Saturday, November 12, 2011

126: The Self-Empowered Woman: Dao Ngoc Phung

Dear Followers, First of all, a great big THANK YOU to everyone who helped me celebrate my birthday. Lucky, lucky me to have so many kind, thoughtful and (amazingly) generous friends. Each of you made getting older more fun than I could ever have imagined!

Today I'd like to introduce you to an amazing 14 year old Vietnamese girl named Dao Ngoc Phung, pictured above with her younger brother and sister. My hero, Nicholas Kristof, wrote about her in his New York Times column as a way of illustrating the difference between the Vietnamese culture and ours. I won't be highlighting The Self-Empowered Woman traits that this young girl has, but I'll bet that you'll be impressed by the time you've finished reading this blog.

Phung is only 4'11" tall and weighs 97 pounds. Her passion is school, and in order to continue her education and meet her family obligations, she sets her alarm clock (six days a week) for 3 a.m. On Sundays, she sleeps until 5 a.m. Last year, her mother died of cancer and the family was left with $1,500 worth of debts. That's why her father has had to take jobs in the cities even though the family lives in a remote area of the Mekong Delta. So from Monday through Friday, Phung - who is in the ninth grade - lives like a single mother.

Each morning she wakes her siblings (Tien, who is nine and Huong, who is twelve), prepares breakfast, and they bicycle to school. For her it's a 90 minute ride each way, but she makes sure to arrive 20 minutes early so she won't be late for her classes. After school all three kids go fishing for their dinner, and then there is homework or chores. Everyday Phung helps her brother and sister with their homework first, and then she does her own. She rarely gets to bed before 11 p.m., and wakes up four hours later.

Phung wants to attend college and become an accountant, and while she is too poor right now for that to seem feasible, her astonishing work ethic just might make it possible. She recently asked her father to pay for extra tutoring, but he cannot afford the annual $40 fee.

Kristof feels that the 2,500 year old legacy of Confucius (which includes respect for teachers, scholarship, and the belief that "education can change destinies") works in her favor. In that part of the world, education is generally a top priority.

Phung's father never misses a parent-teacher conference even though he has to take off work to attend. He told Kristof "If I don't work, I lose a little bit of money. But if my kids miss out on school, they lose their life hopes. I want to know how they're doing in school. I tell my children that we don't own land that I can leave them when they grow up. So the only thing I can give them is an education."

If you would like to help this remarkable girl, a fund has been established in her name by an aid group called Room to Read.

Looking forward to your comments...

1 comment:

  1. Love Nicholas Kristol's work. I went to a fabulous exhibit at the Skirball Cultural Center that was based on his work with my mom. We both loved it!
    Dr. Lynn K. Jones, Certified Personal and Executive Coach