A river filled with dreams

If you go to the Giang Vo Centre on an autumn day in late October – early November, you will see Bach Thi Thuy Ha, a fellow of the talented K46A class in the Department of Chemistry at the University of Natural Sciences, Hanoi. These days, Ha is busy working as a vendor for the seafood export company of Da Nang. Since Ha has been busy in the lab working on her first scientific research project titled, “The Manipulation of Aniline Wastewater using the Electrochemical Method,” I was very surprised that she found the time for a job.

1. In her mother’s arms

Let’s go back to the village of Thai Binh, when Ha was 10 years old and a student of a specialized secondary school. Upon arriving at the new school and starting to become familiar with the new material: physics, Ha found it more difficult to study than ever before. Her father was injured while working so all of the family responsibilities were given to her mother. Recognizing her parents’ hard work, Ha consistently tried to do well in school. She won the first prize in a province-wide competitive physics exam, and was selected for the National Physics competition. The result proved to be a worthy outcome of her efforts, especially since she was so passionate about physics.

Being the eldest of the family, Ha devoted all her time to helping her mother and 10-year-old brother with his studies. At the end of her four years at school, Ha passed the entrance exam for a specialized high school in the province of Thai Binh. During her 3 years of high school, Thuy Ha did not disappoint her parents or teachers – she was always at the top of her class with outstanding results. She continued to be selected to the team of gifted students to prepare for the national physics competition. Everyone thought that Ha would lean more toward physics because of her aptitude for it, especially given that it is usually a subject more suited to boys.

Leaving the city of Thai Binh for Hanoi, what remained in Ha’s mind, what made her anxious, was the frailness of her father and the sad eyes of her mother. Studying far from home, Ha regretted not being able to stay in Thai Binh and help her parents. She wanted to work part-time to at least help them to financially cover her monthly living expenses in Hanoi.

However, Ha’s mother did not agree with her intentions. She feared that work distracted her from learning. As a teacher, her mother understood the importance of knowledge for the future, especially for women. “Even if I must sell our house to get money for the two of you to attend school, I will not allow you to seek additional work,” confirmed her mother, with a stern but loving look that she will never forget.

Ha had the anxiety and love without borders from her mother, so for two years in Hanoi, she put all of her concentration and spirit into learning. But every summer after the chaos of studying and exams were over, Ha convinced her mother to allow her to be a tutor. For three months she worked regularly, but she never forgot the words of her mother:

In the spirit of Ha, “a mother is always the woman who posses the most love for her children in this world!”

2. Dong Hanh – a good friend

Just like any student for the first time in Hanoi, Ha struggled with balancing studying and every day life, with finances as her main concern. Yet, the trust and love of her parents helped her to overcome every challenge. In Hanoi, Ha never forgot that her goal was “to put as much effort as possible into learning in order to create an easy life for the future and to repay her parents for all their sacrifices.”

With this determination, she did very well in the first 3 semesters at university. She regularly received scholarships from the school and the Organization of Francophone Universities. Most notably during the second semester of the 2002 – 2003 school year, with exceptional efforts, she received a grade point average of 9.24. With this result, Ha was honored as an excellent student in the Department of Chemistry during the opening ceremony of the 2003 – 2004 school year at the University of Natural Sciences, Hanoi. She also received more good news – the Dong Hanh Scholarship program decided to award her with a scholarship worth 1 million VND in the first half of 2003.

For Ha, this scholarship from Dong Hanh was a very significant reward. She said, “I want to thank my Dong Hanh brothers and sisters and representatives of Dong Hanh in Vietnam, as well as all the sponsors of the program – people full of generosity who have supported and helped disadvantaged students by giving them the energy to continue to fulfill their dreams.”

Over the years, there were many students in Vietnam who received financial and spiritual aid from the Dong Hanh program. For them, Dong Hanh has become a common house, a warm and friendly home! Thanks to the scholarship program, Ha had the chance to make new friends. According to Ha, “My friends live in an extremely difficult situation, but they are able to overcome everything. They are good examples of courage and determination.

Not only an energetic person and respectful daughter, Ha is also a good friend who thinks of others. Another reason that motivates Ha to work hard is, “to become successful in the future to help those less fortunate than myself.” Ha would like to send a message to her friends of the same age: “Nothing is difficult, you can overcome anything. Focus your efforts on your goals and you will find your energy and determination. When you find yourself struggling, don’t hesitate to reach out to your Dong Hanh brothers and sisters for strength. They are ready to help you in your studies and in life.”

3. On her way to the future

Every day for Ha is filled with work so she has no real free time. Everything is dedicated to her studies: going to class, doing research in the lab and attending courses organized by the French-speaking universities…She is always busy, but for a young girl of 20 with plenty of enthusiasm and energy, life is still something inspiring and full of hope!

Loving red and white, adoring songs by Trinh Cong Son (a famous Vietnamese musician), passionate about history and science, it seems that Ha has a personality not easily found in others. This distinction gave me a good impression from the beginning of our conversation.

Returning to Ha’s studies, I wanted to know why she switched from physics to chemistry after being so interested in the subject for 6 years in high school. Why did she choose this subject and does she have any regrets? To answer my question, Ha confirmed, “I am glad I chose chemistry. If I could go back to the beginning and re-select my university, I would choose the University of Natural Sciences again, I would re-select the department of chemistry, and the class of K46A with a specialization in physical chemistry. To this day, I still love both physics and chemistry.

With enthusiasm and passion as always, Ha told me that her desire after graduation is to pursue a master’s degree, then a doctorate, before becoming a university professor. Currently, she is trying to find a scholarship to study abroad after graduation. According to Ha, “Our country is still poor, with setbacks in science and technology. It seems to me that there are machines no longer used by the modern world that are still used in Vietnam. There is a lot of scientific work, new methods in developed countries, but for our country, especially for young students, we have very little information. It is as if we are out of the game, therefore our mission is to first learn well and to discover up and coming scientific and technological information in the world. For those who have the means, do not hesitate to go abroad to learn more about the modern world.”

Behind her desire is a sincere confession: “If I cannot pursue a masters program, I will work to earn money and then apply for another superior study, because I know these programs are extremely expensive.” By Ha’s strong and determined voice, I’m sure that she can overcome all difficulties to achieve whatever she wants.

Stories exist that have ended but that continue to make us think. There are stories that happened a long time ago but that still make us surprised. Before separating with Ha, I asked her, “Do you have dreams for the future? And if so, what are they?” Ha said, “I want to become a good teacher. In addition to teaching and research in the field, I will work with businesses to make practical projects, but I think as a woman, in addition to work I must also complete my duties as a wife and mother. I will try to find moderation between my work and family life.”

When listening to her profound confidence and dreams, I imagine before me a very sweet and lovely river. It flows through rapids, it sometimes turns, but finally it finds the ocean. The patience of the river gives it strength to move in any terrain.

Hanoi, 1 November 2003

Do Phuong Khanh