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Vietnam’s storm-hit village in dire need of education access for ethnic children

It’s been six months since one of the worst storms in years wreaked havoc in central Vietnam, and many poor households in the mountains of Nam Tra My District in Quang Nam Province are struggling to get back to normality.

Typhoon Damrey killed 36 people and injured 34, while causing damage worth trillions of dong.

On the afternoon of November 6 last year, the slopes of Mount Ong Tuan, which is home to the Ca Dong ethnic minority group, were turned into a burial ground, leaving hundr of families homeless and almost wiping out the underprivileged area.

In the wake of the storm, residents were relocated to a new village called Khe Chu, but still face a serious shortage of infrastructure, houses, fresh water and schools.

While the villagers are trying to rebuild their lives, their children are being sent to two temporary classrooms, housed under steel frames and canvas.

Ngo, one of the two teachers who works at the “school” in Khe Chu, said the only thing she wants right now is a real school made from bricks and mortar with fully-equipped classrooms so that less fortunate children can see a brighter future.

She said that “it doesn’t feel right” seeing her students learn in mosquito-infested classrooms with limited space every day.

Despite district authorities’ calls for donations and groups of volunteers expressing their intention to help, the idea of a new school remains on paper.

Ngo, who stays in the village and only goes home at weekends, told VnExpress that the villagers are trying to survive living in wooden huts without fresh water or basic facilities.

Ca Dong children in their makeshift classrooms in Quang Nam Province.

Photo by VnExpress/Duc Hoang

Vietnam’s education sector accounts for 20 percent of government spending, or roughly $10 billion a year. In turn, the country’s literacy rate is allegedly now over 97 percent.

But 80 percent of the funds are used to pay teachers’ salaries and only a fraction is invested to improve the quality of teaching and curriculum.

Children from poor and rural areas, and ethnic minority groups are less likely to be able to afford formal education and achieve less than their urban peers due to limited access to learning opportunities and poor financial conditions.

A survey by UNICEF points out that children from ethnic minorities in Vietnam are the most likely to have never attended school, and those who do tend to drop out more at higher levels of education.

Nam Tra My is one of the most underprivileged mountainous districts in Vietnam with poor infrastructure and harsh weather.

The average annual income there stands at VND4.6 million ($201), official data from the district shows.

The country’s average annual income last year was $2,385.

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