Long road home

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Vietnamese students who cross the Cambodian border daily to study in the homeland, struggle with poverty and a lack of institutional support.

Glancing up at the darkened sky, Huynh Van Dung hurries to steer his long-tail boat on Binh Di River to carry the Vietnamese students aboard back across the border to their homes in Cambodia.

"I want to get them home so they could have enough time to rest before taking the ferry again at three 3: a.m. tomorrow morning," Dung said.

Dung's boat often transports from 50 - 70 overseas Vietnamese students living in Cambodia to southern provinces such as An Giang and Dong Thap to start study at local schools.

Nguyen Quan Tuu, head of Koh Thum District's Overseas Vietnamese Society in Cambodia's Kandal Province, said the local Vietnamese community is made up of individuals who had crossed the border to search for ways to make a living.

Tuu said though most members are poor, they still make the effort to send their children back to study Vietnamese in the homeland.

Nguyen Van Co, principal of Dinh Ba Primary School in Dong Thap Province, said the school also admitted a Cambodian girl adopted by a Vietnamese family residing in Cambodia.

An Giang and Dong Thap provinces currently host around 2,000 Vietnamese students from Cambodia who commute across the border river to study in Vietnam.

About 470 are enrolled at An Giang's A Khanh An Primary School, accounting for 50 percent of the total student population.

According to Tuu, Vietnamese students from Cambodia have been commuting back and forth daily to study for the past 30 years.

Tuu's son, Nguyen Van Minh, was one such pupil.

He went on to become a successful crocodile farmer in An Giang Province's Khanh An Commune after graduating from high school in 1991.

For Vietnamese students, traversing the waterways between Vietnam and Cambodia in the rain and dry season is tiring, but a normal routine.

A resident of Khanh An Commune named Nam said locals can easily identify these students as most of them carry rice to school.

Boatman Dung said although some students only live several kilometers from the school by water, he had to begin his rounds at 3 a.m. to be able to gather them all.

Nguyen Van Son, deputy principal of A Khanh An Primary School, said that most students are unable to continue their studies beyond high school because they cannot apply for university entrance examinations in Vietnam as they lack appropriate residential paperwork.

Moreover, many of these overseas families live in the throes of poverty and cannot afford to give their children schooling beyond the most basic level.

Vietnamese authorities in these southern provinces so far have not developed policies to help students and their families overcome these educational barriers.

Diep Hoang An, now a faculty member at An Giang University, said his family had to add his name to the residential certificate of a family they knew in Khanh An Commune to pave his entry into a Vietnamese university.

"When I started my first grade, there were dozens of other kids like me," An said.

"By the time we were preparing to enter universities, I was the only one remaining."

Source: Lao Dong

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