The special teacher who writes by foot
VietNamNet Bridge – Being a teacher standing in front of a blackboard was Huynh Thi Xam’s childhood dream but she thought it was impossible due to her disabilities.
Librarian Xam writes on the board, preparing for a night class to her students with disabilities at the HCM City Vocational Centre for People with Disabilities and Orphans. — VNA/VNS Photo Thu Hoai
But with lots of efforts, Xam has become a teacher and is now helping people like her.
The 41-year-old librarian at HCM City Vocational Centre for People with Disabilities and Orphans was born with both hands and one foot paralysed to a poor farmer family with six children in the Cuu Long (Mekong) Delta province of Hau Giang. Only four toes of the other foot were able to move.
Xam could not do anything by herself, even for personal stuff for a long time. Every day, when her siblings went to school, all she could do was drag her body around the house.
“Seeing piles of books and textbooks of my siblings at that time even brought tears to my eyes,” she said.
To make sure she wasn’t a burden to her family, Xam learned and tried to do things herself by her only four movable toes. And she did.
When Xam was 14, her father died. His death made her more determined to go to school.
And she loved every minute inside the classroom.
Like many residents in the Mekong Delta, Xam went to school by boat, waking up early each morning to make the journey.
The way from home to school was more than a dozen kilometres with lots of canals but she was rarely late or absent from class.
So at age of 15, Xam began her lessons, writing letters by foot.
"At first, I learned the alphabet, then use the pen to write,” she said, recalling the first time she tried to write, the gap between the toes bleeding and aching when trying to hold the pen.
Xam did not give up and in just three months she was able to read and write better.
With extraordinary strength, she finished high school at the age of 27.
With the help of local authorities, in 2006, Xam left Hau Giang to study at HCM City Vocational Centre for People with Disabilities and Orphans in Hoc Mon District’s Xuan Thoi Thuong Commune.
"When Xậm just arrived at the centre, I felt very sorry for her, seeing the situation with her hands and foot,” recalled Dinh Thi Hoi, director of the vocational centre.
“Despite many years of experience in counselling for disabled students, I could not afford to give a short education to a student like Xậm.”
“But when looking at her profile and study results from high school, I knew this was a girl with extraordinary strength," Hoi said.
Seeing her passionate and having great potential in the study, the centre sent her to study at HCM City Open University.
"When I wear my bachelor shirt, moving on a wheelchair to get my diploma, my emotions are so hard to describe because I never thought my life achieve this," she said of her graduation day in 2013.
Returning to the vocational centre, Xam started her job managing the library and guiding students with disabilities to read books.
During her time, she learned Braille for the visual-impaired people and sign language for the hearing-impaired. Noticing that many learners with disabilities at the centre, even older ones, were illiterate, Xam proposed to the centre leaders to open a free night class to teach learners.
Now, her class has an average of 20 students, who are studying in the vocational centre, with ages ranging from 15-35. The students learn how to read and calculate.
Thuy Kieu, a 20-year-old moving-impaired leaner from Tay Ninh Province, said she loved to learn at Xam’s class.
“Teacher Xam is very humorous and friendly. She encourages us to learn literacy and vocational to become helpful to the society,” Kieu said.
Xam never saw herself as a teacher. But when Vietnamese Teachers’ Day comes around each year on November 20, Xam gets the credit she deserves.
“Those are the real motivations for me to continue my job here, despite hardship and difficulties,” she said.