Money may not buy happiness but it can buy security, quality healthcare and access to educational opportunity, among other goodies that also happen to be rights. A lack of it can mean the difference between standing on the outside looking in and entering. You can see and maybe touch but you cannot have. A lack of it can also create a situation in which people eat less in order to meet other pressing needs. This is the conundrum that Nguyen Trung Hieu, a junior at the Hanoi-Amsterdam School for the Gifted, writes about in a widely circulated essay for a literature class assignment.
Yes, I will do as you told me. I will go to school. I will try to be a very good student to make you and dad happy. But please let me help you, mother. I have thought about it hard. If I can’t do anything to make money, I will go without breakfast to save your money. If I can’t sell bread then I will have rice with sesame and salt. You don’t need to worry, mom. You just need to concentrate on the treatment and take care of yourself. Let me share the burden of poverty with you and dad. I sincerely beg you, mother, not to scold me whenever I miss out on breakfast. Please don’t forbid me when I take out the mortar and pestle to grind sesame. Although I have lost 8 kilos since last year, I believe that with understanding and empathy, our family can live in peace and money will no longer have any role to play in our family’s happiness.
Hieu’s is a story lived by many young people here and in other countries. They are limited and held back in so many insidious ways by poverty and its tentacles. There are a few differences, however: his intelligence, the great eloquence and passion with which he writes and the fact that his story, originally intended for an audience of one (i.e., his teacher), somehow found its way onto the Internet to be shared with an audience of millions. (A third of all Vietnamese are online.)
As you will see, Hieu’s story is deeply saddening and depressing but also inspirational. As educators, citizens, human beings, we must do more, much more to make life fairer for others who are trying so hard and doing so much with so little. So, read the essay and weep but also be inspired and energized; plan your next steps and act. Below are links to the English translation, the original Vietnamese version and a follow-up article in translation: