In Vietnam’s rural and remote Lai Chau province, ethnic minority children are more likely to drop out of school and fall into insecure agricultural work. Girls are even more at risk, with early marriage also being a contributing factor. This, combined with the fact that the state curriculum is taught in Vietnamese and not in the children’s mother tongue, means accessing and completing school can be a real struggle.
Aide is Action is currently working in Lai Chau, implementing early childhood care and education (ECCE) projects. These projects are bringing increased access to quality education for pre- and primary school children as well as providing parenting classes for parents to enable them to better support their children.
Working away from home
For Cu A Chu, times are often tough as the income he makes from his small farm doesn’t offer enough to provide for his three children, his wife, his parents, and his grandmother. Chu and his wife Do often travel far from their village to work on other rice fields, to earn more, leaving their children in the care of their grandparents.
While Chu and his wife are away from home working, Chu worries about his children. “I know there is a generation gap between my parents and my children,” he says, adding that his parents don’t speak Vietnamese and are less likely to discipline his children than he would be. “When I am away, I miss Aide et Action’s monthly meetings too,” he tells us, which disappoints him as he has seen first hand how the monthly lessons have benefited his family.
Nutrition is an essential part of ECCE
“The project taught us about nutrition and how to feed our children to support their development. I have learned to give them meals containing rice, vegetables, and meat. Even if we have no money, I grow enough vegetables to ensure I can always feed my children” explains Chu.
Agriculture in Lai Chau offers a meager living and Chu has considered crossing the border into China in search of work but has had horror stories of job-seekers never returning. It’s a high-risk option and not one he’s willing to take. Aide et Action is also working in the area to educate communities on the dangers of migration and on human trafficking prevention.
For now, Chu is living off his farm work. His mother and his 100-year-old grandmother also practice traditional medicine and can make a supplementary income from selling the plants they collect and dry. Little, by little, the family is working together to improve their living conditions for the children.
Building a learning environment
« We don’t have desks for the children or a place for them to do their homework or even a lightbulb. »
Last year, Chu installed a toilet for the family. Before that, the family used the mountainous area behind their house. Chu’s next priority is to build a school desk for his children. “We don’t have desks for the children or a place for them to do their homework or even a lightbulb” he explains. “They study outside in the yard or sometimes on the bed. I need to build a corner for them with material and light but I haven’t been able to afford it yet”.
Chu hopes that his children will at least finish Grade 12. While he sees the value of a university education, he believes it is a dream out of reach for his family. “We have a saying in Vietnam … if you are not the child of the king, you cannot become the King. It means if you don’t have the money or connections, you cannot surpass your social class”, he explains.
Chu’s children are seven, four and two years old and his eldest is currently in Grade 2. In the morning, Chu takes his children to school (primary and pre-school) and likes to check in with their teachers on how they are progressing. In the evenings, Chu and his wife play with the kids. “We don’t have any books or stories to read to them so we read the bible instead,” says Chu.
Sadly, books and toys are a luxury for may living in poverty, even more so for those who speak and read an ethnic minority language. Aide et Action is also working to promote the use of bilingual learning materials in pre- and primary schools in the area to create more inclusive learning environments for the children that need it most.