Ca Mau (VNA) – Hon Chuoi island in the southernmost province of Ca Mau is home to a group of Khmer ethnic people, who do not receive education and eke out a living through fishing all year round.

“I have never imagined that I can teach children since I was not trained to be a teacher,” said Senior Lieutenant Tran Binh Phuc, who has taught children on Hon Chuoi island to read and write for the last six years.   

“When I got here, I saw illiterate children neglected by busy parents, and this kept bothering me,” Phuc said.     

He asked his superior at Border Guard Station No. 704 if he could try out a class and has been teaching nonstop ever since.     

According to Phuc, he now has 19 pupils attending classes between the first and sixth grades. Two of them have disabilities.      

The military-personnel-turned-teacher knows each student’s traits and background like the back of his hand, as if they were his own sons and daughters.      

Phuc spoke proudly about Dau Yen Nhi, an 8-year-old girl born with Down syndrome: “When her mother first took her to my class, she rarely talked and could barely control her behavior. Nhi is now able to read, write and behave politely toward her elders.”     

He also told stories about 16-year-old Tran ThiThao, who is studying at the fifth grade level: “This girl is smart and industrious, but her family cannot afford to send her to school on the mainland after she finishes my class.”         

Once when he saw one of his students hungrily looking at her peers eating noodles, Phuc asked the shop owner to serve even the children who came without money. Since then their meals have become part of his monthly expenses.      

Before seeking further education on the mainland, local youth learned basic knowledge from Phuc inside a small makeshift shelter without electric lighting. The ramshackle classroom lies near the forest and is infested with termites. Phuc does all the classroom maintenance.     

Pointing at an aluminum bookcase in the corner of the classroom, Phuc said it might be an average item on land, but it is extremely valuable here.     

“We are lucky to get pens, clothes and books from various localities,” he added.     

When asked if he feels sad not being able to celebrate Vietnamese Teacher’s Day, Phuc smiled and replied that he hasn’t been teaching to earn gratitude, but for the children’s future.

Hon Chuoi lies 17 nautical miles to the west of Song Doc Seaport in the southernmost province of Ca Mau./.