Ngo Thi Linh has six siblings, but she still describes her family as small.
That is according to the standard of natives in Mo Ba, a small mountainous village in the northern province of Thai Nguyen. Families here, on average, have 10 children each.
Linh, now a third grader, says she has learnt to take care of herself.
She will have to ride a bicycle to school alone very soon since her parents are having their hands full with her two younger siblings and farming.
"My dad and mom have to grow corn plants and raise buffallos too," she said.
Her eldest brother already quit school to help graze the family’s buffalos and one of her sisters is married, at a very young age.
There are many other low-income families like hers across Mo Ba, one of the most blighted places in the whole country.
The 500-strong village is around 30 kilometers from Thai Nguyen Province's center, but the roads leading here zig-zag through mountains, making transport a challenge and separating the community from the modern world.
Most families live on a corn or rice field. And they do not trust or feel comfortable with family planning and contraception.
Ngo Van Sung, 59, has 20 children from two marriages. He became a grandfather at the age of 30 and already has a great grandchild.
His neighbor Hung Van Dinh, 39, has 13 children.
Hoang Phuong Thao, a local family counselor, said women in the village do not want contraception.
They strongly oppose taking pills as they believe that the pill makes them tired and they cannot work on the field, Thao said.
A few women only accept to wear contraceptive coils, which are unreliable and have adverse effects such as expulsion, uterus perforation, pelvic inflammatory disease or ectopic pregnancy.
Some reject this method on the ground that “nothing should be put into the woman’s body” according to their ethnic beliefs.
The men rarely use condoms. They just smile shyly when asked about it, Thao said.
Hoang Van Pao, 40, said his two youngest children were unexpected as he did not think that he and his wife were still fertile.
They are now in third and fifth grades. His eldest daughter of 20 is waiting to get married and a 18-year-old son is herding cows for a living.
Heavy rains damaged their corn field last year and they did not have enough left to eat.
New age, new hope
Hoang Thi Si, 22, with her 13-month-old daughter at their home in Ma Bo Village in Thai Nguyen. Photo: Le Nam
Pao said he understands how hard it is to raise four children, so he’s determined to have the youngest ones “study properly.”
A number of locals, like Pao, has started to try to keep their families small in an attempt to give their children a better future.
Local census showed that fewer couples have their third child in recent years.
Lang Viet Thang, a local official, said couples of the older generations, who are around 40, have a lot of children.
“But the 20-something couples are well aware of the hardships of a big family. They just have two children,” he said.
Hoang Thi Si, 22, has no plan to be pregnant again after two babies.
Her eldest son is two years old, her daughter is 13 months, and she also has to look after a corn field.
The husband takes care of another corn field far away and does woodwork for extra money.
Her daughter is usually sick and the couple often has to travel for hours to a district hospital.
“On a bad day like that, my husband has to stop working and we won’t have anything to eat,” Si said.
“I won’t give birth again. It’s too miserable already,” the woman said in her 15-square-meter house, which has nothing valuable other than an old Honda scooter.
The couple named their son Nhat, which means best, and their daughter Moi, or new, hoping for them to lead a better life.