Tân, 78, is a man on a mission to clean up the canals

May 18, 2018 - 08:28

Phạm Văn Tân, 78, of HCM City’s Lạc Long Quân District, with wrinkled and tanned skin, is using a wooden stick with an iron hook to pick up waste in Cầu Mé Canal as usual.

Tân uses his stick to pick up waste in the cannal. — Photo danviet.vn
Viet Nam News

HCM CITY — Wooden stick in hand, with his wrinkled and tanned skin, 78-year-old Phạm Văn Tân is doing what he’s done for four decades. Picking up trash.

A canal near where he grew up in HCM City’s Lạc Long Quân District, was once a place to swim, relax and have fun. But that was when he was a child.

Forty years ago, Tân looked out over the very same canal and saw something very different. Overflowing with waste and water as black as night.

Little by little he would start to collect the trash. And not only would he remove it from the water, he would then separate it into two bags, organic or not, to be collected and taken to the dump.

His mission started small, cleaning up only the section near his house. But this soon expanded, the Nông thôn Ngày nay (Countryside Today) newspaper reported.

“Some people call me crazy but I don’t care,” said Tân who would collect the rubbish whenever he had spare time.

“I do the job because I want the canal is alive like it should be,” he said, fearing if he didn’t collect the waste, the canal would eventually die.

Tân’s mission started small, cleaning up only the section near his house. But this soon expanded. — Photo danviet.vn

What’s more was the smell. A horrible odour filling his nostrils, more so when the rains came.  

Tân said he also worried because the number of waste discharged into the canal seems to become bigger day by day.

And to add to his worries was the location of two primary schools, close enough to the canal for the pupils to be disgusted by the smell.

Family supports

Now four decades later, Tân’s arms still bear the scares of his labour, caused by broken glass or other sharp objects he’s picked up over the years.

But he’s not bothered, claiming everything is okay as his skin heals quickly. 

Tân’s wife said she at first did not know his job. She only knew when neighbours told her and disapproved of his line of work.

“I tell him it’s nonsense and I don’t agree,” she said.

Tân takes waste from the canal. — Photo danviet.vn

However, Tân did not change his mind due to her words. Despite her opposition, he still gradually carried on with his job.

One time, when Tân woke up at a midnight because it was raining, he quickly grabbed his stick to go to the canal’s section near his house to pick waste.

Soaking wet through, Tân returned his house with a smile on his face, knowing he’d picked up the waste before morning came and saving his neighbours waking up to a repulsive smell.

At that moment, Tân’s wife changed her mind and decided to support him.

Tân said, “My wife’s support is the biggest motivation for me to continue doing the voluntary job.”

“I think the happy moment for me is when I hear the bubbling sound from the water flowing over the canal without being blocked by waste,” he said.

Tân, was once given a certificate of the People’s Committee of HCM City for setting a good example for others.

He doesn’t do it for awards. He does it because it’s the right thing to do, and as long as he’s able, he’ll carry on making Việt Nam that little bit better for those who call it home. — VNS