|Life guard in action: Nguyen Van Xa working by his thatched hut to prevent railway deaths.
Saddened by fatal accidents at an unmanned railway crossing near his house, Nguyen Van Xa decided to ignore his disability, age, failing health and public skepticism to become a self-appointed guard. Nguyen Ha tells the story.
The intersection of Highway 5 Railway and Du Nghia Village Road in the port city of Hai Phong has witnessed numerous accidents that have claimed scores of lives.
But Nguyen Van Xa, who has bucked disability, old age and failing health to volunteer as a guard at the intersection that was previously known as the "point of death".
Xa, 68, revealed that he had been shocked and saddened to witness a good number of pitiful victims who had lost their lives in these railway accidents.
In 2009, he asked the Le Thien Commune authorities to set up a temporary thatch hut for him so he could guard the crossing and prevent railway deaths.
Every day, from early morning to late at night, he lived in the hut in spite of strong opposition from his family and relatives.
"They said a disabled man like me who found it difficult to walk and serve myself should not volunteer to do such tough work. When I decided to do it anyway, they called me stupid," Xa recalled.
On September 9, 2009, he began working as a volunteer keeper and used a bamboo pole as a barrier that would prevent people from crossing the intersection whenever a train would pass by.
"During the first few days, I was not familiar with the time table of trains running through the unprotected crossing, so I had to wait all day long," he said.
"After that, a village official told me to contact managers of the Du Nghia railway station to get the exact time that a train would pass by, so I would know when to bring down my bamboo barrier and prevent people and vehicles from crossing.
"Until now, I could sense the exact time that each of the 21 trains passing by the intersection every day will arrive, and this has helped me to ensure the safety of people," Xa said.
He recalled that one day, a taxi with seven passengers broke down on the railway line, just moments before a train was supposed to pass by.
"I was frightened, but tried calling up Du Nghia railway station and asked them to inform the train driver to reduce speed. Right after that, I called on nearby residents to help push the taxi out of danger. Fortunately, we were able to rescue the taxi and its passengers in time," Xa said.
"At 7p.m on the 10th lunar month of 2010, a train from Hai Phong to Ha Noi was supposed to pass by the intersection. I saw a pregnant woman standing on the railway line and talking with someone on her mobile phone. She didn't know that the train was only 20m away," he recalled.
|Just reward: Hai Phong Committee for Raiway Safety has built this guard station for Xa in recognition of work. — Photos vienkiemsathaiphong.gov.vn
Xa rushed out of the hut, grabbed the woman and pushed her off the railway line. Both narrowly escaped being run over by the train.
"I ask her why she was standing in the middle of the railway line. She replied that she was from the northern province of Lang Son and was heading for Hai Phong to find a job. She had called her friend to welcome her and forgot all about the train," Xa said.
Truong Van Ben, 76, Xa's neighbour, expressed gratitude for disabled men like him who had helped to ensure the safety of all pupils, including his naughty 13-year-old nephew, whenever they would cross the intersection. The pupils' parents likewise lauded his efforts.
Dao Thi Yen, a retired teacher, said that she often brought meals to himù in the hut and would take his place as guard while he was eating.
Xa's efforts have since paid off. Last year, a delegation from the National Committee for Traffic Safety arrived at Du Nghia to study the feasibility of constructing a permanent cabin and barrier system there.
Phan Van Hai, the village chairman, said: "Xa's action is rare. Our village is still facing financial difficulties, so we could not support him with funds but only with encouragement."
Xa's family earns a living mainly from the VND1.5-million (US$72) retirement salary of his wife and the VND180,000 ($8.6) subsidy that he was receiving for being disabled.
However, in the past three months, he received a monthly salary of VND600,000 ($28.6) from the Hai Phong railways authority.
Recently, at a meeting rewarding outstanding people who had devoted their lives to the service of communities, he received a certificate of recognition from the Prime Minister. — VNS