethnic woman might have been able to start this journey earlier if it had not been for her tortuous childhood, Thanh Nien (Youth) online newspaper reported.
Dan was orphaned at a tender age. In the highlands where poverty and outdated customs still exerted influence over people’s lives, Dan was seen as a bad omen that no one wanted to be around.
Fortunately she was brought home by a relative who ignored the local superstitions.
“At that time, for me, it was lucky enough to stay alive, to have something to eat. The children of my foster parent were not sent to school, so I did not dare dream about it either,” said Dan.
Knowing her place, she went back and forth working in the fields and in the kitchen. She often teared up thinking “if only my parents were still alive”.
Over the years, her hands have become red with ink as she has had to use her fingerprints every time she needed to “sign” a paper.
“People applied the ink onto my fingertips and told me to press them on the sheet, and so I followed without knowing anything about what was written on the pages. Those ink-smeared fingers were my pain, the pain of being illiterate,” she said.
Understanding the agony all too well, she urged her four children to go to school, even if it meant she had to work extra hard in the fields to pay for tuition fees and school supplies.
Unfortunately, none of Dan’s children were able to overcome the many obstacles and all dropped out before finishing high school.
Never too late
June 5, 2021 is a date that will forever be instilled in Dan’s mind – it was the very first day the 66-year-old went to school, when Krong Klang Town Women’s Union opened a literacy class.
Overhearing the children chatting about going to class, Dan too wanted to join but was too embarrassed to do so.
“In this mountainous region, people at my age already start thinking about where they should be laid to rest, not going to school. And what good would it bring anyway?” she said.
The class, however, was held close to Dan’s home, and the sound of young pupils learning to spell the words became too much to bear.
Looking through the door, she then took a chance and expressed her wishes to Phan Thi Chung, the chairwoman of Krong Klang Town Women’s Union and the organiser of the class.
“We had 24 students at first. And then on the third day, we were very surprised to see Dan come in and ask to join,” Chung said. “She said she had to learn to have no regrets later on.”
Aged 66, studying proved to be a great challenge for Dan. Hands that were used to working in the fields with pickaxes and machetes were stiff and awkward as they held a pen, while her eyes strained from trying to read letters and numbers.
Knowing her difficulties, Dan’s classmates and teachers all lent a hand to help her study.
The class was closed due to the Covid-19 outbreak. When it reopened, Dan was more excited than the children.
Aside from learning for its own sake, Dan’s story became a great inspiration for many other people in the mountainous region of west Quang Tri province.
Now, Dan has realised her dreams of reading the words on her personal papers: the ID card, insurance card, and household registration book. Her fingertips are no longer stained red.
Dan still studies by herself even though the class has ended, and she has already pre-registered for the next course.
Perhaps by only starting to learn in her sixties, Dan may not have much time to change the course of her life, but she believes that things will be different for the next generation
“Now I study not only for myself, but also for my children, as they cannot read and write yet and are shy and afraid of what other people will say,” Dan said.
VIET NAM NEWS/ASIA NEWS NETWORK