Before Bui Thi Nhung filled in the application form to volunteer to go and teach at the school on Truong Sa Lon (Big Spratly Island), she was a teacher at the Suoi Cat Primary School in Cam Hai Tay Commune, Cam Lam District of central Khanh Hoa Province.
Despite a lot of warnings from her friends and relatives of difficulties she might face at the new working place, Nhung was determined to go to the far-off island, with a thought in her mind that she would accept all the possible hardships ahead.
When we arrived at the school, Nhung was teaching a summer class for the pupils on the island. Due to a sore throat, her voice was a bit softer than normal, but we realized her efforts in explaining the lessons for her pupils with full devotion.
During break time, Nhung talked with us, recalling a series of interesting stories about her classes and pupils. “When preparing personal things for my trip to the islands, I did not pack in my luggage any nice clothes, including the traditional Ao dai (long dress) and high heel shoes, because I thought that the living conditions on the island were so poor, with small houses, no conveniences, no trees, and only rocks and corals,” Nhung recalled her first days on the island.
“On the first day of the new school year, however, the pupils and their parents wear nice clothes. The soldiers even asked me why I did not wear the Ao dai on this special day. Oh my God, I was so ashamed for my innocence that day,” Nhung said, smiling honestly.
Nhung said, another thing that surprised her that day was that the school had only seven pupils, from Grade 1 to Grade 4, who would learn in one small room located in the local cultural house.
As a result, she had to use three blackboards hung in three different places, along with rows of desks and chairs for different grades.
“Despite all those difficulties, we completed all curriculums assigned by the Ministry of Training and Education, the same as others have done on the mainland,” Nhung said.
Apart from the general education, Nhung held extra-curricular lessons for the pupils, including singing, painting, poem reciting, and information about the late President Ho Chi Minh, the country’s territorial waters and islands, life of the soldiers who are safeguarding the country, and more.
On national holidays, Nhung took her pupils to visit the martyrs’ monument, the memorial house for the late President Ho Chi Minh, and the war martyrs’ graves. Through those activities, the ties between teacher and pupils became stronger.
“The pupils are truly my friends, who I can share my joy with on the far-off island,” Nhung confided. Nhung also recalled special stories about her little pupil, Nguyen Trinh Si. This active, playful boy did not learn well in her class and always stood behind his class-mates. So she had to spend a lot of time helping him to catch up with his friends.
“But Si has a special memory,” Nhung said, adding that the boy can remember exactly all the names and jobs of all the soldiers on the islands.
“When asked what he would like to become, the boy always says that he wants to become a solder of this island. Knowing his desire, I told him: if you want to become a soldier, you have to learn well. If not, you will never be admitted to the army. In that way, I would encourage him to learn more, and he had remarkable improvement in study,” Nhung recalled.
The special class is loved not only by the teacher and her pupils, but also by local residents and soldiers. “Since it is open, with the pupils learning and playing around, the soldiers seem to be happier, as they feel at ease with their children at school, and also their nostalgia seems to be reduced,” Nhung said.
The special school that has only one teacher, one classroom sheltering seven pupils truly brings a new vitality to residents on the far-off island. Such a devoted teacher like Nhung and her lovely pupils would surely be so meaningful to life on the island, especially when the pupils grow up and become strong soldiers to follow their fathers in defending the country.