After so much planning, conversation and anticipation – to be able to finally visit Tra Giac was a truly wonderful moment.
Travel time was significant – a 3 hour drive south-west to the next nearest centre, Tra My, and then a further hour from there to Tra Giac.
From Tra My the landscape and population density suddenly changes to dense and mountainous surrounds and almost no sign of civilisation.
The scenery is breath-taking. And the development of a new dam and hydro-electricity scheme in the region means that the road is surprisingly good in places. However, the road eventually turns to dirt and we have to drive (somewhat nervously) through a river crossing.
Up over the rise and to left we spy the school. “Our” school. Access to the school is via a river walk-bridge and the moment I see it I know this is everything I had hoped it would be, and more.
This feels like home.
The school is basic. The “kitchen” a rudimentary area with nothing but a bare floor where fires are lit for children to cook their own food.
Currently 155 students attend the school (81 girls, 74 boys).
Up to 60 students stay at the school from 2 weeks to a month at a time. Boarders live up in the mountains behind the school and have to walk between 1 and 5 hours to get there. Generally they stay until their food runs out (which is subject to their parents capacity and ‘wealth’). They then go home for the weekend, get more food and walk back down the mountain.
Outside of school hours – children cook, feed and care for themselves.
The school grounds are quite large and flat and could easily accommodate a playground and sports field. Currently, there is neither.
The opportunities and needs are great.
The school has a water filtration system, but would benefit from pigs, a bio gas unit, a kitchen, and a sustainable feeding program to support both the children who live on-site for weeks at a time and the broader community.
The principal, Mr. Ro, has a soft, warm face and gentle manner. Just before we presented him with a small gift, 2 beautifully wrapped books of stunning photography by Ken Duncan, he said:
“Our school is surrounded by and situated in a beautiful landscape. We want the knowledge of our students to be as beautiful and bountiful as the landscape and mountains around us.”
He has only been in the role for 4 months having previously been the Principal for the school in Tra My.
One of the teachers lives in a house on the school grounds. Mai, has been a teacher at the school for 11 years and speaks good English. Her heart and passion for her role and the kids is very evident.
We also met with the Vice Chairman of the Peoples Committee for the district and the district government project manager assigned to all ACC International Relief work in the area. The Vice Chairman welcomed and thanked us and spoke of the need in Tra Giac being so great that he didn’t know where to begin. The population is 2,760 and more than 95% live in extreme poverty.
We were not allowed to stay in Tra My and so had to drive 4 hours back to Tam Ky. We are hopeful that enough relationship building will be done in the next 6 to 12 months we will be able to stay in Tra My on future trips.
Tomorrow we’ll head out again at 6.30am to return to the school. The major school holiday’s are currently underway and students return in a few weeks. We didn’t meet any students today, however the Principal is organizing some students to come to the school tomorrow. We’ll then get an opportunity to speak with them and present them and the school with some gifts including soccer balls, stationery and exercise books.
Weather permitting, we’re also hoping to do some painting.
It poured down in the afternoon and we almost couldn’t get out of Tra Giac, due to the volume of water at the crossing.
This is, in many ways, a blank canvas. The potential and opportunity is vast.
Today was the beginning of a friendship and relationship that will change lives – both mine and theirs.