Phan Thi Kim Hoa sells bananas and duck eggs in a market in Tien Giang Province.
But she has been paying more attention to reading law books than selling her wares.
Other vendors at the market call her lawyer with a little pride, but she needs to study for another six months to enroll in the bar.
The 55-year-old has a torn bag by her side in which she keeps her law bachelor’s degree certificate -- for which she had studied for four years -- and a photo of her receiving the degree.
Hoa said as a little girl she idolized a lawyer character in a folk opera, and when her brother was assaulted to death a few years ago and the attackers did not get due punishment, she became determined to study to ensure justice.
“People in rural areas lack legal knowledge and usually lose legal cases unjustly. I have to learn the laws to help them,” news website VnExpress quoted her as saying.
Hoa grew up in Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City) but dropped out after secondary school and followed her parents to Tien Giang in the Mekong Delta to work on paddy fields after the Vietnam War ended in 1975.
Given the low rate of educated people in Vietnam’s rural areas, local officials asked Hoa to be a kindergarten teacher.
She married 20 years later and stopped teaching five years after that to sell foods in the market, which fetched much more than teaching.
She had quietly buried her lawyer dream until some people beat her brother to death in 2007.
She did not find out the details of the incident, but said the people responsible for the attack did not get the punishment they should have.
In 2010, when she heard that the province’s education center had tied up with Can Tho University, the biggest in the delta, to offer a bachelor’s degree in law, she signed up immediately.
“I learned day and night, whenever I was free.”
Phan Thi Kim Hoa receives a law bachelor’s degree at Can Tho University in 2014. Photo supplied
The course required each student to be present in class for at least 20 days during each term of several months.
So Hoa would ask her neighbor in the market to look after her stall. Her daughter who was studying nearby would stop by to take things home in the afternoon.
She said she faced a lot of opposition from her husband, who believed that a degree only helped officials get promotions and employees, higher wages and would be of no help to her.
“He said I should follow other women and take care of the family because I won’t be able to use my degree for anything and can only hang it in the kitchen.”
But he was all smiles when she brought the degree home, she said.
“He praised me much.”
But Hoa still has to find money to repay the more than VND20 million, or US$1,000, she borrowed from a friend to pay tuition and exam fees.
She said she picked up scrap metal for resale to earn extra money but it was still not enough.
“I still don’t know how to repay the debt.”
It is going to be a bit harder because she plans to use her degree to help poor people for free.