VietNamNet Bridge – Today, Hai Phong’s Bach Long Vi Island is a model of prosperity. But when Dinh Thi Thuy first journeyed there in the early 90s, the place was just a desolate expanse.
Success story: Bach Long Vi Island has been developed into a bountiful district, thanks to the efforts of many soldiers and young volunteers like Dinh Thi Thuy.
Dinh Thi Thuy, 44, says she’ll never forget her first day on Bach Long Vi Island, over 20 years ago.
At that time the island was just an isolated wilderness off the coast of Hai Phong, mostly jungle except for the craters where American bombs had once hit. Despite its wild and desolate appearance, all Thuy could see was hope for a better life.
As one of the first volunteers sent to develop Bach Long Vi into a habitable environment, Thuy was looking to find an escape from the extreme poverty facing her and her family back home. Her decision to embark on that first trip to the island was one that would change her life forever.
Thuy was born in Tien Lang District’s Doan Lap Commune. Her father was a labourer and her mother a primary school teacher. Thuy was the first child in a family of six brothers and sisters, all dependent on the meagre wages of their parents to survive.
In 1987, when her brothers and sisters were still young, Thuy’s father tragically died in a road accident at the age of just 42 years old.
The family was left in dire straits. Thuy’s mother had to feed and educate six children, but the lack of rice meant that some days the family had to live off only one small meal each day.
Thuy did her best to provide for her hungry family, regularly hunting for crabs and snails to cook for dinner.
As the eldest child, Thuy became determined to escape poverty and help her younger brothers and sisters pay for school. She studied hard and won a place at the Hai Phong Teachers’ Training College. However, a lack of money ended her schooling dream and instead she stayed at home to help her mother raise her younger brothers and sisters.
Thuy devoted herself to this task, always looking forward and doing whatever was necessary to support her loved ones.
On March 26, 1993, the day of the establishment of the country’s Youth Union, she spotted an opportunity to join the first voluntary youth group deployed to develop Bach Long Vi island district. She was lured by the promise of a regular wage and a chance to build a new life along with the new town.
Like all the other volunteers, Thuy was excited despite having no idea about life and work on the island. She just knew that this could be a new start.
During their first days on the island, Thuy and her team assessed the extent of the challenge facing them. There were no roads, only narrow dirt paths, and no buildings housing residents. There was no electricity, no fresh water and no vegetables. Apart from some soldiers and the volunteers, the island was deserted.
Everyday, Thuy went without breakfast to save money to send to her mother.
She worked as an assistant to a constructor in the island, carrying materials and mixing concrete. Later she was assigned to a number of varied jobs including cashier, catering manager and accountant.
Pictures of the past:Thuy (right) reviews the highlights of her life by reflecting on old photos with a friend.
During her first months on the island, Thuy, then 24, kept herself to herself, embarrassed by her poor background and nervous around so many new people.
However, everything changed for her when she met Captain Ta Quang Vinh, a military officer stationed on the island.
“I became a different person when I met him. I became much more confident,” Thuy recalls with a smile.
She knew that Vinh was the man she wanted to marry when she jokingly asked him if he would share the burden of supporting her family and he nodded without thinking.
In a scene that could have been lifted out of a romantic adventure novel, their wedding was held on the island, attended by only a handful of friends. Vinh’s unit picked up the bride in a tank to take her to the groom’s house.
It was the very first wedding to ever take place on Bach Long Vi, and the couple soon reached another milestone when Thuy gave birth to the island’s first baby.
Life was far from easy for the happy couple, however. They had to save every bit of money they earned to send home to their families and to raise their child.
Life on the island continued. Thuy was elected as first secretary of the district’s Youth Union and chairwoman of its first Women’s Union, before becoming the first female civilian admitted in the Party on Bach Long Vi.
In 1998, at age of 31, she was accepted into Hai Phong Medical High School. Remembering her lost opportunity to go to college, this time Thuy was determined it would be different. She studied hard, day and night, to succeed.
Today she works for a military medical unit in her home district and she is very happy with her life.
She kept her promise to fund her siblings’ education and she has built a successful existence with her husband on their island paradise.
“I thank those first difficult days on the island for making me who I am today and allowing me to overcome the difficulties in my life,” she says, looking out of the window and out to sea.