Fighting for a future

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Huynh Thi Hong and her husband, Phuoc, have almost nothing except for a tiny slum house and a humble fishing boat in the central city of Da Nang.

For years, they have eked out a living by fishing on the nearby Han River and doing odd jobs around the community.

Yet they couldn't be prouder, they said, as Hong and Phuoc have something few poverty-stricken families could ever dream of: four children who are all attending university.

Despite the staggering financial burden, the family has worked together to ensure that each of the siblings can realize their goal of a higher education and a better life.

The four have always achieved outstanding grades, but it remains a daily struggle to pay the bills while they attend university.

Upon learning her youngest daughter, Tuoi, had passed the entrance exams into the Da Nang University of Education a few days ago, 47-year-old Hong said she felt dizzy.

"With one more child attending university, how can we afford it?" she asks.

While extremely proud, Hong is also overwhelmed and has considered selling one of the family's few valuable possessions, their boat.

"[But] if we sell our boat, how can we [continue to] support the whole family?" she asks.

Hong says the total cost for her children's tuition fees for the upcoming school year will amount to over VND5 million (US$292.23), "while we don't have a cent now."

But Phuoc says they have never once considered asking the kids to drop out of school.

"Reading their school reports, I can't help crying," he says. "They are all good, how can we ask them to quit studying?"

Inspired daily by their children's will to study hard, the husband and wife continue to push forward, despite their fatigue. Each day they row their boat along the river to fish and do odd jobs, earning as much money as they can.

Tang Thi Vi, the eldest daughter, says three years ago when the Thuan Phuoc fishing port was still operating, her parents would spend their days and nights fishing and transporting passengers in their boat.

Every day her mother would row the boat back home at around 3 a.m. to put money in a chink in the door for the children to buy breakfast before going to school, Vi says.

The student, who is now a biotechnology major in her fourth year at the Da Nang University of Technology, says she always appreciated the tremendous efforts her parents made.

"Some days, finding bread in a plastic bag soaked in rainwater [left for us], we felt great love for our parents. We just kept silent, eating the bread in tears," Vi recalls.

Somehow, thanks to their relentless will, Hong and Phuoc were able to send their other children to university as well.

Loc was the second sibling to attend the Da Nang University of Technology as an information technology major, while daughter Tham enrolled in the Da Nang College of Economics and Technique.

Tuoi, the youngest, intends to study history when she enrolls in classes this fall and has already won several top awards at the city's annual history competition for the past three years in a row.

To help support the family, Vi and Tham have started growing mushrooms to sell in addition to tutoring other students part-time.

"But our hamlet is so poor that we can earn just a little from running extra classes for local children," Vi says.

A simple wish

Hong says her family came to Da Nang City from the central province of Quang Nam in 1997 without any money or a place to stay after Phuoc's former business collapsed.

They set up a makeshift tent on Bach Dang Dong Street, "But we soon had to move because the local authorities said it was illegal," Hong says.

The family then moved around several times before setting in An Thi Hamlet.

But in 2006, when Typhoon Xangsane hit the city, Hong says their tent was completely destroyed.

"When the typhoon had gone away, we looked at each other, wondering where we would stay. Luckily, a neighbor told us there were lots of items that people threw into the river, [which could be used to rebuild the tent]."

Phuoc then spent the next several days diving into the river to collect metal pieces to rebuild the family's "home."

Asked what her wish for the future is, Hong says simply, "I wish my family can sleep well without being bitten by rats."

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