Better late than never

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A man in his 50s appears to struggle with a second-grade Vietnamese language textbook at a class for fisherfolk in Quang Nam Province.

Many parents and grandparents are going to school and learning the alphabet for the first time in their lives in the central Vietnamese province of Thua Thien Hue.

Their fishing neighborhood near Tam Giang lagoon in Quang Dien District used to be called "thumbprint" villages since people could not even put their signatures on paper.

Now they want to end the practice which embarrasses them in front of their own children.

The district authorities have started five classes, providing notebooks and textbooks to 102 people from fishing families in the area. The classes are held at night since locals are busy during the day catching fish for a living.

Lao Dong newspaper was at one class this month, where all the students were solemn and attentive, but struggling to write the alphabets and spell the most basic words taught in first grade.

Spelling was a struggle, but writing was something else. The teacher, Le Cong Thang, had to hold each student's hand.

"It took two to three classes for them all to be able to write a letter," Thang said.

"Lucky all of them are patient and determined to learn."

The students have a variety of reasons for learning.

Nguyen Thi Hanh from the class in Quang Phu Commune said she is learning so that she could read the lyrics to sing karaoke with her friends. "That way I will stay modern."

Tran Van Dung, 39, told Lao Dong that his friends often ask him to go to a karaoke parlor after a drink, but he returns home quietly.

"There were times I took a risk and went; the words came out, and I did not know what they said."

But what Dung wants most is to end the embarrassment of being seen affixing his thumbprint.

His children had offered to teach him at home, but it just made him angry, so he joined the others at the class.

Le Thi Hanh, 44, has had similar experiences.

"One time local officials summoned me to sign off on a list of flood-affected victims to get relief. I just held the pen for a while ... I did not know how to sign."

She was also tired of having to ask neighbors to help fill forms like application for a birth certificate for her own child or for a loan.

She had started fishing at 14, but had had no chance to go to school before that either.

"It's the fate if you are born in a fishing family. The boat has to go where the fish is."

Ho Thi Thuy, 47, recalled that when she was sent for social activities she did not know what people were writing on the blackboard.

"I was given documents and stuff but was sitting there like I was from another planet. It is such a shame."

Nguyen Phong, a classmate, was already literate and could even write complaints and requests by himself.

But he joined out of sheer thirst for reading. He would stop anywhere with words to read.

"I read to know what it is, and also as a practice. It feels awesome when you can read and understand what people write," he said, cited in the report.

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