Rushing home and finding Mother curling up in a corner with her face contorted and pale from the pain, Xa's heart shank. "How did such a strong woman who could carry the world's load on her shoulder become immobile now? How are we going to pay for her medical bills? What are we going to do?" Questions flashed through Xa's mind when her family's sole breadwinner could not walk then.
This is Xa's story – A story of how collective efforts and strong determination can change one's course of fate.
"Your parents decide where you sit."
Xa was 14 years old when the accident happened. Born into a Vân Kiều family of eight, Xa had seen girls as young as her age dropping out of school and getting into marriages arranged by their parents. This had been a "normal" practice in her village for generations. In Xa's family, both of her grandmothers got married at 15.
Child marriage has been the norm, even during these modern days, in Vân Kiều communities in mountainous areas of Quảng Trị province. In 2021, child marriage made up 30.27% of new married couples in Hướng Hoá district. The actual number could be even higher as people did not report due to deeply held beliefs and customs.
Like in most other Vân Kiều families, Xa's mother was the family's main breadwinner ever since she was given in marriage at the age of 17. Even when she was with child, Mother still had to work in the field while Father drank his senses away with other men in the village. And when he finally got home, totally wasted, Father became very violent and beat his wife and daughters up. The circle repeated itself when Xa's elder sister married at only 19 and had to work in a factory to support her entire family. Xa did not want to end up like that. She always felt that there must be something more in life, more than just getting married early, working for one's family, and taking a beating from one's husband.
The turning point
And Xa thought her life would pass by like that until one day, her mother got into a bad accident and broke her leg. Xa's household turned upside down, with the sole breadwinner lying in pain and unable to walk anywhere without help. There was a time when the whole family did not have anything to eat for days. The situation persisted when Mother stayed sick for a very long time.
"That's settled. We can't hold on like this any longer. You'll have to help out," Father finally told Xa to drop out of school to work in her mother's place. Being a good daughter, Xa reluctantly left school. But she felt miserable every day. Xa missed going to school, doing her homework, working hard for a good grades, and being carefree. First, dropping out of school, and the next thing she knew, she would be given away for marriage! Xa knew in her heart that she did not want to live the same life as her mother, her grandmas, or other girls in the village who dropped out of school to become mothers. Finding comfort in her closest friend, Xa called and cried to her sister every time they talked. Then one day, her sister suggested Xa reach out to World Vision Việt Nam.
"It takes a village…."
With that suggestion, Xa knew that even though nothing was sure, she might have a slim chance of changing her fate. Hence, Xa took courage and contacted World Vision Việt Nam to tell her story.
After getting information on her case, World Vision Việt Nam's delegates and a representative from the Child Protection Committee visited Xa's house. Uncle Sáng, the Sponsorship collaborator, convinced Father: "Xa is not like other girls who have to drop out of school to care for their families. She has dreams and passion, and more importantly, she loves going to school. She has the necessary qualities to go far and beyond if she can pursue her studies. After she gets into university and holds a good job, you will be proud of the decision you made today, as what she'll be able to give to her family is far more than the little money she'd make from quitting school and working in the field".
Thanks to uncle Sáng's earnest and persistent persuasion, Xa's father eventually allowed her to return to school.
With World Vision Việt Nam's assistance, Xa could return to school and continue her study.
Overjoyed by this decision, Xa did not mind the difficulties between her and sweet knowledge. The distance between her house and school was 10 kilometers, and the road was not even concrete-filled yet. Walking to school could take a whole day, so to return to school, Xa had to board with friends during the weekdays, leaving the housework to her father.
And World Vision Việt Nam's interventions did not stop there. To better assist Xa and her family, the Organization brought her into the Sponsorship Program. With the help of her sponsor, her boarding fees and daily essentials were covered. As part of World Vision Việt Nam's holistic and integrated approach to help improve registered children's living and learning conditions, Xa's family also received various livelihood means, such as breeding chickens and training on husbandry skills.
"…And a strong girl…."
As for Xa, returning to school and joining the Sponsorship Program might have been one of the most crucial turning points. As a registered child, Xa had the chance to join World Víion Việt Nam's Children Club, where she learned about necessary life values and life skills, especially those to protect herself from all forms of violence against children. Xa also felt confident in herself and her decision to return to school when learning about the consequences of child marriage and consanguinity.
Xa enjoyed all of the training sessions at her Children Club. The new skills and knowledge she learned from those classes helped Xa become more positive, realistic, and independent.
Of all the things Xa learned from the Children Club, the lessons on decision-making stood out the most for her. She now knows what questions she should ask herself, whom to confide in, and how to weigh the options. These new skill sets helped Xa become more positive, realistic, and independent. The most evident change in the little girl who used to feel so helpless when thinking about her future was that Xa could confidently share her experience before her village's elders and peers – other little girls – about being courageous and pursuing her dreams. Xa alone might not be able to change the whole community's mindset, but with time and maybe with "other Xas," things would change for the better.
Now, Xa could confidently share her experience before her village's elders and peers – other little girls – about being courageous and pursuing her dreams.
"My dream is to become a police officer so I can work with other agencies to protect children, especially young girls, from being deprived of their future. I want them to be able to pursue education and reach their full potential," Xa ended her story on a hopeful note.
In Việt Nam, women and girls in ethnic communities face unrelenting risks of violence, inequality, and abuse. Poverty and dogmas are among the causes that push thousands of young girls out of school and into arranged marriages, reinforcing the pattern of poverty – illiteracy – child marriage. To break this cycle, World Vision Việt Nam has worked relentlessly to empower young girls and women like Xa to continue their education, pursue their dreams, and reach their full potential.