They are the children of builders who live in the dust of construction sites in temporary tents. They move with their parents from one job site to another. They don’t study at school and lack a regular pattern of life.
Construction on the East-West avenue in Ho Chi Minh City is now in the final stage. Rows of workers’ tents still line up along Ham Tu road.
Passing these tents, you can hear kids’ voices. This is a “village” of builders from southwestern provinces, with a population that includes nearly 20 kids. The eldest is around 14 and the youngest is less than 1 year.
Living in this “village” since the construction started, Nguyen Van Do, 14, is the ‘leader’ of the kids. Born in Dong Thap province, Do had to quit studying at age 9 to follow his parents to many construction sites.
While his parents work, Do walks to the downtown to sell lottery tickets. Kids in the ‘village’ said Do has ‘broad knowledge’ because he has lived in many places.
“In Vung Tau, I lived in a tent near a cashew forest. In Binh Duong, my parents hired a guest-house, not a tent,” Do boasted.
Le Van Tuan, 11, also bragged: “There are several high buildings in District 2. My parents built them! Do you know Cha Va Bridge? My parents also built it!”
Also born in Dong Thap, Tuan had to quit school when he was 8 to baby-sit his younger brother. One year ago, his parents brought Tuan and his brother to HCM City. Before joining the East-West project, they worked for three smaller projects in District 2 and Tan Binh district. They always lived in small tents at construction sites.
In this ‘village’, Tuan’s family shares a small tent with another family. His most favourite time of the day is 5pm, when his parents return home and he doesn’t have to babysit.
Tuan and his brother.
“I want to become a football player like those on television. If I have money, I will built a big house like the one my parents built in District 2,” Tuan stated.
“We want to send him to school, but life is very hard in our home village so we must bring him with us,” observed Tuan’s father, Le Van Soc.
“There is a kindergarten on the other side of the road, but we can’t afford to send my baby too,” explained Truong Bich Ngoc, Tuan’s mother.
The family of Mrs. Nguyen Thi Phuong and Mr. Nguyen Van Minh.
In this village, the family of Mrs. Nguyen Thi Phuong and Mr. Nguyen Van Minh from Dong Thap province is the largest with three generations sharing a tent. They have nine children and their fifth daughter, Nguyen Thi Lien, and her 8-month-old child are also living with them.
It seems that they understand their “gypsy” life; the children in this village rarely get sick.
Shifting from one site to another, most of kids are illiterate. “I’ve forgotten all the letters. I only remember ‘O’ and ‘A’,” confessed Nguyen Thi Tuyet, aged 12.
“What do you like the most?” “Going to school,” Tuyet responded.
Tuyet’s dream may be the dream of all children here. Tuyet and her two brothers and sister want to become police officers. Why? “Because If I’m a police officer, I will allow kids to play football on the road,” Tuyet’s younger sister, Nhi, explained.
Actually, it is very dangerous to play football on the near-by road, but these kids don’t have a playground. If they don’t play football there, they must play on piles of iron or containers surrounded by needles and broken glass.
Collecting rubbish is a favourite job of these kids. They often exchange used bottles for ice cream or cakes.
Huynh Thai Phong, aged 12, is considered to be the best “waste collector” even though he always carries his younger sister (less than 1 year old) with him.
“I’m saving money to go to Dam Sen park when my parents complete this work. None of us has ever been there,” Phong noted.
All of them want to go home. In their talks, along with stories about construction sites, are tales of their hometowns.
Vu Binh Duong, 2, the youngest "citizen" at the construction site of Thu Thiem tunnel.
“In my hometown, I can bathe in the river or ride a cow . . . but my parents said that after this job, we will go to another place, not home,” Phong sighed.
“I also want to go home to pick tamarinds. It is very boring here!” Tuyet exclaimed.
At the construction site of Thu Thiem tunnel, Vu Binh Duong from Nghe An is the smallest child. At the age of 2, the baby has followed his parents to three construction sites. The young parents will try to send their child to a kindergarten in District 2.
“Kids will get wise very quickly at school. We are illiterate, so my children must go to school,” reasoned Nguyen Thi Tuyen, Duong’s mother.