When my parents first met, they fell in love immediately. Empty handed, they decided to move South together in an attempt to find a stable income. Since the move, they have struggled to find work and support themselves. However as soon as they were able to save up enough money they bought some land for farming, and had me and my sister. Unfortunately our living costs forced them to sell the farm in order to be able to afford to raise us. After many years of austerity, we slowly built a house, which my father did by himself to save money. The house holds many of our childhood family memories, and I often think that when I grow up and make a lot of money, I will still keep this house preserving all the happy memories.
What I remember from my student days is that breakfast was always plain fried rice, with an egg mixed in on the rare good days. I never had any allowance back then. I go straight home after school to help with chores then do my homework. Even during summer break, I helped waiting tables at a nearby restaurant for VND20,000 although I was only in primary school then. We never had any new clothes for the Tet holiday. I don’t know why, but even at that tender age, I had already told myself, “Let’s not ask for much, I don’t need allowance or new clothes if it will help my parents save money.” I only had one school uniform that I had to wash and hang to dry every day in all the five years from Grade 1 to Grade 5, only then did I get a new pair of uniform pants. And I had to reuse my sister’s ill-fitting ao dai for uniform in high school. I didn’t think too much of it then, it seemed normal, but now thinking back as a grown-up, I feel a bit sorry for myself, although also very proud of myself for the perseverance.
Thuy Mien when first entered saigonchildren’s scholarship programme and when she was a student at school.
Thuy Mien on her graduation day
When I was a child, I dreamed of becoming many amazing things like an astronaut, an astronomer, but mostly I want to be a doctor. And I really did become a doctor, eventually. As a child, I thought life would just be as simple as studying because I was always ranked top of the class back then. Based on that, I was certain that I would become a great doctor, saving many people, and working tirelessly. I devoted all my time to studying, with eight hours at school, doing homework as soon as I got home, and after dinner, I would do the advanced exercises to get ahead. I loved studying so I did not feel tired. I only have one single goal, that is to make more money in the future to support myself, my parents, and my sister. I didn’t realise the challenges that would arise from having such a goal.
In those days, my biggest problem was affording my textbooks, because they kept being updated every year so I couldn’t re-use old ones. Every year I would anxiously wait for my mom to bring home new textbooks, and that was the only thing I looked forward to, new books, all the way up until I join the scholarship programme. Then, instead of waiting for my mom, I would wait for my teacher to call and tell me that the new textbooks had been delivered by saigonchildren.
When I got to university, besides the scholarship, saigonchildren also supported me with life skill workshops. I couldn’t fully grasp the usefulness of those workshops at first, but as I began working and doing group work and interacting with patients, I realised the value of those lessons. Even with job-hunting after graduation, I could confidently write a CV, more so than all my classmates, thanks to the CV writing and job interview workshop that saigonchildren organised for us.
During my time in university, I realised that the hospital environment does not fit me well so I changed course into healthcare and wellness. Instead of curing people of sickness, I can help healthy people or people with health risks maintain and improve their condition. My goal right now is to open a spa to focus on wellness, post-partum care, and a nutrition clinic. Having just graduated, I do not have much experience or savings, so this will be a five-year or even ten-year goal, but at least I have a goal that I am willing to work hard and persevere for.
My second goal in life is to be an eternal member of the saigonchildren family. The scholarship programme changed my life and once I can afford it I want to give back everything they gave me and so much more – supporting little girls just like me!