My name is Huynh Thi Kieu Tien, attending Ho Thi Ky High School, class 8G, Ca Mau City, Ca Mau Province. First of all, I would like to wish everyone a New Year blessed with wealth and overflowing of happiness among your loved ones and family.
Dear benefactors and volunteers, are you all well? As for me and my family, we are always well. Ever since receiving the precious scholarship, my studies have been alleviated of many difficulties. With that money, I was able to buy school supplies, tutorial books, and a new ao dai [(a white ‘ao dai’ is required school uniform for girls in Viet Nam)]. Since the beginning of 6th grade to the end of 7th grade, I only had one that was made back in the 3rd grade, to be interchanged with another one my teacher had given me at the start of the 6th grade; therefore, both are now too short for me. Let me share a little secret: this year, friends have given me lots of áo dài, but sadly none can fit my wretched 27kg [60 lbs] frame, so I have to reluctantly save them for later years… hic, hic, so disappointing!
My dear ones, did you all have a happy Christmas? I was very happy that day! But that was the height of Finals Week, so I had to cut down on the celebration. I did well on my finals, my average for all the subjects were 9.2 [out of 10]. However, this is much lower than last year’s results, which reached 9.5. Last semester, I ranked only third in my class. This is because I had made many mistakes on my homework, which dragged down my average for the entire semester. I was very sad, kept blaming myself, and told myself to conscientiously try harder. Currently, I’m back to ranking first in my class, hi, hi…! For the current second semester, I promise to apply myself at the utmost in order to achieve the best result, so as not to let down my parents and dear benefactors.
As the Vietnamese New Year approaches, everyone in my neighborhood is fervently shopping for clothes and renovating their houses. As for my family, New Year is just a normal day, nothing new. Lately, my mom often experiences random exhaustion because of the resurgent of her cardiac condition. The other day, mom was in a traffic accident, but it was not serious; she only had a little bruise. My poor mom! She tries her hands at hundreds of professions: selling produce and fruits, driving scooter-taxi (‘xe om’)… Who says this job is reserved only for men? To my mom, any job is worth doing, as long she can make money to take care of her children. On days that mom earned enough money to buy rice, by driving xe om, dad won’t yell. On others, dad will find all kinds of faults and reasons to yell at mom. On days that mom has a little extra money, she would buy a duck egg to fry or a package of instant noodles to eat with rice. Otherwise, we’d have to beg for rice from other households.
On days that my older brother and I go to school together in the morning, mom would take left-over rice from the night before to make sweet congee (‘chao duong’) for the two of us to eat before school. On nights that I have to stay up late to study, if mom has 2,000 – 3000 VND [about 20 cents], she would buy some yams and boil them for me to eat to lessen my hunger. Sometimes I would save a little to eat for breakfast before school the next day. Many times, my friends ask me to go eat breakfast with them, I can only shake my head and lie that I had eaten. In truth, my stomach is empty, but I have no money so I cannot go along. Now, I wish for nothing more than to make my mom happy with my study.
My eldest sister is married so will come back home to visit only rarely. When she does, she would give me around 10,000 VND [70 cents], that I would save up for breakfast. Short of money here, lack of fund there, mom would have to borrow from others. But on days where she cannot repay them, after picking me up from school, the two of us would not dare return home; we would shelter ourselves in parks or in bookstores until dark. Only after they have shut their house doors would we dare to go home, because these people here are very mean. I’m very sad, but what can I do? All I can do is study and promise myself that I have to do very well in my study. I pen this letter with all my truest sincerity. I hope that on this earth, all the children who are orphans, disabled, without father, without mother, without a loving home may be able to attend school and develop. Peace on earth and happiness, too.
Oh! The more I think about it, the more I love and cherish my benefactors so much. You have helped me so much. I don’t know how else to express it, I can only say thank you so very much, dear benefactors! I wish that other children, whose conditions are even more dire than mine, yet have not as much opportunity, would be able to receive the same help, so that all are able to complete their studies.
Gee, this letter has gotten long, so please permit me to stop. Once again, I thank you and sincerely wish that you, dear benefactors, a Peaceful New Year, overflowing of happiness. I love and cherish you very much. [Smiley] Hi, Hi!
Huynh Thi Kieu Tien
Ca Mau, January 8, 2008
Translated by Oanh Trinh, Hia Tran, Duong Nguyen, Gwen Vu