Vietnamese floating community grounded by poverty

Vietnamese floating community grounded by poverty

THUA THIEN HUE - Boat people have been a part of life in many South-east Asian countries for hundreds, perhaps thousands of years. Their distrust of land dwellers is often a shared emotion, especially when it comes to being rehoused or educated in land-based homes and schools.

One such group living on the edge of society in Thua Thien Hue Province is the Vo family. Last month, eight-year-old Ngoc Anh started her first class in a primary school in the province - two years late compared to other students in her class, who began their primary education at the normal age of six.

Ngoc Anh is not alone. Her two older brothers are in a similar, if not worse situation - Hung aged 11 and Tuong aged 13. The children started going to school late because they had no birth certificates - and because of their parents' floating life. But the biggest fear is that their studies may end sooner than later because of a lack of funds.

Tuong, Hung and Ngoc Anh only received their birth certificates in July 15 this year. The documents carry the surname of their mother, Vo Thi Tranh, because their father, Le Van Ai, has no ID card.

Ai knows he is from a boat family living on water in Hue City's Vy Da Ward. In 1985, a strong storm hit the boat and everyone except himself and his mother. However, there is nothing recorded in the ward residents' book. Ai was 12 at the time. His father's illiteracy prevented him from filing a birth certificate.

Ai restarted his floating life on a small boat donated by other boat residents on the Perfume River. In 1998, Ai decided to live with Tranh, another boat resident, as husband and wife, without marriage procedures or even a humble wedding. They continued their floating life in poverty and with little hope for the future.

In Hue, there were once many floating communities living on the river and its tributaries. Most lived in bad conditions and many were illiterate. Marriages were often matters of convenience because land people generally did not wish to associate with them.

Recently the city carried out programmes to resettle the families and educate their children. Authorities have now banned floating communities within the city boundaries to improve the city's image and to provide better security.

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