Here it began

Giang Seo Lung and his friend are cleaning the yard

Everything started in early 2005.  The coordinator of the Rice Scholarship Program, then worked for the Canada Fund in Vietnam, traveled with her two girlfriends to Lao Cai for a few days. They went to see the new dormitory funded by Canada Fund in Lung Sui Primary School of Simacai District. Here they met a little boy about 7-8 years old, yet only as tall as a 5-6 years old normal child. But what struck them the most was the boy’s outfit. He was wearing not even used and torn clothes, but a man pull-over, which was so long it covered up to his knees. It was cold then but the boy and his friends had no warm clothes to wear.  Being a mountainous province, Lao Cai is famous for an extreme winter. The three friends shivered from the cold, tears ran on their faces while they were listening to a teacher explaining about the situation.

Lung and his friends cook in the school kitchen

Five children, including the little boy in pull-over named Giang Seo Lung, were orphans. No one took care of them, so a few teachers volunteered to take them in, chipped in their own salaries to feed these students, and of course, shared with them not only their room, but also their clothes. Although the three friends were not extremely surprised by the facts, since they have been or heard of the level of poverty in the mountainous areas before; the mere sight of the boy sent pain to their heart. Together, they made the very first donation of what would later become the “Rice scholarship program” by giving some money from their own pockets so the teachers could buy some more rice for their students to survive that unusually long winter.

 

But it was not a one-time-charity-to-make-you-feel-good-about-yourself. The three friends didn’t forget about the five orphans, and many other children sicken with poverty they saw during their trip. Back to Hanoi, the story of the five orphans was told with their colleagues and friends at the Canadian Cooperation Office.  The idea that each person would put aside 50,000 VND per month to support the poor kids was strongly supported by the staff as well as the CCO Director and his spouse. Emails were sent out and circulated. Words spread out. People, many of them being Canadian, started donating money and told others.

Three friends and 5 orphans at Lung Sui Primary School

In the beginning, scholarships were disbursed on a “convenient” basic, which means whenever the coordinator happened to take a field trip to the region, she brought donated money with her . But unlike other organizations with big names, people who participate here never care about putting their names out there, or advertising their good intention. The “program”, if you will, is based solely on personal network, friends to friends, families to families, and persons to persons. All they care about  is the money is given to the hands of the students, so none of the donated money is used for whatever operational cost, both to the donors and the local partners who help a great deal in administrating and organizing stuffs. To the Women’s Union, to the schools, to the Office of Education in all districts and provinces the program goes to, not a single cent is dropped in middle way and 100% of donations go straight to the students.

 

Giang Seo Lung and 3 students of Lung Sui School received their first rice scholarship in August 2005.  In the photo is the teacher in charge of boarding in Lung Sui School, who not only gave Lung his pull-over but also contributed rice as well as money to support Lung and 4 other orphans to continue schooling.

And stories started to be told. You know, I saw with my own eyes students living in dormitory (most likely a bamboo sack) brought a bowl of rice to a tap, opened the tap, got some water and pretended it was some kind of soup, put in some salt and that was all they had to eat for that day. You know, in one scholarship disbursement, we saw this boy with such bright and unusually new pair of slippers. When I asked, his father explained that to go to the central district is a big occasion for them all, so he bought his son a new pair of slippers, but actually, he added, this is my son’s first pair ever in his life. You know, the furthest distance a student lived away from here is 60km. Her teacher had to pick her up the night before, and they started their journey very early this morning, probably 3am, crossed many streams, bushes and different trails, to be here at 10am, hopefully they would be able to arrive home before sunset. You know, this family was so glad to receive this pack of rice, because without it they would probably go hungry for the next three months and eat mostly cassava. You know, the further you go, the more remote areas you come to, the more children with both physical and cognitive problems you will meet. In one school, almost 1/3 of the students are affected with some kinds of disability: some are mute, some are deaf, some are dumb, some are just not normal..and it is all because their bodies don’t get enough nutrition when they most need it. You know, you know, you know…

These heart-breaking little stories move people. The program grows bigger as friends forward emails to friends, sisters tell brothers about the children. Some simply have forgotten how it feels like to be poor and some are shocked to learn about it. None of the donors talk about mission, goals, values, they just tell people what they have seen, and it’s up to them to take action.

 

No one talks about “making a difference”, or “changing the world”, or “improving life”, or “a better place for children”. Everyone knows what they have done and are doing is humble, and it is nothing compared to the hardship the students endure years after years. But to quote Mother Teresa: “What we are doing is just a drop in the ocean. But if that drop was not in the ocean, I think the ocean would be less because of that missing drop”

 

Words by: Nguyen Hong Van

Rice Scholarship in Vietnam

The Rice Scholarship Program is a charity program aiming to assist disadvantaged students, particularly those from ethnic minority groups, in remote and mountainous areas, to continue their education. The program was initiated in 2005. Individual donors contribute money, time and effort to raise fund, establish relations with local partners, coordinate and manage the program on a voluntary basis. Contact us here

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