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|Thao’s and Nghia’s families have lunch together. - Photos: thanhnien.vn|
Only when summer comes can she go to the City to meet her mother during her vacation from school. But this visit is not a typical summer holiday: The teenager helps her mother search for scrap around construction sites, and keeps the money she makes from selling the scrap to pay for her school fees.
“Now I want to stay here, and not return to my hometown anymore. I grow up and can support myself. If I live beside my mother, I can stand all hard work,” Tu told Thanh Niên (Young People) newspaper.
Tu’s mother, Phung Thi Nga, 47, is a construction worker in District 2.
Nga said that on sunny days, she asked Tu to stay at home to rest, but Tu always refuses, saying that she wants to give her mother a hand.
“Some days ago, I sold scrap for VND1.2 million (US$53) and told Tu to use a little to buy new textbooks. But she said that she would buy several important books, and the remainder she would borrow from friends to save money,” said Nga.
As schooling in HCM City is costly, and Tu doesn’t like living with her step-father, she must return to her hometown.
“Like many other women, I miss my daughter a lot, but cannot find another way,” said Nga.
Tu will enter university in the next two years, and Nga intends to hire a room for Tu in HCM City for further study at that time.
Meanwhile, Nguyen Phuong Thuy, 15, also views her summer break as a chance not for rest, but for work. She has travelled from her hometown to HCM City to work as a domestic helper for each of her last four summer vacations, living with her parents on the construction site where they work.
“I can do everything including sweeping houses, cleaning dishes and cooking meals,” said Thuy.
“All the workers who are colleagues of my parents on construction sites are nice. I’m very happy to live with everyone even just for a short time. It helps me have meaningful summer days,” said Thùy.
Construction workers do not have stable accommodations, so they cannot bring their children with them most of the year. Most of them leave their children in their hometown and ask relatives to take care of the children, and send them money monthly.
A worker typically sends about VND1 million ($44) back to the hometown each month for the care of their children.
During the two-month summer vacation, the workers can save a little money if they take the children with them to work in the City instead of paying for the children to take extra classes in the hometown.
Ho Van Anh, 23, from the central province of Bình Định, said that she and her husband left three children at home to be taken care of by their grandparents.
“But if the children live with me during their summer vacation, I can save about VND3 million ($130),” said Anh.
Anh’s oldest daughter can cook meals for construction workers and earn about VND1.7 million ($75) per month. She uses the money for her school fees.
When their parents go to work, Tran Thi Be Thao, 10, and Nguyen Van Nghia, 9, are told to stay in their locked rooms at their parents’ boarding house. They must refuse to open the door for anyone to ensure their safety.
Thảo and Nghia are students of the Tan Thanh B Primary School in the southern province of Dong Thap. Thao was staying with her mother in HCM City for three weeks. Every day her parents work until 9 pm.
Though she spends most of her time indoors, Thảo said that she dreams of posing for a photograph beside the tall buildings to show her classmates that she had visited the big city.
Thao’s mother, Nguyen Thi Kha, 34, also works on a construction site. She said that she could not earn much money for daily use, so she was not sure she could fulfill her promise of taking Thao to a park to play.
“Thao brings her savings with her to buy new textbooks, but I lack money for meals, so I must borrow from her,” said Kha.
Khá added that several days ago, she saw some heroin addicts in her living area. Worrying that something bad could happen, Khá decided her daughter must stay in a locked room.
“Thảo often asks me to return to hometown, but I do not have a job there, so I cannot,” said Kha.