A Samaritan has begun to take classes for adult rag pickers close to a rubbish dump in Da Nang where most of them earn their livelihoods.
Teacher An (R) and her students of the class of rag pickers
Nguyen Thi An, who is also chief of the local women’s association, established the class two years ago in a temporary structure put up 600m from the Khanh Son dump in Lien Chieu District.
The students are mostly aged 30-45, some with graying hair and hands callous from years of hard work.
Yet, their eagerness to learn is unquestionable.
Seeing visitors covering their noses due to the stench from the dump, one of them, Nguyen Thi Kim Yen, 30, says solemnly: “It does not matter. Now is the purest and most peaceful moment for us in the day.”
Then she and other women start learning, heads bent to write beginners’ lessons slowly in their books.
The odor, tiredness, and the blaring horns of dump trucks fail to put them off.
One of the women says jokingly, “The horns signal survival for around 500 women here who pick refuse.”
Nguyen Thi Phuong says: “Learning helps me become wiser despite feeling weary in the hands and back.”
Asked about her life, she speaks animatedly as if it is the first time someone is listening to her.
Phuong is 45 and has worked for almost 40 years. The last time she remembers going to school was 39 years ago when she had dropped out to join her older brothers in tending cows even before completing preschool.
When she became a little older, she cleaned houses and cut grass before becoming a rag picker at around 22.
An explains she decided to start the class to help illiterate women who are on the fringes of society just because they do not know the law and other workings of a modern society.
Illiteracy has also thwarted their efforts to educate their children, she adds.
Thai Thi Dung says regretfully: “It is my illiteracy that prevented me from fulfilling my duties as a mother. My son became addicted to online games and committed theft to get money. He was sent to a rehabilitation centre at 14.
“At the age of 40, I decided to join this class in the hope of acquiring knowledge to educate my son when he returns,” she says resolutely.