Nguyễn Bá Cường offers free services to poor people. — Photo danviet.vn
by Hà Anh-Thu Hương
In a corner in front of a small lane in District 1, HCM City, 18-year-old Nguyễn Bá Cường was concentrating on mending an old pair of shoes.
These shoes were a present Cường planned to give a boy selling lottery tickets, whom he saw walking bare foot the day before.
For nearly a year, many poor people, such as lottery ticket sellers, pedicab riders and the blind, have become regular customers of his small stall, which offers to mend their shoes for free.
“My father is a musician, playing music for parties, and my mother stays at home to take care of my grandmother, who is sick. I have a small brother who still attends school”, Cường says.
“After finishing grade six, I could not catch up with my classmates while my family had economic difficulties, so I quit school to offer the opportunity to my younger brother. Instead, I wanted to learn a trade to help my parents”, recalls Cường.
At that time, there was a small shoe mending stall near Cường’s house, where he often dropped by. Seeing that he did not having a stable job, the stall owner offered to teach him the mending trade, and Cường agreed immediately.
He encountered many difficulties during his first lessons, such as gluing the soles of shoes or sticking his fingers with sewing needles, but he remained determined to learn the trade.
After two years, Cường was able to open his own shoe mending stall, and also offered to repair poor people’s shoes for free.
“My teacher told me to help people who have to live on the street to make their living, because they, themselves, could not even afford to own a pair of torn shoes, or even consider having their shoes mended”, he says.
Cường’s enthusiastic teacher had written on his small stall these words: “Only working makes a successful life. Only being honest receives respect”, which he has made his life’s principle.
His working day begins at 8 am and normally ends at 4 pm. Sitting in front of the small lane, Cường frequently sees many poor lottery ticket sellers wearing torn sandals, but having no money to have their sandals repaired.
Although their feet might become burnt while walking on hot road surfaces during scorching hot summer days, many of these people still hesitate to visit Cường’s stall, even though their shoes could be mended for free. Deeply sympathising with their plights, he said he hopes more people will understand his desire to help and visit his small stall.
Cường might not yet be a master at his trade, but each pair of shoes has always been repaired quickly and wholeheartedly. His hands seem to never stop working, his eyes keeps close track of the needle, while his knees are even used, as they become a “platform” on which to place the shoes.
“Several months ago, I had my sandals mended by Cường, and he refused my money”, said a motorbike taxi driver near his stall. “I was really moved by his heart. Everyone in the area knows that he is offering free services to poor people.”
“He also refused to take money for mending a cleaner’s shoes several days ago”, he recalled.
Not only does he repair poor people’s shoes for free, but Cường also performs many good deeds, such as giving money to beggars or helping the elderly cross the road.
“Everyone in his area loves him very much”, says his neighbor, Phạm Ngọc Thanh.
Cường mends about seven pairs of shoes and sandals a day, most of which are from his regular customers, and earns some VNĐ3 million (US$143) per month, with the majority of this money being given to his parents, while the rest will be carefully spent.
As the eldest son in the family he has always been aware of his responsibilities, and very happy that his younger brother’s studies are successful.
Cường vows that he will continue to work hard and help his brother to pursue his studies.
“I’m saving money so I can open a small shop myself, like my teacher did, then support my brother and parents financially. I also wish to start a small class to teach this trade for free to poor people.”
“There are many ways to help people, instead of just handing out money. What is more important is our own happiness and what making others happy”, he adds. VNS