... or so says the sign that welcomed me to a school in Bac Ninh province today.
More precisely, this says: Every day of going to school is a happy day.
That's not exactly how I remember my school days, but today was a happy day indeed.
I traveled this morning to 3 schools in a rural area about 40 km from Hanoi, where Blue Dragon supports kids to study. We're currently supporting over 500 children in this province, from Grades 5 through to 12, and that number will rise to 600 by January.
The kids in this province are usually living with their family, but without a helping hand they'd have to quit school and would end up working on the streets or be trafficked south. Just last week my staff had to intervene in an 'employment' situation in which one of the girls from Bac Ninh was clearly on the way to being tricked and exploited... that was no hairdressing shop...
Tuyen, our program coordinator, and I went to Yen Phong Secondary School (Grades 6-9) this morning to visit the school's brand new library. A private donor gave us the funds to build this - a neat little building inside the school grounds.
The kids were excited to finally be allowed to look inside, so of course the first thing they did was grab the books off the shelves and get reading!
At our next stop, a primary school a few kilometers down the road, we arrived in time for the kids' morning break... which was announced by some catchy pop music, instead of the normal 'beating of the drum'; and we soon discovered that the music was also a call for all the kids to get out into the playground and dance!
I've never seen anything quite like it. What a way to start your break time!
With the dancing behind us, Tuyen and I headed off to a high school (Grades 10-12), which was possibly the most impressive high school I've seen in rural Vietnam. It was super-well organised; many students approached me to speak in English; and the principal spoke proudly of the links he has forged with the locally-based foreign industries to ensure that his students who don't make it to university can still get a decent job. The school also had some terrific facilities which appear to have been paid for by the principal twisting the arm of local business leaders. Good job, I say!
Underlying all the niceties, though, was a disturbing common theme: the schools are battling a set of growing social problems as their province develops financially. Heroin use, each school said, was on the rise. Those most likely to end up with an addiction are young unemployed adults - especially those who quit school early and so have few job prospects.
Compounding the problem, ironically, is that some major electronic and mobile phone companies have set up and so bought land from the farmers. The compensation was very generous - and resulted in a large number of people suddenly having a lot of money and nothing to do. Their land was gone, so they had nowhere to farm rice; but they also had no idea of what to do with all their new money. Many families chose to knock down their perfectly adequate homes and build new, multi-storey houses... only to find they had little left to support their families into the future.
As a former teacher, I always enjoy visiting schools and getting a feel for how the 'school community' works. Today I was reminded of what an important role schools play in our world. It was truly heart warming to see how these 3 schools each grapples with the social problems of their neighbourhood - one through building a library, one through dance, and one through business partnerships.
It's a great feeling to be a part of that, and to know that we are making a difference.