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Cobbler with kind ’sole’ serves poor without pay

Update: March, 13/2016 - 09:00
Hard at work: Cường can be seen absorbed in his work most of the time.

Nguyễn Bá Cường, 18, of HCM City, repairs shoes free of charge for District 1’s most impoverished residents, even though he also has a family to support.

 

In a corner of a small lane in District 1, HCM City, 18-year-old Nguyễn Bá Cường is concentrating on mending an old pair of shoes.

Cường planned to give these shoes as a present to a boy selling lottery tickets after seeing him walking barefoot the previous day.

For nearly a year, many poor people such as lottery ticket sellers, cylco riders and the blind have become regular customers of his small stall, where their shoes are mended free of charge.

“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 said.

“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 educational opportunity to my younger brother. Instead, I wanted to learn a trade to help my parents.”

At that time, there was a small shoe repair 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 incorrectly or pricking his fingers with sewing needles, but he remained determined to learn the trade.

After two years, Cường was able to open his own shoe repair 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 could not even afford to own a pair of torn shoes, or even consider having their shoes mended,” he said.

Cường’s enthusiastic teacher had written on his small stall these words: “Only working makes a successful life. Only being honest receives respect” – a motto that Cường has made his guiding principle in life.

His working day begins at 8am and normally ends at 4pm. Sitting in front of the small lane, Cường frequently sees many poor lottery ticket sellers wearing torn sandals, who have no money to have them repaired.

Although their feet might become burnt while walking on hot pavement during the scorching hot summer days, many of these workers still hesitate to visit Cường’s stall to claim his free services. But Cường sympathises with their plight, and he said he hoped more people would understand his desire to help and visit his stand.

Cường might not yet be a master at his trade, but each pair of shoes is always repaired quickly and wholeheartedly. His hands seem to never stop working, and his eyes closely follow the needle’s movements while his knees serve as the platform to hold 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,” said his neighbour, Phạm Ngọc Thanh.

Cường mends about seven pairs of shoes and sandals a day, most of which are from his regular customers. He earns about VNĐ3 million ($143) per month, the bulk of which is given to his parents, while the rest is pragmatically spent.

As the eldest son in the family, he has always been aware of his responsibilities, and he is thrilled that his younger brother’s studies have been successful.

Cường vows to continue working hard and helping his brother to pursue his studies.

“I’m saving money so I can open a small shop myself, like my teacher did, to support my brother and parents financially,” he said. “I also wish to start a small class to teach this job 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 makes others happy.” - VNS

Helping hand: For nearly a year, many poor people, such as lottery ticket sellers, cyclo riders and the blind, have become regular customers of his small stall, which provides services free of charge.
Long day: Cường’s working day normally starts at 8am, when he starts to push his modest tool cabinet to the corner of the lane. - Photos afamly.com

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