For the last 15 years, the Thoi Long pagoda in Cao Lanh – the capital city of the southern Vietnamese province of Dong Thap – has taught and taken care of 1,000 children for free.
Students of the pagoda school include children from around 30 families in the city’s remote wetland Tinh Thoi Commune.
The difficult living circumstance makes it hard for parents to send their kids to school whereas the area has suffered from land subsidence along riverbanks for years, leading to a high risk of drowning for children.
Thich Nhon Thanh, former abbot of Thoi Long, decided to open a free preschool for local children in 2000.
Tinh Thoi was hit by a big flood and many children drowned then since their parents were busy working and did not pay much attention to them.
“Parents of one family sent their kid to their parents to be taken care of, but the child drowned in a second when his grandparents neglected him,” the monk recalled. “I heard them crying for a week.”
“It was heart-rending and I decided to open the school,” he said.
According to Nguyen Thi Lan, deputy head of the Cao Lanh Department of Education and Training, the school has not only helped local people care for their children, but also stopped them from drowning.
Pham Chi Binh, a local resident, said local residents are now assured of their kids’ safety owing to the school and they can thus pay complete attention to work.
“The parents of my grandchild are always busy working,” Binh said. “I’m in charge of looking after him but I’m old and he’s stubborn.”
“I feel safe when I send him to the school where he can study for free,” he added. “It could also help my family save money.”
At first, monk Thich Nhon Thanh invited two female teachers who lived near the school to both take care of the kids and teach them.
The school later received support from the city’s Department of Education and Training which sent instructors to teach the children programs designed by the Ministry of Education and Training.
Lan, the deputy head of the education department, said the school was initially a spontaneous boarding facility but it has since become a sub-division of Tinh Thoi Commune’s Tinh Thoi Preschool.
Moreover, the nuns in the pagoda also cook for the kids.
“The school feeds kids vegetarian food and sometimes adds milk and vitamins to ensure nutrition for them,” Lan said.
“They are really into the food and often ask their parents to cook vegetarian dishes for them at home,” Le Thi Yen, a teacher at the school, said.
Nun Thich Nu Nhu Lien, the current abbot of the pagoda, said that she feels “empty on the days the children are off of school.”