|Le Thi Nga smiles with a glass with a yellow smiley she was presented by local children who she took under her wing. — VNS Photo Gia Loc.
by Gia Loc
HCM CITY (VNS) — Since for Le Thi Nga "to live is to give," she thought nothing about joining the neighbourhood watch in her fourth quarter in District 1's Cau Kho Ward in 2009.
Little did the 50-year-old woman worry about the dangers she might face in a place infested by drug users and pushers.
Every ward and commune in HCM City - and the country - has a local watch to safeguard social order. Members patrol their area with local police officers from 7pm to 2am every day and also perform other tasks like regulating traffic.
Nga, aka Ha, would sometimes patrol alone. She once discovered an addict shooting up in a dark corner of an abandoned house, went up to him, and asked him what he was doing.
He held a syringe in his hand and threateningly waved it in front of Nga's face, saying: "I am injecting drugs. Keep away from me if you do not want to be injected."
Nga, unfazed, challenged him to do so while at the same time hitting him on the arm with her stick and knocking down the syringe. The man ran away.
Tran Thi Canh, a resident of the quarter, says Nga had brought a "new wind" to the quarter and that she and other residents have since felt safe going out, especially at night.
"Though Nga is very brave I feel worried for her because addicts and drug sellers hate her and could take revenge."
Nga has had a difficult life. Her husband was seriously affected by a stroke in 1994 and could not work any more while their two daughters were little.
To make ends meet, she sold onion and garlic in the local market in the morning, and since 2009 has been paid a modest salary by the local watch. She stopped selling two years ago.
While on patrol, she would come across local children, whose parents had died of drugs or were in jail, doing things to annoy local residents. One time she saw a boy throwing plastic bags of water from the bridge on passers-by below.
She would gather these youngsters and teach them how to read and write and other things like traffic laws and Uncle Ho's teachings in the hope of making them useful citizens.
Nga says: "The children become unruly because they lack love and care from their parents and family. Just a little bit of care helps them become good."
Thanks to her, Tran Gia Huy, 17, a local boy, knows how "to live to give" and protect himself from going astray.
He says: "Nga also gives me the chance to patrol with her. This is a way to teach me and others to contribute to safeguarding social order.
"If I had not met Nga, I might be an addict now."
Nga has also reformed many women in the quarter who used to sell drugs or were addicts through her kindness.
She tells them every day: "You should think about you children's future. Who will take care of your children if you are arrested?"
But those who refuse to reform and are caught selling drugs are arrested and handed over to the police. Nevertheless, she would then plead with the police to release them on bail and give them one more chance to restart life.
All of them are now with Nga in the ward's Club of Families Preventing Social Evils. She is also deputy head of the ward's AIDS Prevention Division.
Nga has been conferred many honours by the city People's Committee and district and ward authorities. Last Thursday, she was awarded the Nguyen Thi Dinh Award by the Viet Nam Women's Union.
Truong Thi Anh, the union's chairwoman, said Nga has many outstanding achievements in changing the awareness and behaviour of women who used to be addicts or pushers. — VNS