by Bạch Liên
A dozen children surround Bruno Cerignat, holding hands, singing and laughing as he teaches them a funny English song.
Cerignat, who left a comfortable life in France eight years ago to live in Mỹ Lai Village in the central province of Quảng Ngãi, now helps impoverished local people.
He teaches English to children for free and takes part in various charity programmes across the province.
On witnessing the peaceful lifestyle of the village today, it’s hard to imagine that this was once the scene of a brutal massacre during the American war.
Mỹ Lai Village, in the commune of Tịnh Khê, is known for the Mỹ Lai massacre of 1968, in which 504 local civilians were killed, and homes were destroyed by American troops.
Many years later, peace has returned to the village and a number of generous individuals have arrived, pledging their time to ease the suffering of the poor villagers.
Cerignat has been helping teach English to youngsters for five years, and set up his own English club seven months ago. He holds five classes a week, and teaches about 50 children from the local primary school, who are children of poor farmers in the village. He teaches them language with a range of games, songs and other activities.
“Children learn English grammar in their class with their teacher, and then in my class, they practice speaking and writing English with me. And then we play and sing a lot. We organise festivals like the mid-autumn festival, it’s very joyful… I also teach them how to protect the environment, and care for animals, all in English,” said Cerignat.
“My class is very special. We do activities outside, in the park of the Tịnh Khê Primary School 1. We sit on the floor together; therefore we are at the same level, teacher and students… There is not someone who can be superior. We also have a class at this primary school but we prefer going outside, we try to only go inside when it rains.”
Through his class, he wants children to feel at home and engage comfortably. Therefore they can be develop confidence and can communicate more easily.
“I want the children of my village to have the opportunity to meet strangers and learn English like in the big cities.”
“I am always available for them. I do my best so that they have more confidence in themselves when they meet a stranger or when they have to practice English at school,” the 52-year-old Frenchman said.
On seeing his students’ passion for music and dance, he asked eight members of the class to form a group named “Bruno and his ministars”. The volunteer teacher wishes one day to see his students sing English songs in front of an audience.
The Frenchman has become something of a local celebrity, and children will shout “Hello Bruno” at him on the street.
“In poor villages like Mỹ Lai, most children are not able to attend English class at foreign languages centres. Therefore, thanks to the help of Bruno, the children are more motivated to learn English, and communicate in English more fluently. We are very touched by his kindness and enthusiasm,” said Nguyễn Tâm, a local villager.
Nguyễn Đắc Nhân, a student from the Tịnh Khê school, said that his pronunciation improved after lessons with Cerignat.
“Recently, I won an important prize in English language at a provincial level contest. Bruno’s lessons are always fun and animated. We enjoy them so much,” Nhân said.
Tịnh Khê has now became a second home for Bruno Cerignat, after a 20-year career in the French military.
Ten years ago, in 2007, he came to Việt Nam to travel. He met his future wife, Nguyễn Kiều Chinh, who lived next door to his guest house in HCM City.
They soon became friends as Chinh showed him around the city.
He left HCM City to spend one year travelling around different regions of Việt Nam.
One day he met Chinh by chance on the road in Đà Nẵng. At that time he was a French teacher at Đà Nẵng University. Touched by this meeting, Chinh took Cerignat to her home in Quảng Ngãi to meet her family. He won over her parents and siblings thanks to his sincerity. One year later, in 2009, Cerignat retired from his job in France to return to Việt Nam and marry the girl he had fell in love with. After the wedding, the couple chose to live in Mỹ Lai.
Now he has learned every alley of his village like its residents. He devotes his love to his second home with his many contributions to social activities.
He wishes that local authorities would let him adopt the Vietnamese nationality and become a Vietnamese citizen.
Besides English classes, Cerignat volunteers at the Industrial University in Quảng Ngãi and takes part in various charity activities to raise funds for ethnic groups in the mountainous regions of the province.
Trương Thanh Thảo, chairman of the Tịnh Khê People’s Committee, said, “The region has suffered a lot. But those sufferings and losses are partly eased thanks to meaningful activities and actions like the free classes provided by Cerignat. We created favorable conditions for him to open the classes to help our children.”
Cerignat hopes to spend many more years in the village.
“I wish to become an official tourist guide for the Vietnamese government… I wish I could show tourists the landscapes of central Việt Nam that I love, like Lý Son, the ethnic groups that are not known in Quảng Ngãi, my students, and the primary schools that I love.”- VNS