|War veteran Phạm Đình Hán (left) and an employee in front of his store in the Sắt Market, An Lạc Ward, Ninh Kiều District, Cần Thơ City. — VNA/VNS Photo Hồng Giang|
CẦN THƠ — War veterans and Agent Orange victims in a Cần Thơ City ward are receiving assistance from an unexpected quarter – former comrades-in-arms in more comfortable economic circumstances.
Over the last few years, many struggling veterans in the city’s Ninh Kiều District have been given interest-free loans to start or develop their own business.
Phạm Đình Hán, 65, is one veteran who has led the way in raising funds and assisting other former soldiers.
He is now a member of the ward’s Association of War Veterans and also head of its Association of Agent Orange Victims.
“After the war, many veterans faced another fight. They were struggling to earn a living,” Hán said, adding that he had also experienced the ups and downs of being a soldier and a war veteran.
“I wanted to do something to help them stabilise their lives, expand business and create more jobs for local residents,” Hán said.
Hán, born in the northern province of Phú Thọ, had to leave his hometown and family in his early teens and move to Thái Bình Province with his aunt.
When he was 18, during the American war, he volunteered to join the army, and traveled to the south of Việt Nam.
Today, he tells his wife and children that although he lost 61 per cent of working capacity to diseases, he was much luckier than his brothers-in-arms, most of whom did not survive the war.
They died on the battlefield to enemy attacks or were killed by diseases, particularly malaria. Some even died after drinking spring water in the forest. Thirst, hunger and diseases were part of army life then.
Hán’s wife Đỗ Phụng Nga, a Cần Thơ native, said they met and got married when both of them had almost nothing.
Their wedding was organised simply with just some sweets for relatives and friends, Nga said, adding that they did not even have wedding rings.
They lived with Nga’s parents in a small house near the Sắt Market in An Lạc Ward. The young couple struggled to make ends meet in those days, especially after two babies were born in 1983 and 1985.
“I remember that our meals usually had the cheapest fish in the market. The fish was cooked with a lot of salt and we had it for several days,” Nga said.
Unfortunately, one of their two daughters suffers from disabilities because Han was infected by Orange Agent. Since she could not stand on her own feet, she was carried to school until the ninth grade, when she dropped out because of a complex about her disability.
Seeking to survive in such tough times, Hán and his wife started collecting scrap after noticing that there was a high demand for metal tools and machines.
They carried shoulder poles to almost every corner of the southern city and neighbouring areas. They bought raw materials, made tools and sold them.
Nga remembered being very happy when they could finally afford to buy a bicycle that made it easier for them to carry materials as well as deliver products to their customers.
They opened their first stall in the market in 1987 with their small savings and money borrowed from relatives and friends.
The small stall, with a variety of aluminum and iron tools attracted customers with their quality and reasonable prices. They also felt welcome by the friendly and sociable stall owner.
Hán and Nga’s business has been expanding for several years now. They have opened three stores selling metal tools and machines in the Sắt Market, offering stable jobs to more than 25 workers, including children and grandchildren of other local war veterans.
Hán’s wife said that he was sick very often because of war-related illnesses, but always worked hard.
She said he worked as if working was a valuable gift that life had given him. He worked for his family and in the hope of helping more and more people, especially other war veterans.
Huỳnh Quốc Việt, head of An Lạc Ward’s Association of War Veterans said that they had about 70 members and for the last six years, voluntarily raised funds to help disadvantaged members.
Each disadvantaged veteran can borrow VNĐ 20 -30 million free of interest to start or develop his or her business to earn a higher income and improve living standards.
“They borrow and return the loans so that other members can get them,” Việt said. At least 16 members have taken the preferential loans so far.
Việt appreciated the contributions Hán has made to the supporting fund, saying that he was always an “active and enthusiastic brother.”
Nguyễn Thị Thanh Hương, an official of the Ninh Kiều District Labour Department, also said Hán was an enthusiastic participant in social activities offering assistance to local veterans, children and poor people.
He spends his own money to help poor veterans, showing them ways to develop their business and escape poverty, she said. — VNS