by Thu Hien
It is a chilly winter morning and darkness covers everything. Drops of rain can be heard falling from the roof. While most people are still curled up in warm blankets, three youths rush to the Saturday market.
|Volunteers deliver soup they prepared themselves to patients at Viet Duc Hospital in Ha Noi. — VNS Photo Thu Hien
They buy fresh carrots, pumpkin and meat, wash it, dice it and make fresh, delicious soup. The youths have been delivering it to patients in Viet Duc and Viet Nam National Cancer hospitals in Ha Noi every Saturday and Sunday for four years.
They are volunteers for a charity known as Nguoitoicuumang.com. (The people we help.)
Looking at big baskets of carrots, 25-year-old volunteer Nguyen Bao Thanh says: "The best carrots are dark red in colour. The smaller they are, the sweeter they taste."
Thanh surprises the seller with his experience and ability to bargain. He says that the cheaper the ingredients are, the more soup can be made. However, food quality is the main priority so the volunteers always go to the market early to get the freshest and best.
Last Saturday morning, the group left market with 13kg of pumpkin, 6kg of carrot and 7kg of meat. Cheerful smiles on their faces indicated that they had done well.
Thanh did some quick calculations and shouted happily: "Today, we can cook soup for 600 patients. Many can have two big bowls. It's awesome."
The group began when one of the youths was visiting a relative in hospital. He saw the relatives of disadvantaged patients worried that there was no money to pay for meals. He thought something should be done to help them.
"In the beginning, we could only afford to deliver 200 bowls of soup each weekend," Thanh says. "But this has now reached 1,200 bowls. The cost of each weekend's effort is about VND8 million (US$380).
"Many people now know about our charity and contribute money every month to help us maintain it.
"We have never been in shortage of workers. About 10, mainly students, are permanent members of the team."
After buying supplies, Thanh and his friends take them to Ha Noi's Thanh Nhan Pagoda where other members are washing and boiling rice for soup. Their laughter and conversation bubble through the quiet pagoda grounds filled with trees.
The chief nun at the pagoda, Ninh Huong, offered a kitchen and amenities to the young people when she heard about their intention.
She says they contribute their money, time and efforts to cooking free soup. Kindness should be encouraged among people in society. She adds that their action makes many people think about living better lives.
The volunteers have become familiar with making the soup. They work like people on an assembly line. Some wash, others peel and chop or cut and grind meat. They have done the same job every weekend for four years, telling stories as they go. There's plenty of laughter.
Two hours later, the soup, with its sunshine-like colour, is boiling and the fragrance fills the air. Two young boys use big chopsticks to stir soup and keep it from sticking.
They take soup to the hospitals at 3.30pm. In the grounds of Viet Duc Hospital, patients stand in line for a bowl.
Le Thai Lai, a farmer from Ninh Binh Province whose daughter is being treated for cancer, says: "I have received free soup from these young people for three months. It helps me cut expenses. I cannot afford to pay VND30,000 ($1.40) to buy a bowl of soup for my child. Their action makes me believe good people are everywhere."
Sixty-five-year-old Nguyen Thi Thin, whose son has just died of lung cancer, says: "My son really loved their soup when he was alive. Thanks to them, in the last days of his life, he could taste the most delicious soup."
While Thanh and his friends are delivering soup, a man runs to them and gives them VND2 million ($95). He says: "Young people please take this money and cook soup for more patients. Keep doing this great job as long as possible."
Thanh says it is good for people to have a job to contribute to the country's economic development. "But it is much better for each to spend some spare time doing volunteer activities to help the disadvantaged."
While ladling out the soup, the volunteers realised that some patients had no money to pay hospital costs, so they raised funds to help them.
Fifteen-year-old Vu Viet Thang from Ha Dong District received VND400,000 ($18) per month from them for two years after her parents died from illness. "It enables me to pay my daily expenses. More importantly, the volunteers are beside me at difficult times to take care of me."
More than 300 disadvantaged people have received similar assistance and care.
Thanh says his feelings for the job could not be expressed in words. "It's an impossible-to-express feeling that nurtures my enthusiasm, belief and love for the job." — VNS