Expats in Laos keep mother tongue alive

An association of overseas Vietnamese in Laos have had great success in their unstinting efforts to preserve their national culture, ensuring the next generation will not forget the Vietnamese language and their country of origin.

With its Vietnamese name, the Hong Bang clubhouse in Savanakhet town attracts many visitors through its sheer size, boasting an assembly area with seating for 400 people and a very spacious garden.

On the walls of the clubhouse hang pictures featuring Vietnamese scenery and displaying the friendship between Vietnam and Laos, with captions in both the Vietnamese and Lao languages.

It is the home of not o­nly overseas Vietnamese townspeople, but also a rendezvous point for Vietnamese visitors and other overseas Vietnamese living in other parts of Laos.

Tran Chi Thuan, head of the association, said overseas Vietnamese had been living in Laos for a long time, but it was o­nly in 1977 that the clubhouse was built.

An overseas Vietnamese sold the land for the clubhouse to the association at a good price. Others contributed money and working days to build the house, which took two years to finish.

Since 1979, Thuan explained, the association has been sending young people to Thua Thien-Hue Province in central Vietnam to finish their senior secondary and university education.

A number of the first batch of 50 Vietnamese students who returned to Vietnam to learn have eventually established their own clinics in Laos.

An overseas Vietnamese who graduated from Hue Medical University in 1983, Ho Thi Ngoc Hue, said proudly that there are six medical doctors in her family.

The association also sends young people to Da Nang, Hanoi and HCM City to finish their education.

The association has built the Lac Hong Kindergarten and Thong Nhat Primary School to teach children the Vietnamese language and help them acquire knowledge of their homeland. Many Vietnamese teachers visit the area to teach and it's not uncommon to see Vietnamese mothers and fathers picking up their children at these schools. This image makes visitors feel as if they are back in Vietnam.

Principal of Thong Nhat Primary School Hua Ngoc Hue said a great effort had been made by overseas Vietnamese to build the school. She said it took two years for the association to settle the construction debts. It even sold its office in Hue and called o­n people to make contributions.

The school now has 300 students in 10 classes. The curriculum mostly follows that of the Lao Education and Training Ministry, but Vietnamese language lessons have been increased from eight hours to 18 hours per week.

This enables all overseas Vietnamese children to learn their native language from a young age, both in their families and at the kindergarten and primary school.

Lac Hong Kindergarten was inaugurated last year. The overseas Vietnamese association also had to mobilise people at home to contribute money for its construction, which came to more than US$44,000.

However, the association has not yet been able to erase the debt. "We still owe nearly $8,500 but we are trying to clear it soon," Thuan said with a smile.

Viet Nam News