Lan*, aged ten, is a fifth-grade student from the Dao ethnic group. The nearest school to her home is still 12km away. During the weeks, she lives away from home with her younger sister and cousin in a small shack near the school. She has done this since she was eight years old.
The shack is a 10-square-metre temporary home built on her relative’s land. It is made from mostly natural materials like wood and bamboo and doesn’t protect the children from the weather. In the winter the shack is cold and damp from the heavy rains in the mountainous Cao Bang Province.
As the eldest, the responsibility falls to Lan to care for her younger sister and cousin, both aged eight. “We are afraid of ghosts and are also scared of losing our roof when there is heavy rain,” said Lan.
Every morning Lan wakes up at 5am, washes her face and teeth, and then prepares breakfast for everyone. Sometimes their parents will send an allowance so that they can have rice rolls for breakfast. Other days they will have bread. After breakfast she prepares lunch for the children, does the laundry, cleans the shack, and makes sure everyone ready to go to school. “I take care of my siblings, but I don’t feel tired”, said Lan.
Her parents take turn to visit them once to three times a week, bringing them home grown vegetables and meat for their meals. Lan said that these visits bring them a lot of joy. They get to eat nice meals cooked by the parents and she gets help with the household jobs like the laundry. Sometimes the teachers will visit them to check on them too.
When Lan started fifth grade at a Primary and Secondary school in her village, ChildFund Vietnam supported a project to build a semi-boarding house with a kitchen and cafeteria. Lan and her sister and cousin have since moved into the boarding house to live with their friends from school.
Volunteer parents work together to prepare hot, nutritious meals for the children that live there and help them with the household chores. “I love living in the semi-boarding room because I have many friends to play with, and many older children who are always happy to help me with schoolwork,” said Lan.
To help the parents keep the semi-boarding room clean, Lan and her friends always pick up after themselves and make sure that they keep the living area tidy. The parents help keep the bathrooms clean and clear of mosquitos and make sure that there is always hot water available for the children to wash.
“I am no longer afraid of ghosts! The school gate is locked at night, and there are upperclassmen and teachers on duty at school in case we need anything.”
Every Friday night, Lan is picked up by her parents and she comes back to the semi-boarding house on Sunday night. Lan is much happier living at the semi-boarding house and means that she can better focus on her education.
*Names have been changed.