In 2008, SCJs partnered in ministry with the diocesan parish of St. Paul near Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. The parish has much in common with Fr. Leo John Dehon’s first parish assignment in Saint-Quentin. The population that surrounds St. Paul is made up primarily of factory workers and young migrant families. Many have come from the poorest areas of the country, seeking jobs and a better life near the city.
Often families coming for work bring their children with them but cannot afford to send them to school. Books, uniforms and other necessities of a typical Vietnamese school are out of reach to these migrant families.
In 2000, St. Paul’s rented a small parcel of land and put up four classrooms. Migrant parents were invited to send their children to the makeshift school. Through the generosity of volunteer teachers –– Catholics from the area –– these children, who otherwise spent their days on the street, were able to follow the same educational plan as students in government-operated schools. The U.S. Province financially supports the school.
Br. Luong Nguyen, wrote the following update on the school:
Huong Tam School was initiated by Mrs. Dao Thi Thu Thuy, a Vietnamese citizen living in the United States, who came to visit Vietnam. She saw many children going around to collect garbage and sell lottery tickets; most of them were uneducated, they just lived with what they got on the streets. Their parents didn’t have enough money to send them to school. Mrs. Dao Thi Thu Thuy had the idea to establish a small school called “Huong Tam School”
At the beginning she was able to gather 20 children and hire 3 teachers; she fed and even bathed them. She rented a small house for them to live and study. The school officially started on August 15, 2003. Everything was extremely simple: tables, chairs and equipment. The number of pupils increased year by year. The school went well until 2008.
In 2009 the school was forced to close down by the government,so the students had to transfer to another place. During this time Fr. Dong, a priest at St. Paul parish, tried to find the way to maintain the school. He decided to rent a small piece of land for three3 years and asked the help of the people in the parish to build a simple school on that land with four classrooms and one small office for teachers. Since the students moved to the new place, their number increased every year; the school included kindergarten and grades 1 to 5. Each year the student population grew:
– In 2009: 100 students
– In 2010: 141 students
– In 2011: 169 students
– In 2012: 214 students
– In 2013: 275 students
At the beginning the purpose of the school was simply to teach children how to read and write. They did not intend that those students transfer to a government school after studying in Huong Tam. However, with the development of the school the parish priest and the teachers saw the possibility that students could continue to study in a government school. They submitted an application and documents to Binh Tri Dong, an elementary school, and asked for cooperation. Binh Tri Dong allowed the students in Huong Tam School to enroll in Binh Tri Dong A.
The school has now seven teachers and one administrative officer.
On September 6, the school started the new school year with 278 students, their parents, the parish priest, local government leaders, SCJ seminarians, eight teachers and staff, and visitors. The celebration was done well and each student received notebooks, a pen and a backpack. All of the students and their parents were very happy.
During the celebration, Fr. Pham Trung Dong, parish priest, was invited to give a short speech. He encouraged the students to make more effort to study well, and on behalf of the school he said thanks to all: teachers, local government, benefactors, SCJ community and supporters. He also expressed his worries about the future of the school: the number of students is getting bigger and bigger, but the facilities are limited and the financial resources. He would like to ask benefactors and government to increase their support for Huong Tam School.
The president of the school reported on the students, the result of the previous year and the plan for the new year.
There are 7 classes from kinder to grade 5, but there are only four classrooms. They are divided into two periods, four classes in the morning and three classes in the afternoon.
Each year Huong Tam School improves. The greatest concern now is that the land contract for the school will come to an end this year. New facilities may be needed.
All of the students come from poor families, from different provinces, and their parents are immigrants working for local companies with small incomes. Many of them say that their salary sometimes is not enough for the food of the family. Last August we, Vietnamese SCJs together with the SCJ vicar general, Fr. John Van den Hengel, went to visit the school and some of the families nearby. One of the mothers shared with us: “I have four children but I already sent two of them to their grandparents in my hometown because if I keep them all here, I cannot take care of them well. My salary is just enough for food, sometimes not even enough for it.”
The Huong Tam School community is grateful for the SCJ community, and especially for the support of the U.S. Province.