“I couldn’t imagine having done all these magical things. I love doing this. I love sharing love”
Huong Thi Lan Nguyen, a 60-year old retired teacher living in Hanoi, Vietnam shared her thoughts about more than two decades helping various people.
Growing up, while her father was away at war and mostly absent from home, her Mom raised her and her two siblings alone. What she learnt from her Mom is fortitude. Even after her father passed away due to cancer, her Mom, despite the pain, looked forward to being able to raise her children to become successful people.
Retired in 2018, she had 34 years of work as an educator, in which she had 20 years in management and leadership positions. A year as Vice Principal and 19 years as Principal of Trung Van elementary school. Working at the same school during the whole 34 years of her education career, she considers Trung Van ward as her second hometown.
At the time she received her management role in 2000, Hanoi city had many disabled children. It’s not easy for those disabled children to find a place to study because they’re not being prioritized. Wanting to share the difficulty with those children’s parents, and wanting them to have a chance to acclimate with life and find a direction in life, Huong welcomed those kids into her school.
Luckily, her colleagues at school were supportive of her decision. During 18 years, together, they helped thousands of kids who had autism, down syndrome, physical disabilities as well as other issues. Sometimes the teachers even had to help the students with eating and personal care. Not only receiving them into the school and supporting them during their study, Huong also tried to find jobs for them if she could. Currently, she has two students doing vocational training in Van Phuc village, Ha Dong. They brought their own food there, then learned to make handcrafted products.
Huong appreciated the teachers of Trung Van elementary school because they understood and had the same heart, same mind as her. Even today, the pupil’s parents still talk about and appreciate the memories of those days.
Beside helping disabled children, Huong also wanted to be involved in other charity activities. She had a friend who was a doctor at Moc Chau district hospital. One time he came to Hanoi and said: “Hanoi has everything, if possible, can you and your friends help to reduce the difficulty at the mountainous area?” Then he shared that there is a kindergarten teacher who is married to a Thai ethnic person. She was unfortunate that she experienced domestic violence from her husband and her first son also got bone cancer. Then her doctor friend asked her: “Her situation is very difficult; can you help her?”. Then Huong didn’t know how she could be so confident to answer: “Yes, I think I can”.
After accepting to help, she shared with her close friends first, then they discussed and asked themselves: “Why don’t we just expand the trip and help a school? To bring books, notebooks and some necessary stuff to the students as well as people living in the mountainous area?”. They planned together and the year of 2009 is the first year that she connected with other teachers and pupil’s parents to Phieng Luong ward, Moc Chau district, Son La province and helped the family of teacher Le at Tan Lap, Moc Chau.
Their first time coming to the mountainous area to help, they didn’t have previous experience, but they felt very happy. After a long journey, once they arrived, they asked to go to a toilet, and they were told to go pass the hill pass the classrooms. Then Huong asked herself: “Why doesn’t a school have a toilet for the teachers and pupils?”
After that first trip in 2009, she came back to Hanoi and discussed with other teachers, and shared with pupil’s parents, and her friends. And in 2010, she decided to do one more trip to go to the school in Phieng Luong to build toilets for pupils and teachers there. She wanted to bring the personal hygiene education there as a way to better the lifestyle of everyone there.
Then one day, a close friend of hers said: “Huong, if you can, then please help my people”! She changed direction to Yen Chau district, Son La province. The first time meeting the principal of the school she had a feeling that this is a person who is on the same wavelength with her on the charity journey in the North East mountainous area. He was a young guy who was born in 1983. He was in charge of Ta Lang school, a school that not many teachers wanted to come to teach at. It was just so poor, and too narrow of an area.
In 2012, she started to visit Ta Lang school, her first impression was seeing the pupils carry big water bottles to go to school. It’s a boarding school. Looking at the boarding school, she couldn’t imagine how the teachers can teach, and the pupils can study there. There wasn’t a water supply for the school, so the teachers there could only take a bath each 3 days, and they had to come to a villager’s home and ask for some water and carry them uphill. She was concerned with the girls when they’re in their period and don’t have clean water to use for hygiene purposes.
At that time, her husband passed away, she used the money people who attended his funeral gave them and discussed with the principal of the school to connect water from an aquifer from a distance of around 4-5km (2.5 – 3 miles), crossing Highway no. 6 to go deep into the forest to the school. They also had to do worship to the god of the forest and mountain, the god of the aquifer and ask permission from the village head before they could connect the spring water to the school. During that project, all the teachers, villagers and pupils worked together to bring the water supply to the school.
After it’s done, the next year, she continued to visit the school, and seeing that this year they are surplused with water. When seeing that there was a lot of water, she discussed with Mr. Hung – principal: “Hung, since there is a lot of water, how about we make a pond and raise some fishes?” Then they decided to make a pond to raise fishes.
Then she saw that the children there didn’t have a playground due to the school being too small. Next to the school is a large piece of land, she asked the principal if the land is available for sale, she could buy it as a gift to the school to use as a playground for the kids and for sport activities to make schooling more interesting and to help the children to develop on all possible aspects.
Beside helping the pupils, she also wanted to help the local people to develop their economy. At first, she was thinking about giving cows to people, but for the cows, the investment was too much. So, giving goats was the better solution because the goats give birth easier and the cost of goats is less than cow. And that year, they gave 42 pairs of goats (one male, one female) to 42 poorest families there. The people who received those were very happy.
Continuing her journey, one time, they wanted to give some gifts to a poor family, but they couldn’t come to the school to receive. So, they decided to visit that family. Traveling there, they passed by a spring, and the principal told her that: “this spring looks so peaceful right now, but during the flooding season, the water came very high, and the pupils couldn’t come home after school. Sometimes people there when they passed by the spring, they saw the flood coming, they could only leave their scooter and run away to save their life”. That made her want to build a bridge for the people there.
Then one thing led to another, during her 16 years helping the North East mountainous area of Vietnam, she had done 18 big projects: building charity houses, building bridge, building toilets, building road, giving goats, sponsoring for pupils as well as various trips giving gifts and supplies for people that are in need.
For Huong, giving will last forever, as what she gave helped the society to develop and that would remain and develop the next generations. And she doesn’t expect her favors to be returned, she just hopes to receive blessings in other forms. Right now, she has a very happy, very equanimous life. People who she helped or know what she did love her and trust her, and give her support whenever they can, and for her that is a life worth living.