For the students who attend Quan Hoa Junior and High School located in central Vietnam’s Thanh Hoa Province, going to school is just half the battle.
Many students in sixth to twelfth grade have to carry to school palm leaves, bamboo, and other construction materials along with their school bags at the start of a new school year.
With the help of their parents, around three to six students team up to build simple huts close to their school, situated in Doi Village, Thien Phu Commune of Quan Hoa District, often on flat pieces of land along a stream or a river.
The huts are too small for all of the beds needed, and have just a small space for studying and cooking.
Boarding in the huts is a safer and cheaper alternative to walking the ten kilometers home from school on very hilly roads.
However, during the rainy season, flashfloods unpredictably occur, threatening the homes and lives of the students.
During the dry season, fire is the major risk, as students regularly cook in their rustic huts with forests full of dry trees nearby.
A normal day
After a typical school day, students return to their huts around the school and each of them begins a different chore; they carry water for cooking, chop wood, pick vegetables, or cook dinner.
Smoke from their fires rises up to fill the air above their huts in the late evening.
A teacher visits each hut to remind and advise students to be cautious, fearing potential forest fires.
The teacher lowered his voice to talk to a Tuoi Tre journalist. “It’s sad to say that, if a fire occurs, we can do almost nothing to prevent it from spreading because now we are in the dry season and the Luong River is running out of water.”
On the other end of the field surrounding the school, another group of students were also preparing dinner.
Vi Van Tinh and his two schoolmates Vi Van Thanh and Lo Van Tung, all of the Thai ethnic minority people, whose residence is 10-18km from school, said, “For this school year, each student living far from school is given an allowance of 15kg of rice a month from the State budget.”
“It is enough to make me feel full after each meal. What we worry about more is the condition of our homes.
“On some nights, snakes and poisonous centipedes sneak into our hut. We can’t sleep, knowing these dangerous creatures are nearby.
“In the dry season, the rivers run out of water and we have to walk far into the forest to find streams,” he told Tuoi Tre.
A survey by the Department of Ethnic Minority Affairs of Thanh Hoa last year showed that the province has 36 schools that need to have boarding facilities for students from 11 mountainous districts.
Now, the department is making a plan for the construction.
The school Quan Hoa has 419 students, 300 of them in need of boarding space. Their families reside an average of 15-40km away from the school.
Now, all of them have to build huts by themselves closer to their school.
Due to family difficulties and without the support of the community, 13 students dropped out of the Quan Hoa school during this academic year alone.
Teachers at Quan Hoa admitted that the school staff are unable to sufficiently take care of their students after school. This caused the female students to suffer harassment by local boys at night.
Le Van Thanh, vice headmaster of the Quan Hoa school, said he has requested that provincial authorities give financial support for around ten boarding rooms to be built for female students.
Ten years ago, Tuoi Tre newspaper published stories about the similar difficulties of boarding students in districts Muong Lat and Quan Son of Thanh Hoa.
After that, the local communities joined together to build 30 public houses for 300 students in Muong Lat and 20 other boarding rooms in Quan Son.