*Photo: Ca Mau, Vietnam (source)
— Anh NGUYEN
This summer, I returned to Vietnam and fulfilled my long-held dream of going to the southernmost province of Vietnam – Cà Mau. Cà Mau, surrounded by water on three sides, is a part of the massive Mekong Delta of southern Vietnam.
This immense and rich-in-resources delta is home to almost 20 million Vietnamese people, who will face many uncertainties caused by climate change that can alter their lives and livelihoods forever. In 2020, the Natural Resources and Environment Ministry of Vietnam released a report stating that “a 100 cm rise in the sea level could leave 47.29% of the Mekong Delta (in Vietnam) permanently flooded.” and “by 2050, the sea level in the South China Sea, will rise 24-28 cm by 2050 and to 56-77 cm by 2,100.”
This delta has been the country’s hub for rice and fruit production and aquaculture for centuries. The prospect of losing this fertile soil to seawater and their homes to permanent floods can be haunting.
Nature is generous to the people of the Mekong Delta
With this gloomy prospect in mind, I visited Cà Mau to understand the realities of the people living here. Along with a friend, we made the trip to two national parks in Cà Mau: the U Minh Ha national park with its wetland ecosystem and Cape Ca Mau national park with its mangrove forests.
Throughout the trip, these impressions were repeated in my mind: nature has been so generous to this region, the land is so fertile, there are too many things to eat, the people are so chilled, and they are enjoying this “rich” life… At the end of the day, why fight and be anxious if food is all around?
We stayed in a homestay in the Cape Ca Mau national park, it looks something like this:
I talked to a girl working there in the homestay, who is probably the sister or relative of the owners, and she told me that she stopped her studies after high school to work right away. She is now enjoying the simple and happy life here, the only life that she’s ever known.
I kept thinking about this, as days ago, I was in Ho Chi Minh City, a city of almost 10 million people crammed into tiny apartments and streets, now in the direction of becoming the next Hong Kong or Singapore. The chance is if this girl had continued her higher studies, she would have probably ended up working in Ca Mau City or even Ho Chi Minh City. This photo below would have been her life, not the tranquil, quiet, evergreen mangrove forests. She would have been hustling and trying to make ends meet.
It has become typical for people from provinces to come to big cities like Ho Chi Minh City or Hanoi to study, work, and never return to their hometown. This is the case with my grandparents, parents, uncles, aunts, cousins, and many of my friends. They all ended up being in a bigger city than where they came from.
Does it mean that when one wants to pursue higher education, it can only mean that one will never come back to their homeland to live and serve? It can only mean that one is set to pursue a different kind of life that, at first glance, look “better” than the ones we have known in the homeland? Does it mean that we should not encourage higher education for the locals so that they will stay and contribute to their homeland?
It’s all about how we educate
I asked this question to a friend who works in education in Ho Chi Minh City, and she told me that the point is not to pursue higher education or not – the question is how we educate. Suppose our educational system and the whole society teach future generations to compete against each other, to pursue money and status. In that case, people will continue to flood into big cities to follow those values.
Meanwhile, if we teach and if we, each individual in this society, value true happiness, the love for things that are real – like nature and good food and connections between people, there will be people, after their higher education, who come back to their homeland or go to big cities – whatever makes them the happiest, but this will be a conscious and serene choice.
The road to such a reform in any educational system is still long and winding. Until then, I can only wish for the lovely people of the Mekong Delta to continue to treasure the generosity of nature and preserve such beauty for generations and generations to come.