Lesson in progress as Viet children await new lives

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 11 March, 2000, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 11 March, 2000, 12:00am

Eight-year-old Pham Thnh Tung did not know what school was like until 18 months ago.

Thnh Tung was born in Tuen Mun's Pillar Point camp for boat people.

He and other Vietnamese children attended classes run by International Social Services at the open camp until the Government allowed them to be admitted to schools in September 1998.

Thnh Tung and seven-year-old Vuong Yen said yesterday they were looking forward to obtaining residency and leaving the camp, which was 'dirty and like a prison'.

Thnh Tung said his first day of school was strange.

'I didn't know school was like this. It's square. The one we used to attend was like a housing estate,' he said.

Thnh Tung and Yen are among 28 Vietnamese children studying at Tuen Mun's Buddhist Wong Sewai Memorial School.

They love going to school because they can make friends.

Local student Chan Yan-yi, seven, said she liked making friends with the Vietnamese as she could learn their language.

The Government decided last month to offer identity cards to the 1,400 Vietnamese refugees and migrants and close the camp by May.

Successful applicants can apply for a travel document and become permanent residents after seven years.

Thnh Tung said that once he got residency he wanted to go to Ngau Tau Kok.

He was attracted by the name, which means bull's horn in Chinese. Yen wanted to visit Ocean Park.

Headmaster Lau Ping-king said that Vietnamese students had problems learning because many had not attended kinder garten.

He said the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees had given the school a one-off $50,000 grant to run tutorial and induction classes.

Teacher Yip Sze-wan said that the Vietnamese students were more mature than local children.

'They're considerate towards others. Maybe it's because of their camp life experience.' A total of 478, or one-third of the 1,400 eligible Vietnamese refugees and migrants, had so far applied for identity cards.