|Students play ping pong at Cỏ May Dormitory, which provides free accommodation to poor university students in HCM City. —VNS Photo Gia Lộc|
HCM CITY — Trần Thị Diễm Sương was about to enter her third year of university when her mother told her she could no longer afford to pay her tuition and living expenses in HCM City.
With her future in doubt, Sương decided to apply for admission to Cỏ May Dormitory, founded by the late Phạm Văn Bên, a humanitarian and businessman whose mission was to help the disadvantaged attend university.
Located on the campus of Nông Lâm University in HCM City’s Thủ Đức District, the dorm offers free housing and VNĐ40,000 (US$1.75) for daily meals to poor students with excellent marks attending any university in the city.
Bền’s son, Phạm Minh Thiện, director of the Cỏ May Group, said his father’s guiding principle was to offer thoughtful care to students who live at the dorm and treat them “as if they were children in a family”.
The students, whose tuition is paid by the Cỏ May Group, of which Bên was the former director, must send their study records and documentation confirming the family’s poverty level.
“I’m very happy now. It’s as if I was someone nearly drowning who caught a lifebuoy,” Sương said. “I don’t have to worry about tuition and expenses. Managers here care about me as if I’m one of their children.”
The 2,600 sq-m dorm has rooms for playing music and reading books, and a small yard for badminton and ping pong.
Every Sunday, experts are invited to visit the dorm to teach students soft skills such as communications, presentations, and working in teams, among others.
Students at the dorm also attend clubs in foreign languages, research, and other subjects.
Third-year student Lê Minh Tuấn, who is from the southwestern province of Tây Ninh, studies at the University of Science under the Việt Nam National University-HCM City. He lives in the Cỏ May dorm.
“I feel lucky that I get to stay at a dorm which is like a three-star hotel. When I received my exam results for university, my family and I were happy but worried” about paying tuition and living expenses.
Tuấn’s father works at a rubber company in the province, while his mother works only seasonal jobs.
After his parents heard about the Government’s preferential loans for students, they visited a local bank for social policies to take out a loan.
“Now I don’t need the loan,” he said.
He said that after graduation he will visit the dormitory to share his experiences and teach soft skills to students.
The new dorm, which opened last September, was built by the Cỏ May Group, which produces and processes rice, seafood, and other agricultural products, in cooperation with Nông Lâm University.
The university provided land, while all expenditures for operation and allowances for students are from the Cỏ May Group.
The dorm is home to around 200 students from throughout the country who attend more than 30 universities in HCM City. Although it is located in the outlying district of Thủ Đức, the dorm is near a bus station.
During their stay, students must maintain excellent learning results to continue to receive assistance, Thiện said, adding that it was also important to support students so they have good English skills, ethical values and soft skills.
Like the Cỏ May dormitory, the HCM City University of Technology and Education in Thủ Đức District has a like-minded humanitarian who cares about students, especially those from poor families.
The university’s rector, Đỗ Văn Dũng, said that he wanted to teach students how to share problems and love one another, based on his belief in humanistic philosophy.
“Students’ awareness about living in a community improves via the Compassion Corner,” Dũng said.
The Corner, which covers about 70 sq metres, is located in the university’s basement and contains shelves laden with free clothes, drinks, books, notebooks and food.
Opened in May, the room is an area where students can take a rest at noon and read books, especially English-language texts.
Some of the students, however, are reluctant to take drinks, clothes or food for free as they fear that nothing will be left for those who are truly poor.
Nguyễn Lê Quang Bá of Đồng Nai Province, a third-year student, said: “In the future, I plan to use drink and food here, especially at month’s end when the money given by my parents runs out. The room is very helpful.”
A first-year student, Đinh Thị Khánh Linh, said that after accepting drinks and food, she voluntarily puts money in a box on a table near the door of the Compassion Corner. Other students often do the same.
The money is used to cook free meals, which are provided to students once a week.
“I still can manage with the monthly money my parents give me. My poor schoolmates need it more than I do,” Linh said.
At the Compassion Corner, students who are studying garment technology and fashion design sew and repair clothes for other students at low prices.
Students can also have a low-priced haircuts provided by a hairdresser.
The corner attracts voluntary contributions from the university’s lecturers and former students and enterprises.
The university has also set up a centre that pays students who provide assistance to students, including a store for washing and changing oil for motorbikes and a computer repair service, all provided at a low cost.
A night market, which will open soon, is expected to help students practice the business skills they are learning in class.
Many students, who often work after school, have faced “hunger and shortage of clothes to wear,” Dũng said, adding that if the university can offer help, the pressure of earning a living can be reduced.
“Loving and taking care of students like ‘children in a family’ is another way of improving the quality of study, in addition to renovating facilities and reforming methodologies and teaching staff,” he said. —VNS