Doan Minh Hung had been so poor he had to drop out of school at a young age, and so he could see himself in the poor children wandering the streets of Ho Chi Minh City instead of being in school.
The sympathy became action six years ago when Hung opened a free night class at his rented home on the city’s outskirts with some help from student volunteers and books donated by kind-hearted people.
His class at 166 Phan Anh, Tan Phu District, began with five children, but word of mouth kept bringing more and now its strength has swelled to 130.
Most of them sell lottery tickets and pick scrap on the streets during the day.
The six-year journey has been a real commitment for Hung.
“At first I thought I could teach them to read and write myself, but it was complicated,” he said.
So he had to go to a second-hand book shop to buy a teacher’s guide book.His students are six to 12 years old and so he uses primary school textbooks to teach them to read and write and math.
When his class expanded beyond the capacity of his old house, Hung decided to sell his land in his hometown in nearby Ba Ria-Vung Tau Province to rent a bigger house.
He and his wife run a vegetarian eatery on one side of the house and keep the other for his students.
Nguyen Thi Kim Chi, his wife, said she does not regret selling the land.
Eager faces in the night class that Hung, a school dropout 50 years earlier, runs in HCMC for street kids. Photo: Dinh Tuyen
“We had planned to go back there to live when we could no longer survive the city life.
“But the class is worth it.”
Their son also supports the project.
“It feels like a big family,” he said.
Hung also accepts children who go to school but need help with their exercises at night.
Besides lessons, he also teaches the children to be kind and polite.
“I look at them and feel so happy that they no longer fight or swear on the street and bow to older people,” he said.
Hung, 53, was born into a farming family in Ba Ria-Vung Tau.
His parents divorced soon after his first birthday and he grew up in poverty and without a father.
Books and other stationery donated to the class. Photo: Vu Phuong
“There was that difficult year when I and many children in the neighborhood had to drop out of school.”
After marriage, he moved to Ho Chi Minh City where he managed to find his father, who however died a short time afterwards.
“I had a hard childhood; so I easily relate to the poor kids.
“Teaching them helps realize my dream of going to school as a little boy.”
Hung is not very sure about the future of the class given his family’s financial condition.
“But the children are so excited and we don’t want their dream to end half-way.”