A compact community of shanty houses lines the Red River in the Phuc Xa neighbourhood of Ba Dinh District. The poorest families live directly on the water, their houses pieced together with tin, tarpaulin and whatever materials they can scavenge.
A makeshift bridge of wooden planks connects their front doors to the shore, but the children don’t mind wading through the murky waters.
Viet Anh, a gregarious seven-year-old in a New York City T-shirt, rattles off addition and subtraction problems while his grandmother beams with pride. He is one of 23 children in Hanoi receiving an education thanks to a French charity called School on the Boat.
Founded in 2011 by a group of friends, the organisation raises funds from international donors, allowing children from impoverished families to attend public schools. In addition to Phuc Xa village, sponsored children live in illegal settlements along the river in two other areas; an island under Long Bien Bridge and a shanty town in Long Bien.
Few of these families have a steady income, and the settlements lack sanitation and waste management. Doing odd jobs like driving a motorbike taxi, farming, selling items at the market, or gathering recyclable waste, families typically earn between VND50,000 and 100,000 per day.
Doing the Maths
Many of the children lack birth certificates, which are required for public school enrolment. Faced with high hospital bills, some parents are forced to flee immediately after giving birth. The organisation helps them secure proper documentation, and a monthly donation of US$25 (VND560,000) covers the cost of schooling, books and supplies per student.
Pham Thi Linh, the grandmother of Viet Anh, said her grandson loves maths and playing with new friends at school.
“In school he’s quite independent,” she says. “The teacher says he’s intelligent and learns very quickly.”
Likewise, Nghiem Thi Ngan, a house cleaner, said her two daughters, who are sponsored through the charity, love going to school.
“When children go to school, they can learn many activities, adapt to society and make friends,” she says.
In addition to the sponsorship programme, the charity also provides one-on-one tutoring sessions to children at its office and classroom in Phuc Xa, as well as monthly cultural and sports activities. The classroom has a library and several computers, all of which were donated.
Children can be sponsored up to the age of 18, but the organisation prefers to start sponsoring children when they are six years old and ready to enter school for the first time. However, one sponsored student did not attend school until the age of eight.
Another sponsored student who is 15 attends school, then comes home and does manual labour for three hours to help his family.
After graduating from the programme, some students receive vocational training from the Life Project 4 Youth charity.
Starting next school year, the charity will sponsor three additional children, bringing the total to 26.
“Every year we try to find some new kids to enrol at school,” says Aurélie Boess, a project coordinator at the charity.
Nguyen Ha Thanh, a Vietnamese social worker for the organisation, builds relationships with the communities and helps recruit new students via word-of-mouth.
“We are happy when witnessing our children playing with others and when they have had a great class,” reads a statement by School on the Boat organisers. “They all deserve to be happy and we are proud of being some part of it.”
For more info or to donate click on schoolontheboat.fr