VietNamNet Bridge – For many children in the far-flung communes of Kong Chro District in Central Highlands Gia Lai Province, going to school means crossing the swift stream of the Ba River - either by swimming or traveling on a makeshift, antiquated ferry.
When the water rises, most of them have to skip school.
Those who manage to attend classes have to walk for more than five kilometers and wait another two hours for the ferry, which has to transport dozens of children from the Ki A1, Ki A2 and Bien communes.
Dinh Thi Noc, a seventh-grader from Kpa Klong Secondary School, said she was once swept away by the current while trying to swim from her home in the Ki A2 commune to school.
"I managed to swim to the shore," she said. "It's really dangerous when the water rises."
Located in Dak Doa District, the secondary school has about 324 students, including 40 students of the Bana ethnic minority who live in the three villages on the other side of the Ba River.
Tran Thi Hong, the ferry driver, said many students begged her to get them across the river because they did not want to miss their classes.
"It's dangerous," she said. "I don't want to carry them, but we have no choice."
Teachers at the Kpa Klong Secondary School have pooled money from their salaries so the students can stay in the school during the week and go home on the weekend.
That way, they only have to cross the river twice a week instead of twice a day.
Local authorities say that there has so far been no report of students drowning when crossing the Ba River to school.
Dinh Thi Chich, another seventh-grader at Kpa Klong Secondary School, said she used to swim across the river every day to get to school.
"Now I can stay at school during the week. When we don't have class, we often run errands to help the teachers," she said.
Nguyen Duc Luc, the principal, said setting up boarding classes has been difficult as the Government only provides about VND70,000 a month per student – just enough for the children to buy notebooks and other school supplies.
"Sometimes we have to borrow money to buy rice from local residents, businesses and commune authorities so that the students can have enough to eat," he said.
Tran Bieu, chief administrator of the Kong Chro District People's Committee, said local authorities were aware of the problem and had instructed people's committees at all levels to encourage the students not to skip school.
The district is working with the provincial Department of Transport and Gia Lai People's Committee to consider building dining rooms and offering boarding classes for the students.
According to Bieu, the district was also working with provincial authorities on plans to construct a bridge.
For now, students such as Noc continue to dream about the bridge.
"We don't want to be this scared before going to school every day," she said.
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