Lunar new year in Bat Xat, mountainous area.
The weather turned bitterly cold when the new year came just a few days. Hearing that mountainous areas had appeared snow and ice which caused death to cattle, many people in Hanoi School of Public Health were so worried for children who lived in Bat Xat. Bat Xat was listed as one of the less developed district of Lao Cai province, which located in the northern mountainous area of the country. The way to Bat Xat’s communes was remote, roughly rocky and hidden-in-cloud roads. The communes were at the top of mountains, inhabited mostly by H’Mong minority group. The target of the School’s mission was Sang Ma Sao commune, which was 30km far from the central town.
The initial schedule to depart was weekend 14th and 15th of January. However, the weather was getting colder and the children might not go to school a few days before Tet so the School’s mission decided to set apart all busy work to depart on 10th January. The Labour Union of the School had called for donations among the School’s staff, members of the Vietnam Public Health Association and their friends. Clothes, milk, biscuits were bought from donations of kind-hearted people. The School’s mission determined that all of the donations had to be distributed to Bat Xat children. The atmosphere of preparing for the Tet trip was so pressing but full of laughs. The School’s mission had raised 60 million dongs, 300 new clothes, old clothes and toys during weekends.
The mission left Hanoi for Lao Cai at 7 o’clock in the morning of 10th January 2012 without knowing where to rest at night! Every members of the mission tried to contact friends to arrange a place to rest. After 10 hours, the mission was at Bat Xat. Fortunately, the Boarding school for Ethnic Minority let the mission to rest overnight. The mission was divided into 8 groups to go to 11 elementary schools and kindergartens. The meeting with representatives of the Education Department and the school to thank lasted to midnight. All members felt asleep after a long tiring trip with anticipation for the 5-o’clock trip next morning.
Pictures taken by: Phùng Thùy – Undergraduate Education Department.
The roughly dirty road turned slippery due to the rain at the previous night. Muong Hum appeared closer to the mission. The lives of people in the town were quite adequate but passing a distance of about dozen of kilometers, the difference became remarkable. On the way, the terrace rice field expanded vastly, sometimes a wooden house located lonely in the slope of a hill. The mission’s members sometimes had to push the car in the muddy road. Reaching the Muong Hum town, the mission asked the way to go to the target school.
Pushing the car up the slope (Picture taken by Mai Hoang - VPHA)
Finally reaching the school with happiness, all members had a quick meal with noodle before distributed all the goods while waiting for the Rice and Meat group (a voluntary group coordinated by Mr. Tran Dang Tuan, former Director of Vietnam Television Station. This group aimed to supply nutrition into lunches for children in kindergartens and elementary schools in the mountainous areas). The work finished at 13h30. Teachers went to the main school and helped all volunteers to bring goods to the hamlets.
Horses carried goods (Picture taken by Mai Hoang - VPHA)
Reaching the great stream, from afar we saw the children and people came to us. In spite of the large stream with strong currents and roughly rocks, the children ran happily with goods in hands, laughs filled the vast area. The further we went, the harder to see the destination and went through the sloping and muddy road. Finally we could see the bamboo bush of the school. There the children! But how heart-breaking… they rushed to the gate to greet us and the teachers, all of them, from kindergarten to elementary kids, shivering in thin clothes under the cold rain. I felt my heart throbbed and rushed to give them the warm clothes we brought. All the tiredness drained from us just by a little thank from the children when we helped them put on more clothes. People in the hamlets also came and saw us with their sparkling eyes. Chi and I couldn’t help fretting with the sight ahead. Some children brought their younger siblings to school, quickly try on new clothes then turned back to their beloved crying siblings. It was getting late, so the children went home right after having new clothes and little sweet. They ran to the school gate like a herd of young birds. Via the teacher’s talk, we knew that it was the first time they received such a warm clothes. This place was so remote that hardly anyone would come…
Bare-footed in the cold
Only now that we had a moment to talk with teachers here and saw around the little lonely school on the top of the mountain. The wooden walls were wobbly pushed by the strong winds. No clean water, no electricity, “nature” toilet and a pan in a wooden cooking fire. The teachers said that even the helps were available, it was difficult and must be practical because they only had 3 staff to care for 34 children in this remote place. We said goodbye to go back to the main school when it was getting dark with the guide of 2 teachers. 4 of us only had a flickering flash-lamp. We had to grope our way on the slippery road in the dark. Passing the most difficult path, we parted with the 2 kind teachers and got in other group’s vehicle. Silence filled the air since our minds were busy with thoughts and feelings after this special trip. Back to the main school, we gathered around a fire and told others our experiences. Soon the laughs and warmth filled the hut with cracking walls in the middle of the dark, freezing night.
(Nguyễn Nhật Linh- Equipment Management Department/Health Economics Department)
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