In my old days, there were some times I brought my lunch box to school…
At that time, children only went to school half day. I studied in a special class and there were some full days at school for more studying. One of the reasons I loved those days was that I could bring my lunch box to class: looking like an adult going to work and having the chance to exchange and taste other kids’ food 🙂
Now, when I went to mountain region with the “Meal with Protein” group, I saw the children going to school with their lunch box in their hands.
30 years ago, during the time of very bad condition of Vietnam’s economy, when there wasn’t enough for basic needs, there were still some vegetables and some simple foods like salted peanuts in my lunch box. And below are the lunch boxes of the children at Batxat District (Laocai Province) nowadays.
In my old days, there was permanent hunger…
My children can never imagine how 50gr of pork could make our family meal a party. At my time, we could only buy some hundred grams of pork a month per person with regular food stamps. And we always tried to buy lard for sautéing vegetables and put the rest of it in fried rice. When we had some thin slices of lean meat, the children would be happiest because they would certainly get it. That’s how we developed the concept of “saving eating”: the thin slice of lean meat would lie on the surface of the bowl of rice, where we stared at, then it moved down slowly to the bottom of the bowl, without changing in size very much. That was “saving eating” 🙂 The hungriness was always loitering around. Obviously, we just stuffed ourselves with bowls of rice mixed with noodles and vegetables dipped in fish sauce, the starvation came back in no time.
At the Denthang Kindergarten, we luckily arrived at lunch time. The little children’s mouths were shiny with oil as they had pork for lunch that day. Thanks to the online “Meal with Protein” campaign, the children can have salted fish, egg and tofu once a week and pork twice a week. The teachers said they divided all the food to the children at the first bowl of rice to be fair. And the children immediately use the strategy of “saving eating”: saving the food so that the next bowl or even the third bowl will have the taste of food in it.
In my old days, the cold froze our hands and feet…
Even now, sometimes my siblings and I still wonder if it was colder when we were little. The cold absorbed us to our bones, worming on our bodies despite how many layers we put on. My children cannot picture it when I tell them about a game my friends and I used to play: we dared each other to guess how many layers of clothing we were wearing that day. The record belonged to a friend of mine (a skinny girl in grade 3) who wore 13 blouses. 🙂
Up on this mountain hill, where all of us were shivering under layers of sweaters and jackets, the kindergarteners we met only had 1 or 2 layers of clothing on them. It was luxurious for them to have a hat or a scarf. It wasn’t a rare sight to see children with bare feet. There were frozen little hands that I tried to warm up with my own hands, but to no avail.
In my old days, my blanket showed my feet if it covered my neck…
Have you ever used a blanket with damaged stuffing? I know my blanket in my childhood as well as I know the back of my hand. When I got in it, I knew where to hide my feet, avoiding the part without any stuffing.
The bamboo bed, which was filled up with tiny babies, made me feel warm. Guess how many little kids were sharing a duvet? Of course you cannot tell. Because you certainly don’t know the teachers’ trick.
In my old days, my sister waited for me after school…
My sister and I love each other very much. That love, in my memory, started when she brought me to and picked me up from kindergarten at the evacuation region. My sister, who was only a little bit bigger than me, lead me through the rough road in the sunset. I thought of my sister when I saw the little 8-year-old girl sitting in front of Alu Kindergarten.
I always hope that those beloved old days would sleep well in my heart, that my children would never have to experience them. But after near to 4 decades, I saw them all here, much worse than I can think. The bitterness somehow got full in my heart… I resigned myself to think that old days gave me a strong will power to live, up-and-coming abilities and endless withstanding experience that my children’s generation can ever dream of. Hopefully the children here would take the advantage of these conditions to enrich their courage. However, there is a big need of hands to protect their steps.
Do you know:
– Most of the children from 3 to 5 years old at the mountain region go to school alone everyday: Although there is no fear of transportation accidents like in the big cities here, but what about the abrupt rocky ascents? What about deep streams along the roads to school?… I admire their will to study.
– Some kids from 3 to 5 years old can finish 4 bowls of rice: The rice grain is smashed and as big as corn after cooking, with no taste. But a strong kid here can eat up to 4 bowls of it. The reason is very simple: they have no food at home, there is only vegetables and rarely, salted fish (I have tasted some: it’s a kind of dried small fish which is decayed as it has been kept for long and is very salty). The teachers said that at some periods of time in the year, some parents have only corn powder to bring to school, some have nothing to bring. The teachers add some of their own rice in, then mix it all up and cook. They divide the rice mixed with corn to every child. At those points of time, 1 or 2 bowls of mixed rice at school is the main meal for the children, as the dinner at home has no rice, only some boiled vegetables to keep routine.
– The children in Batxat District have no concepts of milk and bread: There was only 1 kid out of 38 at Pacheo Kindergarten who knew what a fresh milk box was and how to drink from it. Most of children at Denthang, Ngaithau, Alu.. from kindergarten to elementary didn’t know what a loaf of bread is. Someone guessed that it was a kind of baked goods, but never tasted it. Thank you very much to the friend from the “Meal with Protein” group who sent bread and condensed milk to us to bring to the children.
I am not a writer, nor a reporter and I hate taking photos. I was looking for some answers for myself when I joined this group. Now I am angry with myself about not knowing how to take photos that I can use to bring back the real feeling of the steep hill road to Ngaithau Kindergarten, where the adults from the cities had to choose every step to walk up, but the 3rd graders with bundles of firewood on their shoulders ran as fast as the wind; I regret that I didn’t take a picture of the little hands frozen like ice of the 3-year-old girl with the body as tiny as a doll.
Those were some of my impressions on the children’s eating and sleeping. I will talk more about their learning tomorrow. Thank you for reading 🙂
P/S: This is an old post of mine in Vietnamese. A friend of mine suggested that I should translate it to English for her to understand it better. I think that’s a good idea, since it might help to expand the project. Thank you to my lovely daughter who helped me with translating and editing. I am so proud that I can get her involved in this project.
Đây là một bài cũ của tôi bằng tiếng Việt. Một người bạn đề nghị tôi dịch sang tiếng Anh để chị hiểu kỹ hơn. Tôi nghĩ đó cũng là một ý hay để có thêm người tham gia vào dự án. Cám ơn con gái yêu của tôi đã giúp tôi dịch và hiệu đính bản dịch tiếng Anh này. Tôi rất tự hào đã khích lệ được con góp sức vào dự án này.