The Teacher and Two Little Girls

VIE37-two happy girls.JPGThe author, Pham Huyen Trang is 12 years old and attends Pho Rang 1 Secondary School in Lao Cai city.

Net was seven and her sister Na was six.

Sadly, Net was born with only two toes on her left foot. It became smaller and smaller as she grew up and eventually she had to crawl to move. Her parents were exhausted from taking her from hospital to hospital, and her mother cried night after night.

Everyday her parents went to work. Her father was a worker in a fruit-processing firm, and her mother worked in a pineapple field. They were very busy. The two girls knew that and never complained.

One day, Net was given a wheelchair so she did not have to crawl any more. That September, Na went to school. Net stayed alone at home. She was so sad. Everyday, she longed for Na to come home and tell her about everything out there, her friends and the large tree-lined playground… When Na did her homework, Net stared at her writing.

The father said: “We should let Net go to school.”

“No, we shouldn’t,” said the mother. “Our poor girl will be teased by other children.”

When the first term ended, Na came back from school and eagerly told everybody that there was a new pretty, young female teacher in the school. She wore a long white dress, had a beautiful smile and was so gentle…

Na liked her teacher so much that she kept talking about her. That made Net like the teacher very much too. And so Net started to dream about going to school with Na.

One day, in drawing class, the teacher was surprised by Na’s picture. It was not a drawing of flowers but of a young lady with a wand standing by a little girl. Na explained: “I drew a fairy using her wand to make my sister’s leg normal so she could come to school.” The teacher knew then that Na’s sister was disabled. She decided to visit her.

That night, seeing the teacher wheeling her bike into the yard, Na yelled happily. Net could not take her eyes off the teacher.

Their mother was confused. “With so many children around, Net will feel self-pity,” she sobbed. “Her grandfather spent 10 years in the war… it’s Agent Orange*…”

When the teacher had left, the girls’ mother held Net so tightly and said: “From next week, the teacher will come and teach you.”

After a short time, Net could write as well as Na. She also learnt maths and could count quite quickly.

A month before the school year ended, the teacher talked to her 35 pupils about a little girl in a wheelchair who wanted to study. As she was telling the story, Na’s eyes sparkled with pride. The teacher showed Net’s notebook to the whole class, and they admired her greatly.

One pupil was curious:

“Teacher, why doesn’t she come to school?” she asked.

“She is studying at home. Next year, she will join you.”

“How will she get to school, teacher?”

“She will come in her wheelchair and we will make her a special table.”

“We will help her, we can push the wheelchair,” said the children.

“So what will you do if students in other classes tease her?”

“We will tell you. And we will tell them that they are bad.”

The teacher was very happy. Sometimes she brought her pupils to see Net. They got to know each other very quickly, and the house was full of laughter.

Finally, the teacher told Net’s parents that Net could join the second grade after summer. Na clapped her hands as the parents’ eyes filled with happy tears. Net was imagining the day when the teacher and her friends would be standing around her wheelchair to help her move forward.

* Agent Orange – toxic chemical herbicide used extensively during the American War

KEY FACTS: DISABILITY IN VIETNAM

  • Around 97 per cent of eligible children are enrolled into primary school.
  • Support systems remain weak for the more than 1.2 million children with disabilities in Vietnam.
  • There are approximately 1 million children living with disabilities in Vietnam (approximately 3 per cent of all 0-17-year-olds).
  • Although all people with disabilities are now entitled to government education, the education level of disabled children is generally low – over one-third of children aged 6-17 had never attended school and a futher one-sixth had dropped out.
  • However, most children reported that local people had positive attitudes towards them.
  • At kindergarten level, once a child with disabilities is enrolled in a class the total number of children in that class is limited to 24.
  • Teachers working with children with disabilities are given specialist professional training and entitled to get their minimum duty hours reduced.

Sources: UNICEF web page (2010): ‘Vietnam-The Children in Vietnam’; PLAN International web page (2010): ‘Where we work-Vietnam’; (Source: plan-international.org/where-we-work/asia/Vietnam); Vietnam Child Disability Survey (1998); Decision 23/2006/QD-BGDDT on Integration Education for People with Disabilities dated 22 May 2006.

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