Slaving through summer

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Kids living in the coastal village of Bac in the south-central province of Binh Thuan wake up, every morning, at 4 a.m. to head for the beach.

They do not bother bringing towels or beach balls. Instead, they tote sacks and hooks.

"We've got to go early because fishing boats come to shore at that time and a lot of scrap metal and logs wash up on the beach," said Ha, who plans to attend the fifth grade this September.

The kids go to work scavenging the semi-valuable flotsam along the shoreline. Others help carry the fishermen's catches to market. They are paid in cash or fish.

Long, a soon-to-be seventh grader carries a basket of fish weighing between 20-30 kilograms. He works on the beach with his younger sisters Ha and Hang.

The children in many villages of Binh Thuan do not look forward to summer.

These children spend the long hot days toiling away in garment factories, restaurants and construction sites. When school resumes in the fall, many of them will continue to work after class. Some will drop out after the sixth grade.

Dinh Thi Tuyet Suong is something of a model child in the area. She's known to be a diligent worker and an excellent student.

Suong will enter high school this September. She has made good marks for the past nine grades, despite the fact that she spends seven hours a night shelling so [a species of shellfish].

"I've been doing this since the second grade, so it's eight years now," Suong said. "The work usually starts at 4 or 5 in the afternoon. I work until midnight and make between VND30,000- 50,000 (US$1.57-2.62) per night."

"At first I was tired but now I just want as much work as possible. My dream is to become a teacher, so I will try to realize that no matter how hard it is."

Huy, another boy from Bac Village, sells lottery tickets every summer to pay next year's school fees. On days when tickets sell well, he is able to afford extra rice for his family.

"My family has three kids attending school and it costs my parents a big sum of money every new school year. If I didn't sell the tickets, how will my parents afford that money?" Huy said.

Digging their way to another year

Under the burning sun, Pham Van Phuc, 16, wades through Lap An lagoon piling up sand that he will later sell. His moist palms peel as he shovels sand into a waiting canoe.

For many years, dozens of children from Lang Co Town of the central province of Thua Thien-Hue have spent their summers slaving away in the lagoon.

"I go dig sand when the summer starts. I have saved up several hundred thousand dong to buy books for the new school year," Phuc said.

Two to three boys man each boat. One rows while the other shovels sand. A third bails water out of the boat.

They start their days at 5 in the morning and end at 1 p.m. A strong boy can earn just under fifty thousand dong per day. Others, less.

"I've gotten dizzy many times," said Nguyen Van An, a sixth grader, who has been working for just a week. "My brother tells me to go ashore for a rest so I can return later."

Sand dealers pay VND15,000 for each boatload, but only it the sand is "clean."

An said the dealers have warned them several times to bring in cleaner sand, "or you won't get VND15,000."

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