She couldn’t take it anymore. Sixteen-year-old Suyen had been helping her ill mother with housework and her father with farming — plus riding her bicycle to school 12½ miles each way. Something had to give. “The school is too far from home. Most of my friends dropped out of school for that reason,” she said. “My 12-year-old sister already dropped out of school to help my parents. But I want to finish school, go on to college or university, and have a profession so I can help my parents.”
Her parents really needed help, too. Suyen’s mom underwent surgery that rendered her unable to work in the fields or do heavy housework. With her brother-in-law’s help, her father grew coffee that, in a good harvest, brought in less than a thousand dollars to support the family of 10 for an entire year. The family also grew rice to supply their two daily meals, which was often the only food on their plates. Sometimes they supplemented it with “whatever we can collect from the forest,” referring to foliage, not animals.
Thanks to the boarding home run by the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary in Vietnam, Suyen and girls like her who live in rural areas are able to go to school and break free of generational poverty.
Yes, something had to give. Exhausted and desperate for answers, Suyen turned to her parish priest. He contacted the FMM Sisters, who welcomed Suyen into their boarding home, which is located close to her school. When Suyen found out she could live there, she had mixed emotions. “I didn’t like that I would not be able to help my father in gardening or my mother in housework,” she said. “But pretty soon I liked living here because I am able to continue school. Besides, my parents want me to go to school. “
Suyen’s first days at the boarding house were quite an adjustment. “I cried a lot at first,” she said. Having lived all her life in a remote area with no amenities, she had to learn how to use a real toilet and running water. “It was all new to me!” she said. Something else that was new: Having enough to eat. “Here we eat three meals a day, and there is much more food. We have meat or fish every day!”
Suyen has also found increased spiritual nourishment. “My home is very far from the church and I was very rarely able to go to church. But here I am able to celebrate Mass every day, and learn to pray and know more about God. Every morning I thank God for allowing me to live another day.” In the evenings Suyen gathers with the other girls at the boarding home to pray, read from a devotional book, and reflect upon a passage of scripture. One Bible passage especially spoke to her spirit. “It was the one about the prodigal son. When I came to this boarding home I felt like the prodigal who had come to God’s house.”