|Heroic feat: A Nhai and his wife relaxing at home after a hard day's work. - VNS Photo Thao Ly
Faced with poverty and hunger after liberation in 1975, a Gie Trieng man levelled hills and mountains with his own bare hands to create a wet rice field legacy for his family and fellow villagers. Thao Ly and Trung Hieu report.
The people of Dak Den Village in Kon Tum Province still speak in awe about the job A Nhai did to build a wet paddy field and dig fish ponds halfway up Dak Pet Mountain.
After liberation of South Viet Nam in 1975, government officials arrived in Dak Pet to encourage locals to grow wet rice, but they failed.
The locals made all sorts of excuses, but the truth was that they were scared of what the ancestral spirits and Yang (Heaven) would think.
Local teacher A Nhai felt very sad because his village was poor and miserable.
"Villagers couldn't even grow rice, and no one dared dream of getting rich. I'm an educated man, and I realised I had to help my family and neighbours to escape poverty," he says.
So A Nhai set to work.
In the beginning, everyone said A Nhai was crazy, and couldn't understand why each day he would leave his school and set off up the mountain with a pick axe.
Early in the morning, even before the first roosters crowed, they could hear the noise of A Nhai's pick axe ringing out across the village.
They thought he was silly, but everyone was still curious and wanted to see the results of his painstaking work.
A Nhai planned to build a small dam across the stream and dig two canals to divert the water.
"I did not count the months and years, I just kept going until I finished. If we had to continue surviving on dry rice like our grandparents, we would be hungry forever. I didn't care what the villagers said, I just got on with it!"
At first, his wife protested as she thought it was a hopeless cause. But then she saw how hard her husband was working, and was persuaded to help.
Every day they worked from early morning until late afternoon, and on days when he had to go to school in the morning, the couple worked from noon until sunset.
The hills were covered with boulders and thick tree stumps.
A Nhai and his wife patiently moved the rocks and cut away the roots.
For the larger rocks, he had to use his pick axe to break them up.
He worked hard throughout the day, and only took a cigarette break before returning to his work.
"Sometimes, it felt as if all my bones were broken, and I couldn't even lift my feet or hands," he recalls.
His wife recognised that her husband was miserable so she tried to hire some people to help, but they just laughed.
As a last resort, she turned to her relatives and tried to entice them by slaughtering a cow and holding a feast.
After they had eaten their fill, they agreed to help, but just a few days later, some of them said they were too busy and the work was too hard, leaving his wife in tears.
But A Nhai was not discouraged, and he continued his work. The field became larger and larger. He levelled two hills to form 14ha of farm land, including 4ha of cassava, 4ha of rice, 13,700 trees and four fish ponds, with two canals drawing water into the fields and the fish ponds.
Returning to the village, he shouted loudly to inform the villagers that his work was complete. To celebrate his achievements, A Nhai slaughtered a buffalo to treat his neighbours.
Hearing the news that A Nhai had levelled hills to grow rice on wet field, district officials sent staff to show him how to use the land and supply him with fertilizer.
A Nhai says: "My idea was good, but I did not know much about farming, and my first crops produced low yields. Luckily, the agricultural officials came to instruct me."
Curiousity got the better of the villagers, and they went to see his field and ponds. They whispered to each other: "Even the provincial officials know about what A Nhai did. Perhaps Yang has also agreed to allow him to do it. We should follow his example to escape poverty and hunger."
A Nhai's field gave him an yield of 5.5 tonnes of rice, five times higher than the other villagers.
He did not only teach local people how to use cows to plow and revolutionise the way they thought, he also brought new techniques such as using cattle manure for fertiliser, digging ponds to raise fish and making small hydroelectric stations.
After working so diligently, A Nhai now has the top property in his commune, with 13 cows and paddy fields that produce 10 tonnes of rice, as well as his fish ponds and orchards. Each year, the couple earn more than VND70 million (about US$3,500) in profit.
The villagers opinion of A Nhai has changed, and he has been appointed the village chief. His work isn't over though, and he is busy with the other villagers building a 10km road to the top of Dak Den Mountain. - VNS